Out of this world: how far reaching is your communications strategy in 2018?

by Sue Bramall

In 1984, a non-profit was established in Sacramento, California, by a group of scientists to search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (called SETI).  Today, the institute has a three-pronged strategy, comprising education and public outreach, as well as searching for signs of life from civilizations in our galaxy.  Until now research has focused on listening and watching, but in November 2017 a specially composed piece of music and a tutorial about geometry and binary numbers was beamed towards the beautifully-named Lutyen’s Star. This star system is special in that it has planets in what scientists call ‘the Goldilocks Zone’. To you and me, that means they have potentially favourable conditions to support liquid water and, possibly, life.

The radio waves, which travel at the speed of light, were sent by METI (Messaging Extra Terrestrial Intelligence), an independent non-profit which is taking a more proactive approach and reaching out into the galaxy.  You have to credit METI’s founder, Doug Vacoch, with supreme patience as a reply is not expected from any inhabitants of Lutyen’s Star (Lutyenlings or Lutenians?) for at least twenty years.

I could not help comparing this with my experience of working with law firms, where there is often an expectation of almost immediate results from any marketing communications initiative.  My heart sinks every time I hear ‘oh, we didn’t get anything from that initiative, so we will not do that again.’  This betrays a misunderstanding of the effort that is often required to break into a new market, win a major client or develop a profitable source of referrals, and may herald a decision to lurch off in another direction, potentially wasting the effort that has gone before.

As we start a new year, many marketing partners and managers will be doing some blue sky thinking and updating their marketing plans, Sue Bramall suggests a few things to think about, inspired by SETI and METI.

Long term vision – Doug Vacoch may never see or hear a response in his lifetime to that message sent from Norway, but he has a strategic vision for SETI that extends beyond his short term needs and aspirations.

Clarity of purpose – SETI realised that it was not enough to listen and wait for aliens to make themselves known and revised their communications plan to take a more targeted approach.  Before you review your old marketing plan, take a step back and remind yourself of the key communications objectives for your firm and consider how well these were met.  Did you succeed in meeting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-limited) objectives?  Or did you just succeed in ‘doing a lot’? It is easy to be busy and easy to burn time on activities that do not contribute to your overall plans.  As you revise or draft a new plan for 2018, make sure all planned activities support your core goals.

Focus on the target market – although SETI has a multi-billion-dollar budget they have many projects competing for funding, and so it was important to focus on the star with the best chance of success.  Does your communications strategy have laser sharp focus on your target markets? Have you researched them, and satisfied yourself that they are your best option?

Clarity of messages – there has been a huge debate in scientific circles about what messages should be beamed into space, but how much debate or thought is given to the messages that a law firm should be sending out into the market?  Do you have a clear set of key messages that run through all your internal and external communications?  Do you have a content plan to ensure that your website and client communications are aligned with your key messages and the services that you wish to promote?

Communicate in different ways – unsure what language might be used on the planets around Lutyen’s Star, the scientists have chosen to send a combination of music and mathematics. Many law firms continue to pump out reams of written content which can only be understood by other lawyers.  Is it time to embrace plain English, flow charts and graphics to ensure your legalese is better understood?

Make it easy for clients get in touch – the tutorials in binary numbers and geometry are aimed at making it easier for the extra-terrestrials to respond to us, whatever their natural language.  Having invested in raising the profile of your firm to generate new business enquiries, have you checked that it is easy for clients to get in touch with the right person, discuss their enquiries, ensure they are all recorded, handled efficiently and tracked through to instruction?

No fear of failure – scientists, engineers, marketers see all activity as an investment in reaching the objective.  James Dyson famously made 5,126 prototypes of his vacuum before patenting the one that made his name.  In marketing, we know that contacts take a long time to nurture, reputation takes a long time to build, market dominance takes years to achieve.  A project or initiative may not yield immediate success, but will contribute to the overall goal if managed and followed up diligently.

Marketing legal services has sometimes been described as pushing water uphill, but Unlike SETI, law firms have a pretty good idea where their target markets are, what they look like, how they communicate and what help they need.

With the right communications strategy in 2018, you will not need to wait twenty years for a response.

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by Sue Bramall

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