“Big data” has been the catchphrase for more than a few years now. While it caught on in technology and manufacturing much earlier, the legal marketing community is still finding its way in the specialty. So what exactly is “big data”? How does it apply to the legal community, and why should we care?
Simply put, big data is the use of large volumes of information about a given topic to analyze and predict trends, patterns, customer behavior, etc., to inform strategic decision making. Sounds useful, right? And sounds like a no-brainer, right? Yet, there are still areas of legal marketing untouched by big data.
We conducted a survey of the Am Law Second Hundred and found that marketing and business development leaders are employing (on the average) four team members to specialize in technology. “Technology” could mean everything from data stewards to website managers; however, we can’t ignore that there is a growing use of, and growing need for, professionals who understand the need for data-driven decision making.
There’s an argument to be made for data being part of everyone’s job in the marketing and business development team of the future. Right now, most of the departments we see are lean and mean. Everyone wears multiple hats, and on any given day, they are juggling a number of initiatives from the very tactical to the most strategic. We’ve made huge advances in the last decade, but we are still doing more with less.
Imagine a scenario in which we make a few smart investments in a marketing team — adding a marketing analyst with experience in email marketing campaigns or hiring a PR person with a consumer background — and what these valuable insights from outside the industry might do for law firms.
Consider the PR person who has worked in consumer PR and been privy to planning sessions at his client’s company for years. Instead of automatically compiling a media list and picking off some “low-hanging fruit” for a PR initiative, he performs a competitive analysis of an emerging issue, including media and opinion leader sentiment. He finds that a similar issue has only been covered by a small subset of reporters in publications read by other lawyers. In addition, he finds that there has been no prior conversation from key opinion leaders, but that same population has been vocal about a separate issue over the last year. He compiles a few succinct slides with graphs, charts and other points to validate it. Armed with this report, the firm now has options: 1) continue with the program, secure the story in the likely publication and then use it for more targeted email distribution to the friends and clients of the firm including a call to action, or 2) agree that a legal publication is not a desired outcome and redirect public relations efforts elsewhere, possibly toward the other, emerging idea.
There’s no right or wrong answer to the above. Both options are equally viable and if executed correctly, both can yield positive results; it just depends on identifying the objective and desired outcome. But the power to predict with greater certainty any element of a marketing program saves time and money. It allows the highest and best use of a marketing professional; it allows partners to determine how much of their billable time they choose to devote to external relations; and it gradually will build a repository of big data in the firm itself, rather than relying on secondary research to validate a strategic direction.
Fully embracing big data may not be easy. We either need to learn it or acquire it. There’s a shortage of talent already, and marketers outside the industry are the ones with this knowledge. Onboarding outside experts is an investment, but results can be well worth it. It’s also a worthy investment to add this skill set to your teams. Find the budget for training, and open the time in their calendars. It will add to career satisfaction, employee retention and, ultimately, better performing departments.
Finally, don’t overlook the big data question when hiring your service providers. Ask your agencies to provide examples of data-driven recommendations they’ve made. Service providers should be valuable sources of cutting-edge information, and if they’re not adding value here, it’s time to look again.
Back to the question, “Why should marketers care?” We care because it’s our job to position our firms in the best way possible. Law firms want to be strategic partners, trusted advisers and not “vendors.” Clients are already using the benefit of big data to drive their decisions, and so should we.