May 18, 2009

What the End of Television Means for Lawyer Marketing

In the past few months, most of us have seen stories such as this one about how newspapers are facing extinction, victims of widespread content available online free and recession-driven declining ad revenues.  But could television be far behind on road to obsolescence?

This past weekend's Washington Post carried this interesting article, "Click Change: The Traditional Tube Is Getting Squeezed Out of the Picture" which describes that more and more, consumers are cutting the cord to their television, opting to watch shows online.  And of course, even those consumers who aren't yet willing to part with their little black box (or large, flat plasma screen, as the case may be) customize their viewing experience with TiVo or other recording devices such that their television habits bear little in common with those of viewers of ten or fifteen years ago.

All very interesting.  But as a reader of this Legal Marketing Blawg, you're probably wondering "So what does declining television viewership have to do with me?  I don't advertise on T.V."  Yet, that's precisely why this trend should interest you.  Because while television is dying, you still have a chance to get a first-mover advantage on those advertising techniques that are most likely to work in the post-television age.  Moreover, studying today's trends in television viewership offers insight into what kinds of messages work with 21st century consumers.  Now, I'll step back and explain.

1.  Positioning Yourself for the End of Television Advertising.

Traditionally, television advertising has been the domain of large law firms or networks of firms.  After all, who else can afford the enormous cost?  Lawyers who pay for television advertising are playing a numbers game, figuring that by getting in front of thousands of viewers, they can capture just a small percentage and thus make the cost of the ad worthwhile.  However, when viewers stop watching television, ads won't be as effective -- and these mass marketers will look for other avenues, including the Internet.  They've got the resources to potentially dominate, too -- by gobbling up keywords and employing high-priced SEO Consultants.

By acting now, you can fight back.  For example, by setting up a blog (as I noted last week, only two percent of lawyers are currently blogging) you can start gaining visibility in local domains and specific niches.  By starting a blog now, you can get yourself comfortably entrenched on the first page of Google's search results by the time the mass television marketers find their way online.  And once on top, it's harder to get dethroned.

Even if you're not committed to blogging, you have other options to establish visibility online.  In previous posts, I've discussed how article archiving sites like JD Supra, circulation of eBooks, and other do-it-yourself techniques can bolster your online presence.

2.  What Do Consumers Want?

The Post article describes why consumers are transitioning from conventional television viewing to TiVo or online options -- and these reasons offer insights into the types of advertising that consumers will find effective.  For starters, it's important to note that consumers aren't watching less television, per se.  Instead, they're watching television on their terms.  Consider the experience of graduate student, Danny Ledonne:

"I don't want an arbitrary television schedule telling me when and where I'm supposed to meet it every night or every week," says Ledonne, a graduate student at American University and a video producer. "I want to watch when I want to, I want to be able to download it and listen on the bike or watch on a plane, and I want to do it for free with minimal advertising. Otherwise, I have better things to do."
Sabrina Jaszi feels the same way:

"The fact of the matter is, I don't have time to stand in front of a TV and wait to watch a program," says Jaszi, an editorial assistant at a digital media company in New York. She gets her TV shows at a pretty good price, too: nothing. Jaszi doesn't even pay for an Internet connection; she uses WiFi in her apartment building in Brooklyn. Media, she believes, should be free: "I wouldn't say that watching TV online is about saving money because it was never something that I expected to pay for in the first place."
Given that consumers don't have the patience or desire to be tethered to a television schedule, it's also likely that they also won't respond favorably to in-your-face advertising that interrupts ongoing activity.  Television advertising is intrusive and thus, less likely to be effective.  But so too are advertising techniques that distract consumers from a particular task, such as online pop-up ads.

On the flip side, viewers' interest in autonomy suggests that once they're ready to commit to a task, such as setting up a television schedule, they'll do so in a fully engaged manner.  Thus, when it comes time for these viewers to find an attorney, they're likely to go online and read a lawyer's blog or download articles on a particular issue.  In short, today's consumers are willing to be more engaged; lawyers need to offer educational materials and information online that will in fact engage potential clients.

Second, it's worth noting that even though viewers are less like to watch television on the screen, they still enjoy shows.  After all, they're not switching to books or radio -- just shifting their watching to the online medium.  Given that the visual still compels, that's all the more reason to incorporate video into your marketing portfolio in a way that's easily accessible for consumers.  For example, don't just limit your videos to your website -- upload them to YouTube or other online portals where clients can easily watch them on their iPhone or other portable media players.

3.  Final Thoughts

As the Post article concedes, conventional television viewership won't go away anytime soon, but it is declining and it is changing.  Still, by acknowleging and learning from these trends, you can position yourself to effectively market your legal services in a less-than-television-centric world.