Readers, you may have noticed that MyShingle has been a little bare recently. The low post volume was the result of a major matter that I just completed and also, a week away from the office in Las Vegas, both business (speaking at a conference) and pleasure (family spring break vacation). Though the artificiality of Las Vegas made it easy to forget the office for a while, I couldn’t help but notice all kinds of marketing lessons as I wandered along the Las Vegas strip. I lost about $15 gambling but gained lots of little marketing nuggets that I’ll share with you now. So here it is – Lessons from Las Vegas on Lawyer Marketing.
The goal of any Las Vegas hotel is to draw customers to the casino by any means possible. Some worked and some didn’t, as I describe. The methods that worked could be applied just as readily to law firm marketing, while those that didn’t work should be disgarded.
The Bait and Switch On our last night in Las Vegas, we’d not registered for any hotel, so I used one of the online sites to make a reservation for a hotel which offered a reasonable rate and $25 in chips as a sweetener. When we arrived at the hotel, I first discovered that I had to fill out several forms just to qualify for the $25. Then, the money was given to us in one chip, notwithstanding that the promotional materials had indicated that guests could spend the $25 any way they wanted. To me, the twenty five dollars was a bait and switch since it entitled me to only one bet (which I gave to my husband and we lost) rather than twenty five dollars worth of gambling. Since I’d come to this hotel in part for the extra cash, I felt that I’d been ripped off and could have stayed somewere nicer for a little more money. On principle, I didn’t spend any more money in the casino after losing the $25 chip.
You might think, so what, the hotel gave me something for free and I ought to be grateful. That was certainly the attitude I received from staff when I complained. But giving something for free is not enough; if you give something free, it needs to be what was represented. Here, I did not get what I bargained for.
I couldn’t help but wonder whether so many lawyers who offer free consultations lose clients not because so many “tire kickers” show up, but also because some of the prospects feel that the free consultation was nothing more than a glorified marketing session. If you’re going to offer a free consultation, you’ve got to provide some substance, because that’s why clients are coming. If they don’t get what they believe they’re entitled to, they won’t spend any money on your services, just as I refused to spend more money at the hotel casino. If you don’t like the idea of offering free advice, then don’t offer free consultations, nothing wrong with that. But if you decide to make a free consult available, you need to take it as seriously as a paid matter if you want clients to sign up with you thereafter.
Show, Don’t Tell For part of my trip, I stayed at the Mandalay Bay where the conference was held. The Mandalay Bay is a nice hotel, but apparently, THEhotel at Mandalay Bay is even better, but it’s so far out of my price range, that I’d never stay there, even on a splurge. When my husband checked into Mandalay Bay (I was at the conference), the desk told him there was a mistake with our room, and assigned us to a sumptuous room at THEhotel. I later learned from a few other conference attendees that they fell victim to similar “errors,” and were also assigned to lavish quarters at THEhotel when they’d just registered at the Mandalay Bay.
Yes, this all might have been good customer service, with the hotel taking the hit for a mistake. But I’m guessing that this may have been a marketing ploy, telling us that there were mistakes with the lower end rooms and allowing us to sample the higher end ones in hopes that we’d pay full fare for them on a return visit. Perhaps I should be annoyed at the deception of a sales pitch, but instead, I marvel at the cleverness of the hotel’s show, don’t tell means of selling me on the more luxury accomodations. And that’s a lesson for lawyers as well as the previous link bears out – show your skills, don’t just tell about them.
The Niche No where is the importance of the niche as a marketing tool better displayed than on the Las Vegas strip. There are hotels with circus themes, tropical themes, fake New York and Venice and Paris; dancing fountains and lions and dolphin shows. Inside each hotel, there’s the ubiquitous casino with similar decor and games and machines. But the way that the hotels draw you isn’t with some new and exciting gambling game, rather, it’s with some niche theme that you might enjoy or seek out as curiousity. So, I dropped some money at Treasure Island, because I came to see the Pirate Show, spent money at Circus Circus because my daughters wanted to go to the amusement park, and so on.
I have always advised readers that a niche is the way to go for law practice. Even if the niche doesn’t generate more than 5-10 percent of your business, an exciting niche, just like pirate ship battles or roller coasters, will draw people to your practice for the bread and butter basics.
Money Pressure Points Some of the prices that I saw in Las Vegas for side entertainment – like dolphin shows or the Madame Tussauds’ seemed extravagent, even for a city of gamblers and vacationers. My family turned away from many of the high priced sights and I noticed many others doing the same. Even if people are on vacation and as a result, looser with their cash, there’s still a pressure point that they won’t exceed.
The same is true with legal services as well. We lawyers often forget that because people need divorce attorneys or real estate attorneys or criminal lawyers or probate lawyers for indispensable work, that they will pay whatever we charge. But that’s not always the case. At some point, folks will sacrifice quality for price if the alternative is mortgaging their house to pay the lawyer, and at some point, they’ll turn to non-lawyer providers like We the People to avoid the rates lawyers charge for everyday types of work. Yes, as shinglers, we run a business, we need to put food on the table and can’t work for free. On the other hand, let’s not fool ourselves. Even though we have a partial monopoly, prospective clients have alternatives. If we’re not at least sensitive to the cost of legal services, we will lose clients, just as the Las Vegas entertainment venues lost some business.
Don’t Forget What You Would Want As A Client Most of all, being on vacation forces us as lawyers to see ourselves as clients. On vacation, we are not service providers, but customers. As a customer, what do you like about the service you receive, what don’t you like? (David Swanner has a post about his customer experiences here) Are you doing some things in your practice that as a customer you can’t stomach? Maybe it’s time to change your ways.
By the way, I loved Las Vegas. The lights, the vibrance, each casino beckoning. In many ways, it’s much like solo practice itself, full of exhuberance, still a pretty good deal money wise, and a new opportunity – maybe even a jackpot - just waiting around the corner.