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How to Stand Out From Your Competition

A USP is a compelling marketing message that dramatically sets you apart from your competitors and boldly broadcasts the unique benefits your legal services provide.

By Ken Hardison, the President and founder of PILMMA, the Personal Injury Lawyers Marketing & Management Association www.pilmma.org.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery. But when it comes to marketing your law firm and beating your competition, it falls flat. A large majority of lawyers assume that copying their competitor’s ads will help them compete with them. Don’t fall into this trap. This is ineffective, costly and gives you and your law firm no competitive advantage in the marketplace whatsoever.

Rosser Reeves wrote a book in 1961 called “Reality in Advertising” that literally revolutionized the marketing industry. The book was so influential that it became a college textbook for marketing students. In his book, Reeves announced the idea that every business, product, or service absolutely must have a “USP” or a “Unique Selling Proposition.”  He maintained that focusing on the USP in every advertising and marketing effort was key to creating an effective and cohesive advertising and marketing campaign.

What is a USP?

A USP is a compelling marketing message that dramatically sets you apart from your competitors and boldly broadcasts the unique benefits your legal services provide. It’s the number one benefit or total of all benefits that differentiates you from all other law firms in your market.

Simply put a USP is:

  • An overt, unique claim about your law firm or a promise of benefits of your legal services.
  • A statement that impressively positions you as distinctly different from your competitors.
  • A statement that is so strong, attractive and compelling that it motivates prospects to choose you over all other firms.

A USP answers this basic question, “Why should I do business with your law firm rather than with your competitors -- or better yet -- why should I hire a lawyer at all?”

Why do you need a USP?

You need a USP because your potential prospects are getting hammered every day with hundreds of ads from your competitors. They all say the same things, “We’re tough and aggressive,” “We care,” “Free Consultation,” “We don’t get paid unless we win.” These ads clutter the airwaves and have consumers’ heads spinning with everyone saying the same thing. No wonder prospective clients don’t know whom to hire -- no one stands out. How can a prospective client choose the law firm that’s right for them when they all look the same, sound the same and make all the same promises?

The fact that legal advertising is cluttered with cookie cutter ads and the same messages over and over is actually a good thing for you. This gives you a golden opportunity to stand out from your competition. How do you do this? With a USP.

How to Develop Your Firm’s USP

Most lawyers say, We do all the same things our competitors are doing,” “We are bound by laws and regulations on what we can do and what we can say to potential clients,” and “We don’t have much choice, there really is no way to stand out from the crowd.”

The answer is simply this: it can be done. Is it easy? Not necessarily, but with the right mindset, you can create a USP for your firm that will increase the return on your investment from your advertising three to ten times what it presently yields.

To develop a powerful and effective USP, you must think like potential clients. Ask yourself:

  • What keeps them up at night?
  • What is their big problem you can solve?
  • What is the headache your firm can cure?
  • Above all else, focus on answering the potential client’s most critical question, “What’s in it for me?”

The only way to answer that question is to sell the “benefits” of your law firm and not the “features” of your legal services.

What’s the different between a benefit and a feature? Take the eraser on a pencil for example. The feature of that eraser is that is will eliminate your mistakes. The benefit is that the eraser saves time and effort by sparing you from rewriting everything from the beginning. The benefit is the time you save. See the difference?

For an example of a benefit versus a feature, let’s take Domino’s Pizza. One of their slogans is, Piping Hot Pizza Delivered in 30 minutes or less…” The benefit is hot, instead of cold, pizza and fast, instead of slow, delivery. By focusing on the benefits, they are showing the consumers what’s in it for them. Every consumer now knows if they order Domino’s, they’ll get hot pizza delivered fast. This is how Domino’s differentiated itself from the other competitors and created a multi-million dollar business.

Note that Domino’s never claimed to be the best-tasting pizza. The company focused on its target market -- people who want hot pizza fast. Similarly, an attorney should focus on prospective clients. Your USP should tell them that you’re the firm that can provide legal services better than any other firm. You must know what your prospective clients want in order to create a USP that works.

An example of a law firm USP

Why do people resist hiring a lawyer? Many do so because they lack funds and are afraid they will be taken advantage of. To address this, the Hardison & Cochran law firm in North Carolina uses a “30 Day Client Service Satisfaction Guarantee – No questions and no fees.”  The firm gives new clients the opportunity to try it for 30 days. At anytime during the first 30 days, if a client isn’t 100% satisfied with the way they were treated, the person can ask for their file back with no fees. See www.CarolinaSSDLawyers.com.

While it’s a compelling offer by itself, the benefit to the potential client is that they can “try us” and change lawyers without the fear of having to pay for two lawyers if they aren’t 100% happy. Hardison & Cochran incorporates the concept of risk reversal. By giving a client a 30 day guarantee with no fees, the firm takes all of the risk, leaving the client able and willing to take action risk-free. The benefit, again, is that they are not stuck with a law firm they are unhappy with.

The key thing to remember when developing a USP is this: You can’t be all things to all people. Select your specific USP and stick with it. You should use it in everything you do to market and advertise your firm. It should become your mantra and you should use it assertively. It is, after all, who you are.

Again, most lawyers say, “We all do the same things and are constrained by rules and regulations so our hands are tied.” But it’s not true. What you do may be the same, but how you do it is a different question altogether. You could have a “Client Bill of Rights” or a “Client Advocate.” You could offer to handle property damage for free. Any of these benefits can be molded into your USP.

A Preemptive USP

You could be the first lawyer in your market to promote a particular benefit that all other lawyers in your market already offer. Because the benefit is universally offered, no one bothers to promote it. Why is this? Why would you not promote something that would cause a prospective client to hire you? It makes no difference that “everyone else does it.” If no one is promoting the fact, you should be the first to shout it from the rooftops. If no one is talking about it, how do potential clients know you’re doing it? Claim it for yourself and let it set you apart. This is called creating a preemptive USP.

You are simply promoting the facts of what you do. Even though all the other lawyers do the same thing, you will have given yourself a competitive advantage simply by stating it. If you say it first, you’ll establish a preeminent market position and will be perceived as the market leader. Other firms that try to follow suit and quickly claim the same thing will be considered “copycats” and “me too” firms and will only end up advertising you.

For example, you could advertise your USP as “We will handle your P.P. or Med Pay Claim for free.” Even if every other lawyer in town does it, you will be the first to use it to differentiate the way you handle a case. This is how you execute a preemptive USP.

For a more detailed guide on how to create a USP for your law firm, please visit: www.CreateAUSP.com.


Ken, a practicing attorney, is known for his innovative marketing strategies and helping lawyers double and even triple their case intakes in less than 18 months.

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