How we got into (and out of) the Clicksand trap

Rex Elliott is co-founder and partner at Cooper & Elliott, a law firm in Columbus, Ohio. He tells us about his journey to understand how online and digital marketing isn’t a one-size-fits all solution for every business. He shares the lessons he learned and the frustrations he and his firm experienced on the path to their discovery.

What first captured my attention

I was introduced to online marketing several years ago, and what first captured my attention about it was how easy it seemed: A “marketing machine” would be turned on and left to generate new clients and cases for us. By all accounts, online marketing looked like an advertising campaign that wouldn’t require us to do much of anything. I thought it seemed like a great solution—a third party could work on getting our name and brand recognized, and my lawyers and I could devote our time to working on cases.

Our business is such that we don’t need a hundred cases a year, a few quality cases a year is really what’s right for us. When we started out, we hoped to use e-mail and other methods to drive potential clients to our website. Statistically speaking, we thought it would be impossible to put out thousands of e-mails every month and not generate at least a couple matches that would turn into solid cases.

In hindsight, we should have considered that nothing worth doing is simple. It was a great lesson to learn, even though it felt like a setback. Blasting emails may work for some but it didn’t work for us.

Traffic, traffic everywhere but limited results

When we began the e-mail blasts, we did see that they were driving a high volume of traffic to our website. Our (then) marketing partner was quick to point this out, “Look at how great this is, you’re getting tons of visitors on the website!”

But it just didn’t seem to be paying off. After some time, I began to question whether sheer numbers and traffic was really leading to the only metric that truly mattered to me—actual business. And it turns out, it wasn’t.

So who was visiting our website? It wasn’t the type of people who were turning into clients. We decided to trace our business back to the source. A closer examination revealed that the clients we got during that period, were coming to us not because they’d heard about us in an e-mail blast. They’d come to us from friends, professional contacts, people we knew in our community. They were coming to us through personal relationships with members of our firm.

It became frustratingly clear that the money we were spending was doing little more than driving people to the website, so after a little more than a year, I pulled the plug.

What was the damage?

The belief that business would simply walk in the door through mass email blasts was actually leading our lawyers to develop less business. There was the serious side effect of allowing ourselves to become complacent and rely solely on the “marketing machine.” Each of the attorneys in our firm gave up on our individual marketing efforts. We neglected our important relationships, all because we were under the impression that something else was taking care of it for us.

It takes a personal touch

When I first met with Bill Troy, he told me, “There is no substitute for your personal network and relationships. You’re just not going to drive business into your firm without personal touches.”

Turned out, he was right. I actually had to take time after that year to re-nurture my own personal network and business relationships. Today, we encourage the young attorneys in our firm to build the same kind of networks that have proved to be effective time and time again. We’ve seen that it works, and we encourage them to focus on developing their own personalized way of bringing cases to the firm.

We have real data that indicates marketing requires a two-pronged approach. We still use online marketing, but as a supplement to our other efforts. We get out there and bring business in because we know now that it’s not going to walk in the door just because we sent a thousand e-mails.

For us, the moral of the story is that you never know when a great personal relationship is going to bear fruit for your business somewhere down the road. That’s really what 1-to-1 marketing is all about. And you don’t have to do it all yourself, you just have to make sure your efforts, or the efforts of your marketing partner are focused in the right areas. The most important marketing we do isn’t through blogs or social media—it’s through personal conversations and the deepening of personal relationships we already have.

If you rely on a “marketing machine” you might want to consider the potential damage it does to your brand—not to mention the negative side effect of letting your personal network atrophy in the meantime.