Ask an Expert: Harnessing Competitive Intelligence for Legal Marketing

BY Cara Tucker

Icons for web design, seo, social media and pay per click internet advertising in flat design
Icons for web design, seo, social media and pay per click internet advertising in flat design


Marketing professionals have always needed to study their clients’ competitors: to respond to their tactics and claims, to see where they are improving and succeeding most and to identify their own client’s unique strengths. But with the explosion of internet and social media marketing, that task became monumentally more complex. And the number of client-crucial channels — from Google Ads to Instagram — refuses to stop growing.

In August 2012, TrackMaven was founded to help businesses and firms across the country keep real-time tabs on their competitors. Since then, the Washington, D.C. based firm has expanded rapidly, and its client list now includes Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), Martha Stewart Living and the NBA. TrackMaven is the competitive intelligence platform for enterprise marketers. BLF sat down with TrackMaven’s Sabel Harris to learn about the impact that solid competitive intelligence can have on growing firms.

BLF: First off, what is “competitive intelligence?” Is there a simple definition?

Harris: Academically speaking, competitive intelligence is the process by which marketers collect data on their competitors’ social media channels, SEO, traffic, content marketing and paid advertising. Competitive intelligence allows you to study your competitors and peers in detail. In a nutshell, competitive intelligence absorbs and tracks everything about your competitors. It’s traditional marketing tracking with a competitive twist.

Many firms measure their own efforts carefully, but few track their competitors. Competitive intelligence can reduce risks and identify opportunities for lawyers. It may also seem more natural to the legal mind that some other marketing techniques might. Good competitive intelligence analyzes past evidence of performance, existing precedents and measurable facts. Lawyers may find that its strategies play into their existing strengths. With competitive intelligence, a firm can apply those skills to expand and improve itself.

There are all sorts of ways to incorporate competitive intelligence into your firm. You can task your current marketing team to expand tracking efforts; you can hire a CI-specific professional; you can work with an existing exterior service (such as TrackMaven’s); you can even do it yourself.

BLF: We’ve noticed more and more marketers prioritizing competitive intelligence across a range of fields. Why is that?

Harris: No matter what field you’re in, its marketing is facing huge changes. The sheer number of channels that marketers now have to market in is staggering. And then, while trying to market your own brand in those channels, you want to watch each of your competitors — which multiplies that previous number of channels again and again.

CI is important because it makes you aware of your entire landscape and of the most effective channels to use in your industry.

Some types of clients, including banks and insurance carriers, need legal counsel on a frequent and regular basis. Perhaps your firm can attract those clients away from their current representation, bringing their cases and their business to you. Map out what your firm has to offer and summarize the legal specialties each attorney at your firm brings to the team. Then, you can hunt for potential clients and find out who is currently representing their interests. These same strategies can also help your firm expand its talent by attracting the best legal professionals in your area with an informed, targeted approach.

Facts bring confidence. The better you know other firms, the better you know your own. CI will help in pitching clients and in targeting areas for internal improvement.

BLF: What kind of information could a client of yours expect to collect?

Harris: TrackMaven partners with more than a dozen different data sources. Most of that information is third-party data that a marketer could acquire through many different tools and manual processes. However, at TrackMaven, we centralize all of these processes into one place where a marketer can benchmark in real time, create actionable alerts, spin up graphs and summarize to make intelligent changes.

Sometimes we get requests for first-party data, like paid advertising click-through rates, but it wouldn’t be ethical to obtain that information about a specific competitor.

Valuable intelligence will allow you to know what’s going on in your entire landscape. Unreliable, shallow intelligence could involve only knowing about one channel in your landscape. For example, if all of your marketing and your competitors’ marketing includes paid advertising, Twitter, Facebook and press content, and you’re only tracking things on Twitter … You wouldn’t be getting the whole picture in analysis.

Certainly, CI focuses on competitors, but it also highlights other elements in the competitive environment, including major clients overall and their prospects within their industries, the economy, politics, culture and technology, which all affect a law firm’s ability to compete.

The Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) is a CI organization that requires all members to sign and adhere to SCIP’s Code of Ethics. The code compels all members to avoid conflicts of interest they encounter and follow all company or firm policies. Any law firm that employs CI professionals who do not belong to SCIP should provide a similar model code of its own.

BLF: Can a firm get CI information on its own?

Harris: There are ways that an attorney can get this information by manual processes. For example, if an attorney had one local competitor and wanted to look at that competitor’s Twitter, he or she could simply visit that competitor’s Twitter account.

Now, when you want to look at more than five competitors on more than 15 different channels — that’s when things start to amplify. Manual processes can allow things to slip through the cracks. The strategy becomes very inefficient and prone to errors for marketers, or anyone, monitoring their competition. Many businesses try to do the processes manually, which cannot done in a timely fashion to keep up with real time. Usually, marketers only do this manual process quarterly or yearly because it takes so much effort.

If your firm is small (with, say, between five and 20 attorneys), your marketing team will probably be able to build a comprehensive picture with manual work and the free and low-cost options available. Major services like TrackMaven will be most useful for large firms hoping to get even larger; these services become invaluable once collecting the amount of data needed for decision-making would become a full-time job.

Firm-developed intelligence typically addresses local firm reputations, client locations, and the culture and technology found in your area.

BLF: What are some of the best ways a legal marketing team could react to CI once they have it?

Harris: Marketers are scared to copy or imitate their competitors’ ideas and content, and that is a valid concern. But competitive intelligence is most importantly the ability to optimize your marketing on the fly and to aim in the direction of what will be most successful. It allows a legal marketing team to become proactive with their audiences. When they perform a certain kind of campaign, they go in knowing that it will most likely be successful (rather than testing it first to find out if it fails).

If your firm is hoping to grow by merging with or acquiring other firms, competitive intelligence can provide a hard, honest look at your candidates. If your firm is working with a merger consultant, he or she will likely collect, vet and analyze the majority of this intelligence for you. If your firm is hoping to expand by opening new offices or moving, you can reduce some of the biggest risks by studying what the new location has and what it needs. With CI, you can gauge the profitability and success of current offerings and the potential for talent recruitment.

Legal work is never static; laws, industry balances and client needs are constantly changing. By focusing on social media intelligence, your firm can identify what people are asking for in a legal representative — and be the first to give it to them if it suits your evolving firm.

To take advantage of CI, your firm has to be ready to change and hoping to change. Gauge your firm’s culture before pouring time and money into research. Your firm may be perfectly happy operating on the scale and at the rate it currently does.

If your firm is looking to invest in CI, seek out CI specialists with experience in law and law marketing. You may need them to split their research between library and precedent study and traditional business marketing.

Track everything. The point is to have data, not a general feeling from checking someone’s Twitter feed over the course of a year. Watch for patterns to help make predictions about your geographic and speciality areas in law. Respond to them when you see them.

BLF: Where should an interested attorney start?

Harris: Although this may seem a little obvious, figure out exactly who your competitors are. A lot of times, businesses already have a solid list of three to four competitors. Personally, I advise adding one bigger firm in your field that seems out of reach and a smaller one that you sometimes skip. Later, you can add even more related firms into the mix and really outline what’s happening in your industry.

Second, figure out the channels where your audience hangs out to determine where you marketing will work best. Then, you can watch those channels to see if your competitors are succeeding or failing in them. That information will help your firm determine how to maneuver its own marketing techniques.

Competitive Intelligence Resources for Law Firms

The American Bar Association
You’re probably already familiar with the ABA’s resources, but did you know that some chapters regularly provide specific CI? Every few years, some release a report detailing the billing rates of their firms, dividing them by size, years in practice, practice areas and geographic regions. Check with your chapter to see if a report is available in your area.

Chambers and Partners
Chambers and Partners editorials are a high-quality, but unfortunately highly limited, source for CI analysis. To see if the prospective competitor you’re considering has ever appeared in the publication, you’ll need to conduct a general search for relevant content.

Corporate Counsel’s Corporate Representation (Who Counsels Who)
An annual publication within ALM Mag, Who Counsels Who reports exactly that. ALM’s data is sourced from both public data and its own surveys. Each year, a new edition emerges, but the current edition is kept updated monthly until then.

Fee Fie Foe Firm
This free website strains general Google search results to supply a list containing only law firm websites. It’s among the easiest tools to use, and it eliminates much of the frustration attorneys encounter when trying to navigate a massive database of details when looking for a broad idea. Fee Fie Foe Firm takes you directly back to the sources on which you want to gather intelligence.

LexisNexis’ Knowledge Mosiac
Knowledge Mosaic offers public companies a database on “Law Firm Relationships.” While it only reports on corporate work, it updates those findings daily. Subscribers can filter results by state and explore a chosen company specifically as a competitor.

This Montana-based CI firm works exclusively and specifically with legal and consulting professionals. Their specialized services offer an excellent option for large firms hoping to outsource their CI collection and analysis. Moreover, the company allows anyone to sign up for its free Muzeview Briefings, which deliver industry news and action-based tips for law firm CI to your inbox.

Thomas Reuter’s Monitor Suite
Monitor Suite contains a number of solutions to aid a firm’s business development. A searchable database informs you about the clients held by your competitors. Three modules describe representation using litigation, deals and intellectual property, and digital reports arrive with summaries and graphic representations of data. Users can fine-tune the tools to conduct even more specific research, including feedback on emerging competitors, changing legal needs within given industries and candidates for firm mergers. It’s one of the most comprehensive and well-developed CI resources available, though it comes at a cost. Pricing is subscription-based.

Sabel Harris is the Director of Marketing for TrackMaven. When she isn’t marketing (a very rare occurrence), she’s probably enjoying a great cup of coffee or watching too many shows on Netflix.

Cara Tucker

Cara M. Tucker is a former contributor to Bigger Law Firm Magazine and editor.


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