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Personas: What They Are and Why You Should Care

Kick your law firm’s digital marketing strategy up a notch by truly understanding your audiences

Understanding your audiences can be complex. While free tools like Google Analytics have made it easy to tap data related to keyword searches, website traffic and content performance to learn more about online audience behavior, the next-level strategy is identifying different audience “personas” and learning how to connect with these prospective clients.

Serving as a vital part of any successful digital marketing plan, attorneys can use the statistics already at their fingertips along with qualitative insight to create fine-tuned examples of personasclient user types who ultimately convert to cases.

Simply put, defining personas is an effective way to break down a larger audience segment. For example:

A broad audience: anyone needing legal representation.

Personas: specific snapshots of user archetypes based on deeper psychographics, such as emotional needs and drivers – “car accident victim”, “nursing home neglect case” or “medical mass-tort patient”.

This method of market segmentation helps to create a predictive story built on collective client behaviors and attributes. These stories can help you understand (and therefore market more specifically to) the kinds of clients you want to work with in the future and the quality of cases you want to retain going forward. Not only will audience persona-building help you understand who your clients really are, but will help you empathize with these prospects—and attract even more clients. Personas are used to guide future marketing decisions to ensure you are speaking on platforms that your audiences actually use, as well as crafting messaging that will resonate with them most and even advertising at times of day you know they are most likely to interact with your attorneys.

Personas can help lawyers look beyond the circumstances of a case—an accident and a victim—to better understand what these archetypes need to allay fears, digest content, connect with a lawyer, call a law firm, feel empowered, etc. Clearly delineating between audiences and understanding both demographics and psychographics can help your law firm reach more prospective clients.

Do you know the reading level of your core audiences? That will directly affect how technical your content can and should be. Certain archetypes respond better to simple, straightforward messages that are broken down in bullet points and therefore are easier to consume. Video and infographics might be a smart approach in this case.

Do you know how educated your audiences are about legal rights? If not, your legal messages will need to start with basic steps to follow after an accident or mismanaged medical procedure, for example, without publishing anything that would imply an attorney/client relationship.

Do you know how ethnographics impact your digital marketing tactics? If you serve a high Hispanic demographic, your legal brand shouldn’t overlook the fact that many clients may know English only as a second language. Demonstrating empathy for your audience archetypes by publishing materials properly translated in Spanish is one step toward communicating in a way that can lead to better conversion rates.

The basics of building personas

So how do you start defining audiences? We won’t sugarcoat the fact that the legal industry must start from a more challenging place when trying to build personas. Rather than reading specific analytics to better understand why and how a customer buys a smartphone or a raincoat or a truck, instead attorneys are charged with building personas around very broad practice areas. For example, a car accident can happen to anyone, right? Accidents don’t discriminate by demographics. For broader practice sets such as accidents you may need additional layers of qualitative data, such as client interviews or focus groups, to develop your personas.

A better place to begin building initial personas may be with your most focused practice areas. This will ensure audience demographics are more targeted, such as a defective contraceptive device that is implanted in women only or nursing home neglect cases, where sex and age are clear delineators. For these practice areas, analytics can tell a much clearer story and give you a more solid foundation from which to start learning about your audience behaviors.

Personas must address many questions, including:

  1. Who are the people who ultimately become your clients?
  2. What do these people want more than anything else when they seek out your lawyers?
  3. How do they interact with your legal brand or competitors?
  4. What are the barriers prospective clients face that make them look elsewhere?
  5. How do they impact your practice during the entire client-attorney relationship?

There are two simultaneous approaches to answering these critical questions about personas: 1) Doing the research, and 2) Asking more questions. Depending on your time, budget and tools, you can glean qualitative insight and quantitative data from a variety of sources. You could talk to your intake experts or longtime lawyers for deeper insight; interview clients before and after cases are concluded; or seek out experts who have already studied such audience archetypes. This type of research can include learning more about “cohorts,” typically generational groupings, based on people sharing a similar experience. For example, what do baby boomers, generation Xers and millennials share in terms of interests and needs?

You can also mine existing statistics. We’ve touched on how to gain deeper knowledge on geographic and behavioral segments from the free Google Analytics reporting tied to your website. Adwords, Yahoo and Keyword Discovery are other online outlets designed to teach you about the keywords phrases that people are using to seek out lawyers, which can help you better understand your archetypes’ motivations and emotions.

Scouring social media interactions to understand what are people are already saying about your lawyers and competition online may also provide new insight. Free tools like Quantcast can help you gather demographics from visitors to sites similar to your own. Paid research from Hitwise and NetRatings can provide bigger, more global awareness about an entire industry if necessary.

Once you have worked with your marketing team to collect as much background as possible on people in your top practice areas, narrowing these down into personas (short written profiles) can help you create a reference point going forward. Your marketing entities will all be able to refer to the same archetypes to make smarter, more informed choices about appropriate content and communication. To write persona “stories,” it is helpful to answer key questions about what now know your archetypes care about, what they need from a lawyer and a legal relationship, and how they are most likely to find and interact with you.

Here’s a small sample of the questions Network Affiliates would address when building a practice-area persona based on collective data:

  1. What are the persona’s demographics? (Age, marital/parental status, salary, job, ethnicity, education, nationality, location, etc.)
  2. What are top lifestyle choices? (Interests, hobbies, daily habits, health, family/friends, etc.)
  3. How tech-savvy are they? What devices do they use? How often and for how long?
  4. What’s their emotional state? (Personality type, beliefs, goals, motivators, etc.)
  5. How do they interact with lawyers? (Surfing for general info, researching deeper, making decisions online, reaching out with questions, relying on referrals, etc.)
  6. What impedes decision-making process? (Access, communication, lack of follow-up, tone, money, confidentiality, trust, etc.)
  7. How does this client relate to the law firm in the future? (Referrals, repeat business, social engagement, community building, networking, case studies, etc.)

From these answers we can build not only a persona—a snapshot of who this person is and how he or she functions—but also a client “journey.” The journey is all the steps along that way that lead to engaging with a lawyer and ultimately converting to a client. Knowing where these people are coming from, but also what they’re going (and where you can interact more effectively or personally) during the decision-making process is a key insight for digital marketing for lawyers today.

Personas, like people themselves, come with many layers. But building your audience archetypes doesn’t have to be a dizzying process. The legal marketing professionals here at Network Affiliates are here to answer any questions you may have about your practice-area audiences. For a free and confidential market evaluation, click here or call us today:  1-888-461-1016!