For more than two decades we have known that corporate counsel and other buyers of legal services have two levels of decision-making. They make an intellectual decision when creating their short list, evaluating expertise, perceived technical skill, and other features that are important to them – geographical reach, depth, rates and more.
But when they are choosing the one lawyer or firm to hire, they make an emotional decision – formulating do I like this person, do I trust him, do I feel good about him.
Task-oriented lawyers (the overwhelming number of lawyers) struggle with this – they want to be hired because they are the smartest people in the room, not because they are the nicest. They are frustrated when they have presented what they feel is the most compelling sales pitch about their relevant qualifications that they know are better than the competitors' quals . . . yet they lose to a "less-qualified" contender.
Three Belgian researchers completed a study that analyzed "The influence of ad-evoked feelings on brand evaluations: Empirical generalizations from consumer responses to more than 1,000 TV commercials." You might wonder why I'm including this in today's blog post – I am, because it reinforces the point that emotion matters more than empirical data when it comes to someone feeling good about you.
If you watched the SuperBowl and stayed for the commercials, you know that the snarky, sleazy ads that have been so popular the last few years were mostly missing. The feel-good ads that included puppies, horses, America, patriotic music, soldiers and children/families struck a chord with consumers – they made them go "awwww," made them laugh, or cry.
We like connecting emotionally to things, even if we don't want to admit it. In a Booz & Company Strategy+Business article, The Power of Positive Advertising, the author writes about this Belgian study:
The authors surveyed more than 1,500 Belgian consumers whose demographics were representative of the country’s overall population. The participants collectively weighed in on more than 1,000 commercials for actual products that were shown on national TV networks during a recent three-year time span. The ads covered more than 150 product categories, allowing the authors to test whether people’s emotional response varied depending on the type of product or service being advertised.
The Belgian study found:
Strikingly, the benefit of taking a positive approach in advertising persisted across industries and endured regardless of the product’s value to a consumer. Whether the commercial advertised a durable item (such as a refrigerator), a short-term product (such as soap or soda), a service (such as a cell-phone subscription or haircut), or merchandise (such as furniture or clothing), the findings were consistent. They showed that “compared to ads that elicit less pleasant feelings, ads that elicit more pleasant feelings may trigger more positive beliefs and thoughts about the brand, which, when integrated into summary evaluations, would result in more favorable brand attitudes,” the authors write.
Given how few business-to-business law firms engage in traditional advertising after the financial crisis, firms are relying instead on their websites, e-alerts and face-to-face business development activities (meetings, speeches, trade shows, etc.). But few of the nation's largest firms tap into the visitor, listener or readers' emotion, regardless of the media. Rather, they present a sterile summary of facts, figures, experience and other qualifications designed to land them on the short list. This is important, by the way – your website must accomplish this.
But, on websites, and certainly in person, this is a missed opportunity to do more. Find ways to humanize your bio, breathe life into your stories and what you write about your practices and firm. Identify ways to show that you're also nice to do business with.
Being on the short list is terrific. But you can only build a career if someone likes you enough to hire you.