Emulation Isn’t A Marketing Strategy

As the saying goes, imitation may be the best form of flattery. But it’s not always the best way to design a product or market your practice – at least based on YouTube’s unsuccessful effort to launch a fee-based subscription platform like Netflix or Hulu. Although some observers attributed YouTube’s failure to a saturation of video-based subscription services, Jesse Weaver, author of Emulation Isn’t A Marketing Strategy views it differently. As Weaver asserts, YouTube decided to simply play “me too” with other streaming services, incorrectly assuming that as with Netflix and Hulu and Amazon, lightening would strike and the revenues would start streaming in. Only that never happened.

So what went wrong? Weaver suggests that YouTube failed to take account of how each company had positioned – and effectively branded itself. He writes that Netflix was a subscription service from day 1 (by mail prior to online), Hulu went after mainstream television to serve as a replacement for Cable, and Amazon bundled its video service with Prime, already a successful subscription service in its own right. By contrast, YouTube – notwithstanding its wild popularity — was largely known for both its free-platform where you can find a video on just about anything, as well as a successful ad-based business model with the potential to convert seven-year olds and unemployed grad students  in to multi-millionaires.  For that reason, a subscription model simply doesn’t align with YouTube’s existing business model and brand.

This phenomenon teaches two important lessons for lawyer marketing programs. In an effort to attract as many people as possible, most marketing programs will tell you that their tried-and-true cookie-cutter, standardized model works equally well for all types of lawyers and all types of practice areas. But that’s not necessarily true. If your firm has always handled unique, cutting edge matters, you may have more difficulty attracting the stream of small, ordinary cases that comprise the bread and butter of many high-grossing practices. If you’ve always acted with a formal, more traditional demeanor, branding yourself as a badass, unconventional lawyer may come across as disingenuous to new clients, and alienate existing clients, even though other lawyers adopting that same style may be killing it. 

The second lesson is that branding is also aspirational. If you’re starting your firm now, think about the kinds of clients who you want to attract ten years from now. Maybe you won’t always want to serve the small fry business owners or the moms who need a payment plan. If that’s the case, holding yourself out as “the budget lawyer” or promoting “lowest prices in town” may not be the best way to position yourself in the market.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s always wise to keep an eye on what other industries and other lawyers are doing, so long as you proceed deliberatively and assess whether a particular approach will work for you – or just reduce you to a pallid version of someone else.

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