Skip to content
Legal Marketing Trends
3 min

Breaking Through Stagnation in Legal Marketing

by Kalev Peekna, Kathy Grunditz July 13, 2023

It’s no great revelation that legal marketers often find themselves in a rut—feeling stuck and repeating the same strategies quarter over quarter, year over year. The problem isn’t just one of tedium; stagnancy can significantly impact a firm’s brand and hinder its growth.

So how does a firm leap out of the rut? Our review of recent research shows that if brands can overcome three common challenges—chronic underfunding, lack of measurement, and generic value propositions—they can position themselves to break free and stand out.

Chronic underfunding

It is not just in your head—legal marketing is consistently underfunded. Legal marketing budgets are typically just 1-2 percent of firm revenue, with most firms conforming to that narrow range. But when you compare that to marketing budgets in the broader B2B sector, which average closer to 10 percent according to Gartner, you can see that the legal industry chronically under-spends relative to its revenue expectations:

Thompson Reuters, ‘The Oracle’s Temple: The State of the Global Legal Marketing & Business Development Profession’ 2023

This lack of funding matters. Research across many B2B industries shows that as marketing spend decreases, a firm’s share of market and share of voice also decline. Conversely, increased marketing leads to a larger market share and stronger brand presence. And there’s absolutely no data-informed reason to believe that the legal industry is an exception.

Firms that are willing to look outside their direct competitors to benchmark their investments have a wide-open space to increase their SOV and SOM.

Lack of measurement

Shockingly, a 2023 Thompson Reuters survey revealed that 25% of firms do not measure anything to determine the success of their marketing efforts. Moreover, the next 25% track only measurements of marketing activity—RFPs, campaigns, etc.—rather than marketing outcomes or impact on the business. This is, frankly, embarrassing, but embarrassment is not the true problem. The lack of measurement only perpetuates low marketing budgets. After all, why would firm stakeholders assign funds to marketing initiatives when there is chronic uncertainty about their effectiveness?

Thompson Reuters, ‘The Oracle’s Temple: The State of the Global Legal Marketing & Business Development Profession’ 2023

It’s fair to call this a classic chicken-egg problem. Without money, it’s hard to measure effectiveness; and without reasonable surety of impact, it’s hard to get the money. Legal marketers would be wise to realize that it’s highly unlikely that the money would ever come first, and that the more practical approach is to focus on their measurement programs to lay the groundwork for future investment requests.

Lost in the sea of sameness

The final obstacle in the legal industry is what we at One North politely call “peer alignment.” Simply put, many firms fall into the trap of relying on generic value propositions that offer little differentiation from their competitors. Claims such as client service, industry expertise, and practice area specialization are commonplace and fail to make a lasting impression. Trumpeting a claim like “client responsiveness” doesn’t mean much to a customer who considers that a minimum ante. What firm wouldn’t promise to return phone calls and messages as quickly as possible? Remember, if no one would argue the opposite of these claims, chances are, the idea isn’t big enough to build a brand on.

How will your firm break free?

If your firm can break free from these challenges, there’s an opportunity to gain a significant competitive advantage. Here are three strategies for success:

  1. Build a cohesive, flexible brand: Strong brands command higher margins and market share. By developing a comprehensive brand identity matrix, firms can create a blueprint for telling their unique story, moving beyond generic mission and vision statements. This story should trickle down into practice/industry messaging, partner messaging, and the customer experience.
  2. Amplify your voice and own the market: After establishing a strong brand identity, the last thing you want to do is whisper it into the marketplace. Merely updating the website, sending a few emails, and changing logos won’t cut it. Firms need to leverage various marketing channels, such as thought leadership and content marketing, social media, SEO, and paid search, to amplify their brand’s voice. A combination of long-term brand-building campaigns and short-term, targeted campaigns yields the best return on investment.
  3. Measure your brand’s impact: Measuring the effectiveness of marketing efforts is crucial for justifying marketing spend and tracking a firm’s growth over time. Page traffic and “likes” only tell a tiny fragment of your marketing effectiveness. Conducting an annual brand health survey provides valuable insights into how the brand is perceived and identifies areas for improvement. Regularly repeating this survey enables the marketing team to identify misconceptions or misalignments and adjust strategies accordingly. Additionally, SEO research tools can be utilized to measure the share of search against competitors, monitoring the overall impact of marketing activities on market share.

To overcome the challenges of stagnant legal marketing, firms need to develop a unique and authentic brand identity, amplify their voice through strategic marketing efforts, and measure the impact of their brand-building initiatives. We admit these are difficult obstacles; were they easy, you probably would have taken care of them by now. The good news is that these are problems that can be solved with money—and problems that, once solved, will turn into opportunities that produce more money and encourage growth.

Photo Credit: Maarten van den Heuvel | Unsplash

Kalev Peekna
Managing Director, Chief Strategist

Kalev Peekna is the Chief Strategist at One North. He brings a cross-platform, user-focused approach to innovations in brand development, design, data analysis and technology, and helps clients apply those innovations to their strategic aims.

If I were a vegetable: I would be broccoli. Because I have always wanted someone to call me “cruciferous.”

Most unusual job: Cocktail bartender at a Cabaret

Kathy Grunditz
Manager, Brand Strategy

Kathy is the Manager of Brand Strategy at One North, crafting strategies that grow measurable returns for brands. She has 20 years of experience in marketing, graphic design and communications strategy.