How Can a Focused Differentiation Strategy Help My Firm?

What is a unique value proposition? 

In short, a unique value proposition, or UVP, is a set of characteristics that make you different from your competition. There are typically at least three things that make you different from all of your competition. Your location, practice type, and your firm’s culture or personality come together to differentiate you from your immediate peer group and form the basis of your firm’s UVP. The most important of the three is your firm’s culture or personality. It’s the true differentiator.

“A clear statement, in line with your market’s challenges and desires, communicating the unique contribution your company, product and services provide to your market different than your competitors.” – infomarketerszone.com

A unique value proposition isn’t a yellow book advertisement; it’s not a line of marketing copy written in an attempt to get a potential client to call you. A UVP cuts to the core of your firm’s authentic competitive advantages.

There can be only one.

Unique value propositions are difficult to replicate or mimic as it’s not often an ideal place for your competition to compete. For example, attorney Chris Moye has a very interesting approach to running a law firm, “innovate or die”. As a legal marketing professional, I approve this message. They are a technology company first, and a law firm second, and apparently a horse law firm third.  He has a unique firm that practices technology law, IP, real estate, and horse law in New York City.  I didn’t even know they had horses in NYC  (oh, wait central park), let alone a law firm that practices in both technology and horses. But that isn’t what sets Chris apart. What sets his firm apart from the others is that they are 100% authentic in their communication, let alone their stable of practice types.

Horse and Apple

Ultimately, we realized that the issue with most law firms is that their work has no spirit. It has no life. The Law Office of Christopher Moye is unique because it is an extension of the people who helped to design it. We breathed our own dreams, ideas and passion into this practice to create a legal experience for clients that was humane, responsive and different. That’s why we offer perspectives about LOCM’s philosophy, purpose (ikigai) and passion. I wanted clients to know who they were hiring and how badly I wanted to help them to be successful. I didn’t want to hide behind wooden phrases and plastic advertising copy.” – LawMoye.com

It’s amazing the sort of creative marketing positions that firms like Christopher Moye’s take. What is less apparent is what you don’t see in their marketing. I never saw “years of experience”, “lower fees”,  “free consultations”, “I fight for your…” type messages in his marketing. Chris’ message is important because there is always going to be another attorney with more experience, with a better legal record and a free consultation. None of them, however, will be Christopher Moye, because when you hire Chris, you are not hiring a faceless commodity. You are hiring his passion, experiences, ideology, knowledge and “ikigai”.  The Horse and technology attorney of New York City, he offers a unique value proposition that cannot be faked or duplicated. What is required in today’s legal environment is a focused differentiation approach. Find a niche and make it yours. If I was launching a new piece of high tech horse related technology, I would contact Chris Moye.

What is a focused differentiation strategy?

“Strategy 101 is about choices: You can’t be all things to all people.” – Michael Porter, Harvard Professor, world renowned expert on competitive analysis.

Within marketing, there exist a number of competitive positions that a law firm can take. However, some approaches are better than others for most firms. For example, cost leadership isn’t for the faint of heart, or a startup firm, and to be honest I don’t recommend it for anyone except Wal-Mart. If you would like to NOT be considered the Wal-Mart, (i.e., LegalZoom) of the legal profession, focused differentiation strategy is probably for your firm.

This goes out to all of the general practice firms out there with black and white business cards that read “Attorney At Law”. This message is specifically for you. Although many attorneys have an idea of what niche marketing is, they may not understand the reasons behind developing a niche marketing position and how it can help their firm thrive.

A great example that many can relate to would be the art of hiring an attorney. Many potential clients will not know what type of attorney they need and will start their search online by typing in “attorney” or “lawyer”. What we do not know about this client from a search perspective, is what type of legal issue he is seeking assistance with.

Let’s say a bicyclist who was injured in a collision with a motorist. They thought at the moment of the accident that they would be fine and didn’t feel very much pain because of the adrenaline and confusion from being hit by a car. Just in case he got the motorist’s information. A few days later this cyclist goes to his family doctor to find out why he feels so much pain throughout the day. The doctor informs him that he has a number of serious injuries most likely caused by the accident that require immediate and costly medical attention. His doctor refers him to a specialist in town and advises him to seek a lawyer to get damages to pay for his medical expenses.

The bicyclist goes to Google, and types in “Lawyer”.  If he lived in Chicago, this is what he would see.

I might be old fashioned, but I believe in advertising copy. In that entire first page of search results, there is only one ad copy that is related to injury, and zero ads related to bicycle injuries. This isn’t surprising, that’s what you get with a generic search term.  The second paid Google Adwords result in the search is probably the most relevant because it does mention injury. I believe our bicyclist would make the most rational decision and click there. Seeing that it’s a website that generates leads and doesn’t itself have a unique value proposition and appears generic and unprofessional, I believe our client would start his search over on Google, with a more specific keyword “Injury Lawyer”. At this point all of the advertisements on the Google search results page will be relevant for Chicago personal injury lawyers. However none of them appear to support bicycle injuries at first glance, so instead of visiting and sorting through this pile of personal injury attorneys, our searcher asks Google to do the heavy lifting and puts “Bicycle injury lawyer” into the search field. This is what he finds.

As you can see, I believe that our client would select organic search result number two. Because, in his advertising copy he doesn’t mention how aggressive he is, how low his attorney fees are, how many years of experience he has, how many free consultations he offers, and he doesn’t attempt to make an unsubstantiated claim of expertise like some other “top” attorneys, so why did I choose him? It is because he differentiated himself with his marketing message, and not using cliché advertising copy.

Jonathan Rosenfeld, Esq. used a focused differentiation strategy, not only via his custom bicycle accident focused website, but also through his ad copy in the description meta-tag, which reads:

Jonathan Rosenfeld appears to be an avid bicyclist and he is from Chicago, probably a Bears fan. Go Bears! He knows both the pleasures and dangers of cycling in Chicago. On a side note, he is also an injury lawyer. When I visit his website, it’s apparent that his message continues and strengthens my confidence in choosing him as a more qualified injury attorney to represent me than his peers because of his focused differentiation message. As I browse the website I see that he has information for all types of bicycle accidents, injuries, and specific Chicago bike law information. I become even more confident that I have a case against the motorist who I collided with. Jonathan, if I was injured in a bicycle accident, you would be retained! What do your organic description meta-tags say about your firm?

Why does this work? It’s simple. Although an attorney can believe that all legal issues within his practice are the same, to the client it may be the first time they have needed to contact an attorney, ever. It’s important for a firm’s marketing decision makers to place themselves in the shoes of the client. The client wants to be sure that their attorney understands where they are coming from. They want the attorney who best understands their needs, and their specific legal situation.  They don’t have time to conduct a lot of research to find out that you are indeed a cyclist who understands “…both the pleasures and dangers that accompany riding in [Chicago]…”

When you position yourself towards carving out a niche, you limit the competition and help make choosing you for a specific type of legal issue easier, thus increasing your overall conversion rates, retention and in most cases your attorney fees as clients are willing to spend more for differentiation. Additionally, as you complete more of your niche cases, you will develop efficiencies and knowledge that other attorneys who may only complete one or two of these cases would take years to develop.  For example, Prescott & Pearson’s slogan “This is all we do, and we do it well.”

I can’t live on bicycle accidents alone!

According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes approximately 10,000 hours to become an “expert”; I believe. Let’s call it the 4-5 year rule for lawyers that practice a single practice type daily. One of my favorite examples of the 10,000 hour rule is Serbian tennis athlete Novak Djokovic, who attributes much of his success to hours spent on the tennis courts in Belgrade during the 1990s. If you are not familiar with Serbia in the 1990s there wasn’t much for a kid to do, and he had a lot of hours to fill. This allowed Djokovic to surpass his 10,000 hour mark much sooner than his peers across the globe. Novak became an expert in his craft without the coaches, facilities, equipment or competition that comparable champions like Federer, Murray, or Nadal had at their disposal. What he did have was a lot of time to practice and hone his craft.

What does this mean to you as an attorney running a competitive law firm? It means, despite your competition’s advantages, you can still compete with proper positioning and practice. It means, after 4-5 years of practicing [niche focused differentiated] law in [your city], you will have most likely become a master, and you can expand your practice to include another niche practice type, perhaps Equine law in downtown Chicago. Luckily most of us are not starting out with zero hours of experience.  The most difficult part of choosing a niche is introspection towards your past, passions, experiences, and knowledge. Use what you learn to chart a path towards your firm’s unique value proposition and your future audience and clients.

Focus Differentiation – Final message.

A niche marketing strategy with focused differentiation is best used when the target audience is not price sensitive and the market is competitive (e.g., any contingency fee practice). It also helps if the customer has a very specific legal issue which could be potentially underserved or grouped under a greater umbrella, from an SEO marketing perspective, very few people type “Personal Injury Lawyer” as their first search when they become aware that they need an attorney. They are much more likely to search for a generic term such as “attorney” or “lawyer”, or describe their specific legal issues, such as “bike accident lawyer”.

A strategically crafted niche position is nearly impossible for a competitor to replicate. It’s almost a part of you. It is part of your firm’s DNA. It could be trademarked terms, industry recognition, technical or industry expertise, lovable people with great personalities, or a very innovative marketing campaign that develops a law firm’s brand.

Legal services do not need to be looked at like a commodity. Although most of the field and the public view legal services as a commodity due to high competition and tacky, repetitive undifferentiated marketing, it doesn’t have to be that way. Coffee is a commodity. You can make coffee at home for a month and spend less than five dollars, or you can go buy Starbucks Coffee for five dollars a cup every morning. It’s the same product, different pricing, different feeling, and a different strategy. Stop being John Doe with a generic general practice. Start being John Does More, Trusted, knowledgeable, authority on [your niche] law.

Get Started!

How to develop your focused differentiation firm value proposition?

  1. What are you passionate about? (Tennis? Serbia? Cycling? Horses?)
  2. Do you have experience or skills that someone will benefit from?
  3. What type of clients or law motivates you the most?
  4. If you were to develop a new niche for yourself and your firm, and had to devote 3 or more hours every day towards learning this niche, what would you be interested in learning?
  5. Who is your target audience? Describe them in great detail.

After answering the questions above, please answer the following question. What is your law firm’s unique value proposition? Where would you like your firm to be in 5 years after becoming a master based on experience in your craft?  Leave your answer in the comments below. Remember, a unique value proposition is unlikely to be stolen, as it’s a part of your firm’s identity as much as it’s a marketing strategy.