How to become the leading attorney in your field: these four laws help you thwart competitors

friday, 15 december of 2017

By Trey Ryder

Who is the best personal injury attorney in your city?

The lawyer whose name came to mind is indeed fortunate because your perception of his leadership is worth its weight in gold.

But, truth be told, is that lawyer really the best, whatever "best" means? And what did he do that caused you to believe he is best?

In today's ultra-competitive environment, nearly everybody faces information overload. Still, if you want a successful practice, you must get your marketing message into your prospect's mind so he believes you are the person best suited to help him solve his problems or achieve his goals.

How consumers absorb information in our over-communicated marketplace has led to this set of marketing laws, first introduced in the 1980s by Ries and Trout in their marketing classic, Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind.

THE LAW OF PERCEPTION

Most lawyers assume they will win or lose the marketing war based on the quality of their services. And while this seems logical, if you act on this assumption, you will make a costly mistake.

Instead, lawyers should follow the Law of Perception, which says, "Marketing is not a battle of services, it is a battle of perceptions." How you create and mold your prospect's perceptions determines whether your marketing program succeeds or fails.

This concept is called "positioning." It means the place or position you occupy in your prospect's mind. The only way you can become the leader in your marketplace is to take the leadership position in your prospect's mind. If your prospect thinks you are a superb lawyer, or a terrible lawyer, you are, because your prospect's perception is his reality.

Going back to my earlier question, what did this personal injury lawyer do that caused you to conclude he is best?

Perhaps you read about one of his cases in the newspaper. Or you saw that he was presenting a seminar. Or a colleague told you about his brilliant legal skills. Or, more than likely, you have heard many things about him over the years, all of which help you reach the conclusion that he is the leader in his field.

In our fast-paced society, we form opinions about lawyers -- and all products and services -- based on snippets of information: A newspaper article. An award. A television interview. A colleague's comment.

You, too, can use this method to help shape your prospects' opinions of you As part of your overall marketing program, distribute factual information about yourself to the media at planned intervals. This helps change how prospects see you -- and how they act in response to those perceptions.

THE LAW OF LEADERSHIP

You've heard the adage, "If you invent a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door." Not today. In this age when consumers' minds are saturated with advertising, your better mousetrap could easily wind up being the best kept secret in town.

You succeed in today's competitive environment when you follow the Law of Leadership, which says, "It is better to be first than it is to be better."

This means you will find it much easier to get into your prospect's mind first than you will trying to persuade your prospect that you are better than the lawyer who did get there first.

Here's an example: Who was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean? Charles Lindbergh.

Who was second? Do you have any idea?

His name was Bert Hinkler. He flew faster and used less fuel than Lindbergh. Plus, he was a better pilot. Still, few people have heard of him. Lindbergh got into our minds by being first and there he remains. Hinkler's excellent flying skills were not enough for him to take the leadership position.

Most lawyers follow Bert Hinkler's example. They wait until a new market develops. Then they jump in and hope to become as successful as the attorney who was there first. But they almost never succeed.

If the first lawyer maintains an effective marketing program, he will remain first in that practice area. Plus, the first lawyer will usually hold on to that position even in the face of more qualified attorneys who provide better services -- all because he was first.

Let's look at case histories from corporate America.

(Note: My source for the following statistics is old so they are not current. Even so, they demonstrate how these companies -- and you -- can use these laws to your benefit.)

The leading brand of anything is almost always the first brand into the prospect's mind. We think of Hertz in rent-a-cars. IBM in computers. Coca-Cola in soft drinks.

Chrysler was the first company to introduce the minivan to American consumers. Today, Chrysler owns 46.8 percent of the minivan market. Ford comes in a distant second with 27.6 percent. In Canada, sales figures are even more compelling. In a five-month period beginning Oct. 1, 1995, Chrysler sold 26,501 minivans to second-place Ford's 9,691 -- nearly three to one!

Hewlett-Packard was first to introduce laser printers for computers. Today, HP owns 49.1 percent of the printer market -- five and one-half times the market share of second-place Apple, which has only 8.9 percent. Third, fourth and fifth place contenders have even less.

In 1984, I was hired by a Phoenix attorney who wanted to market living trusts to middle-income consumers.

As a result of our marketing efforts, this lawyer owned the Phoenix market for five years. He was featured in every major newspaper, many of them more than once. He was granted 12 one-hour interviews on the state's largest news-talk radio station. He was featured regularly in TV news interviews and magazine articles. He even had his own weekly radio talk show, which was co-sponsored by a local newspaper for seniors.

During that time, the number of prospects who requested his educational materials topped 10,000. He conducted hundreds of seminars and spoke to thousands of interested consumers. One seminar alone was attended by 233 prospective clients.

No question, other estate planning attorneys had more experience and qualifications than my client. But this lawyer was first in the minds of his audience and that's all that mattered.

If you don't know who is first in a category, you can make a good guess by substituting the word "leading." For example, someone asks you to name the first college founded in America. You don't know. So you substitute "leading" for "first." What's the name of the leading college in America?

Most people answer Harvard, which, in fact, was also the first college founded in the United States. The second college founded in America was The College of William and Mary, a name about as well known as Bert Hinkler.

Most law firms think the secret to becoming the market leader is to provide better legal services. Unfortunately, that's wrong. The way to take the leadership position is to get there first.

THE LAW OF THE CATEGORY

Who was the third person to fly solo across the Atlantic? If you didn't know who was second, you probably assume you've never heard of number three, but you have. It was Amelia Earhart.

But why would you remember the third person and not the second? You remember her not because she was third, but because she was the first woman to do so.

This proves if you were not the first person in your niche to get into your prospect's mind, you can still succeed by following the Law of the Category. It says, "If you can't be first in your existing category, create a new category in which you can be first."

Charles Schwab didn't open another full-service brokerage firm. He opened the first discount brokerage.

My estate planning lawyer wasn't another estate planner for affluent clients. He was the first to market to average consumers.

Many personal injury attorneys are now known by their categories. We see those who specialize in medical malpractice, motorcycle accidents and unsafe products, to name a few.

If you survived a plane crash, wouldn't you want to hire a lawyer who specializes in aircraft disasters? And which lawyer would you choose? Probably the name you know best -- the person who is first in the category -- the lawyer you believe to be the foremost authority in the field.

When you begin a new category, you promote the entire category because you have no competition. As other lawyers follow, they enter the category behind you. This means as long as you maintain a strong marketing program, the latecomers will find it nearly impossible to take the number one position from you.

Lawyers who cautiously wait until someone else enters the market make a costly mistake because they lose the opportunity to be first.

THE LAW OF THE MIND

If you can't be first in the marketplace, all is not lost. You take advantage of the Law of the Mind, which says, "It's better to be first in your prospect's mind than to be first in the marketplace."

IBM did not build the first mainframe computer. Remington Rand did and called it UNIVAC. But thanks to better marketing, IBM got into our minds first and has held that position ever since.

Raymond Burr starred in the television series Perry Mason. But he was not the first person to portray the famous attorney. Warren Williams, Ricardo Cortez and Donald Woods all played Perry Mason between 1934 and 1937. But it wasn't until Burr played Mason in 271 television episodes that he made a permanent imprint on our minds.

Burr also discovered something else: Once you gain the leadership position, it is very hard to shed. Regardless of his other television and movie roles, Burr could never free himself from the Perry Mason persona. So, beginning in 1985, he reprised his role and made 26 two-hour TV movies before he died in 1993.

CONSIDER YOUR OPPORTUNITIES

-- Can you claim the leadership position in your current practice area because you were there first?

-- Can you take the number one position away from a lawyer who has not used it to his advantage?

-- Can you create a new category in which you can be first?

These are all ways to seize the number one position in your prospect's mind Your marketing program should be designed to create and build positive perceptions -- and to minimize and reverse negative perceptions. If you pursue and achieve the leadership position in your field, you could profit from that top spot for decades.

Book Recommendation: These four laws -- and others -- are fully discussed in the must-read classic by Al Ries and Jack Trout called Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.

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© Trey Ryder
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