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Marketing Research Plans for Solo and Small Firm Lawyers (Client Development Part 1 of 3)

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Marketing research is critical to determining whether your law practice plans are sustainable.

This post is the first in a 3-Part Client Development Series.


What is a Marketing Research Plan?

Marketing research is the investigatory process to determine whether your target market is sufficiently large for your unique brand or whether to adjust your brand to the existing market. The robustness of the target market—the group of potential clients you would like to serve—is a measure of the number of interested buyers and their level of interest. For example, the target market for simple wills is much weaker than it was thirty years ago because it is easy and inexpensive to download a document that in many situations will satisfy many potential clients’ expectations and preferences. Your brand is the entire and ongoing experience of what you are offering to provide to potential clients before they know who you are and the problems you can help them address throughout the representation and even after the representation has concluded.

Your marketing research plan explains the data you intend to collect about what potential clients want to buy and their fit with your brand. Data include global, national, and local trends about opportunities and threats in your external environment and the strengths and weaknesses of your brand; analysis of these data is sometimes referred to as a SWOT analysis or the process of environmental scanning.

Practice Note: Ask yourself the following questions to decide whether you need to focus on marketing research. A single affirmative response is a signal to reexamine the external environment for opportunities.

  • Are you worried about revenue generation?
  • Is something about your marketing and business development efforts not working out the way you want, need, or expect?
  • Is there something that you think should lead to good results that is not?


Sample Marketing Research Plan Template

The following template can be used as a checklist to help you explain the likely fit between your target market and brand. What are the trends that affect what people are prepared to purchase that you can sell them? What are the strengths and weaknesses of your brand, given these trends? Consider the details of your target market. Who are they? Where do they live? What can they afford to spend to solve their legal problems? What are their wants, needs, expectations, preferences, interests, and concerns? Where could you reach them? How would they be most receptive to a first impression of your brand? How large is this target market?

  1. External environmental trends
  • What are the trending opportunities?
  • What are the trending threats?
  1. Your brand description
  • What are your brand strengths?
  • What are your brand weaknesses?
  1. Details of your target market
  • Context and demographics: Who are they? What are their habits? Age? Where do they live and work?
  • What do they want, need, expect, and prefer? What are their interests and concerns?
  • Where and how could you reach them for an initial brand introduction?
  • How large is this target market in terms of size and annual revenue generation?
  1. A description of the fit between your target market and brand


Target Market Needs

Consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs when thinking about the fit between your brand and your target marketMaslow’s hierarchy of needs (physiological needs; safety needs; social needs; esteem needs; self-actualization) is discussed in Procter & Gamble branding expert Carolina Rogol’s book, Star Brands. Which “need” in the hierarchy is the customer most concerned about? Is it a physiological, safety, or social need to belong and fit in with a particular group? Is it a need for self-esteem or to self-actualize and develop to a higher level? The person in a motor vehicle accident is concerned with physiological and safety needs, while the person launching a new business based on a new product that needs patent protection is thinking about status and self-esteem. How you demonstrate your responsiveness and brand to the accident victim should be considerably different from your actions in response to the entrepreneur. If you meet in your office, what messages do your space design and decor send to the customer? What message does your appearance send?

The data from your marketing research plan informs your decision about what to sell and the robustness of the target market that is interested in buying it. Even the most proficient client development and networking experts will face difficulty trying to sell something that few people want to buy.


Other Business Plan Elements

Your marketing plan, which is one section in your business plan, outlines your intended efforts to expand your client base or expand your work opportunities from your existing clients. A business plan is like a map or outline that explains the big-picture perspective of how your organization will perform effectively and reach your goals and vision of success.

Use the sample business plan template in this blog post as a checklist. Give the questions thought and consideration. You do not need everything. You do need the information in your marketing plan for successful client development, generating revenue, and meeting your goals for success. Make notes next to each topic and question. Update your notes as circumstances change and transform them into a formal document if you would find that helpful.


Environmental Scanning

If you want to generate acceptable revenue or feel you are not doing so, consider whether you are trying to sell an experience, a service, or a solution that lacks an ample target market. An effective marketing research plan helps you notice more opportunities by accepting the marketplace for what it is, rather than what you wish it were.

As a lawyer, you will want to scan the environment for events, changes, new technology, and trends. The best plaintiff’s personal injury attorneys are particularly skilled at this. And take a deeper dive into the legal industry and keep apprised of changes in client habits and technology use to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Do not make the mistake of trying to sell legal services that most people will either purchase as a downloadable product or will not purchase at all. Make sure that your target market is sufficiently large to produce the revenue you need to sustain a reasonable profit and annual income.

Effective marketing researchers are curious, ask questions, and avoid making assump­tions and jumping to conclusions. Noticing, a skill you can learn with practice, is required for doing market research and developing a robust marketing plan. What are you reading, watching, listening to, and noticing every day? Who are you listening to? Expand your exploration to read, watch, and listen to new sources of information. There are many different sources of information in different forms. Learn about cutting-edge technology and medicine. Find out what is new in the world of economics, politics, and social trends.

Try a new source each day until you determine which sources are most valuable. Consider traditional and Internet-based sources of information. Take a face-to-face or online course for exposure to new ideas and information. Visit a new museum. Take a different route to the office. Change your routines to discover something new and different and change the way you are thinking about opportunities and your brand. Once you have noticed a trend, take a deeper dive into the trend and analyze the details to better understand how it can be an opportunity.


Trends Exercise

For each trend category, list your observations. Feel free to add in your own trend categories.

  • Economic
  • Clients
  • Technology
  • Social Trends
  • Changing Standards (Legal, Otherwise)
  • Demographics


Trend Deeper Dive Exercise

Analyze a specific trend with reference to the following issues:

  1. Select a trend to analyze. What changes is it causing? Who is affected and how? (Possible target market—top part of poster.)
  2. Value proposition: What needs, wants, expectations, preferences, interests, or concerns of people, organizations, and industries arise from the trend? Use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (see § 6.2.1, above) to describe them.
  3. What superior value proposition will you offer? Who are the hiring decision makers? What are the factors that will influence their decisions?
  4. Describe your competition, what they provide, and how they influence factors they are using.

After you have addressed these issues, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What else do you need to know about a particular trend? Do you need to learn about more trends?
  • What else do you need to know about your target market? Think of the people who will make decisions to hire lawyers and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. What really matters to them?
  • What else do you need to know about yourself, your skills, and your value proposition?
  • What else do you need to know about your competition?

Given what else you need to know, ask yourself the following:

  • Where is the information you need? Can you find it by observation or will you need to ask questions?
  • If you need to ask questions, whom will you ask?
  • What will you ask—open-ended, closed-ended, or multiple-choice questions?
  • How will you ask—in a written survey, interview, or focus group?


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This post originally appeared as part of Chapter 6, “Client Development and Networking” in MCLE’s Hanging Your Shingle. All our previous posts on marketing planning under various titles now redirect to this post.


CATEGORIES: Law Firm Marketing
TAGS: business development | business plan | Law Practice Startup | online marketing

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