Why clients hate your content

animated gif that shows how in-house counsel views website content

Just 36 percent of C-level executives find professional services content to be “very valuable,” and the reviews are tougher from the legal department: Just 25 percent of in-house counsel say the same, according to a survey conducted by Greentarget and Zeughauser Group.

You spend considerable energy and (nonbillable) time preparing law firm content; you should expect return on investment. (Or, at the least, not to alienate your target audience.)

Let’s start by looking at what goes wrong, then explore some ways to course-correct.

What Clients Don’t Want

The Greentarget-Zeughauser survey asked law firm clients – in-house counsel and C-level executives – how professional services content was “less than excellent.”

On the in-house counsel side, their three biggest complaints:

  • Too salesy: 51 percent
  • Not impartial: 37 percent
  • Not sufficiently relevant: 36 percent

For the C-suite:

  • Not sufficiently relevant: 51 percent
  • Too salesy: 41 percent
  • Not timely: 39 percent

With regard to these turnoffs, consider your content strategy – and some common legal marketing mistakes.

“Too salesy” is a top-three concern for both audiences. These are sophisticated individuals who understand the objective of law firm content is to generate law firm engagements. It is helpful and appropriate to provide contact information for the author, but take heed not to overdo the “call to action” throughout.

Meanwhile, both groups take offense at content that is not sufficiently relevant. Have you worked to purposefully sort and segment your contact list, or are you sending every firm blast, regardless of subject matter, to everyone on it? Your Construction clients do not care about your article on new developments in biotechnology patents – and you run the risk of showing you neither know them nor care much about them if you spam their inboxes with it.

Timeliness matters, too, and not just for the C-suite; 28 percent of in-house counsel were annoyed by old news. This is of particular concern for lawyers and law firms that generate “breaking news” updates on Supreme Court decisions or other legal developments. Realize that dozens of law firms will be sending a similar dispatch out to the same contacts, perhaps on the same day. If you cannot be the first to inform them of this news – and chances are, Law360 or another media outlet will be anyway – you must offer something else of value, from analysis to ideas to a different perspective.

If you remain committed to reporting on breaking news, do the proactive work to streamline your editing, approval, design and distribution processes, so you minimize the risk of being the 12th email about the same thing.

What Clients Actually Want

The Greentarget-Zeughauser survey also provides insight on what attracts law firm clients to consume content.

In terms of content characteristics, they want:

  • Useful: Cited by 73 percent of in-house counsel and 70 percent of the C-suite;
  • Current: Cited by 60 percent of in-house counsel and 57 percent of executives; and
  • Compelling headline/subject line: Cited by 59 percent of in-house counsel and 60 percent of executives.

(Going back to what clients don’t want for a moment: This question also dealt with length. CEOs were more than twice as likely to favor short content over long; this was more pronounced with in-house counsel, who favored short content more than seven times over long content. These people are busy. Have mercy. Keep it short and actionable.)

The survey also points out a key discrepancy between lawyers and business people: Lawyers often think in blocks of text, but their business colleagues think in charts and dashboards. This is borne out in the Greentarget-Zeughauser study: While in-house counsel pick articles as their No. 1 content type, the C-suite has the highest affinity for interactive charts.

Again, know your audience. In addition to making sure your content subjects are relevant to the intended recipient, tailor your presentation, too. If your prospect is outside the Legal Department, work to visualize your information – and drop the legalese.

Content That Works: Four Key Questions

Of course, the goal of content marketing is not to simply avoid annoying people. You want to use it to build your authority, build an audience, and to build your book.

To do that, you need to do level-up – and to deliver information with value, information with a point of view, and, just perhaps, a little entertainment value.

For your content program, consider these four questions:

  • Is it helpful? Does it provide practical, useful knowledge that empowers the reader?
  • Is it memorable? Does it stand out in a sea of law firm client alerts for its perspective or personality?
  • Is it approachable? Does it use direct prose that is accessible to the target audience?
  • Is it human? Does it engage the reader on a human level, or could it be robot prose? Especially on social media, people are drawn to content that is warm and engaging. This doesn’t mean legal content cannot deal with serious issues; even moving content from formal third-person to a warmer second-person approach (i.e. “What you should do next”) makes a difference.

Some of our favorite legal content that delivers on these standards:

Don’t Eat Your Weed” is a song attorneys Will Hutson and Chris Harris of the Texas-based firm of Hutson & Harris wrote around the facts of the state’s marijuana possession laws. While the lawyers are showing off their musical talent, the song isn’t about the firm or how great they are in a court of law. It’s presenting valuable information to its audience, potential criminal defendants — literally, don’t eat your weed, a possession charge is generally only a misdemeanor that can be expunged from your record.

While corporate law may not afford the same opportunity for levity, it’s not out of the question, as evidenced by the former Ford & Harrison That’s What She Said blog that recapped episodes of “The Office.” The blog’s recaps explained the HR concerns and employment law violations contained in the TV show’s plot – showing the lawyers’ expertise in a relatable and practical way, with a predictable delivery cadence.

Even dense and technical subject matter can be presented in accessible and engaging ways, without the hijinks of Jim and Dwight.

Consider Xakia’s Legal Resource Library. Xakia provides in-house legal departments with software for matter management, data analytics and reporting. To help users make the most of their software, and to improve their legal operations overall, the company offers helpful white papers and templates, such as Best-in-Class Legal Reporting, 10 Steps to a Smarter Legal Budget, and Create a Legal Technology Roadmap in 3 Steps. An e-book, Legal Operations Health Check, provides benchmarks for departments based on size, industry and geography.

Xakia’s content empowers its readers by simplifying common processes, offering templates and providing ways to test their performance against meaningful benchmarks. How could you do the same?

Make this the year that you elevate your content by breaking away from the pack – and by breaking up with those stale Supreme Court recaps.