Steve Jobs’ greatest marketing lesson for lawyers

No doubt Steve Jobs’ career will long be studied in business schools. His vision and iconoclastic style changed everything in the world of technology and business. Jobs urged the world to “Think Different” and his accomplishments proved this to be good advice.

His career also provided several lessons in marketing for lawyers, as Larry Bodine ably points out. I believe Jobs’ greatest lesson, however, was in the way he lived his life.

Well before illness reminded him of his mortality, Jobs’ philosophy for living drove him to take risks. In his address to the 2005 Stanford graduating class, he described it this way:

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Of course this is not, per se, a marketing lesson, nor is it confined to lawyers. But I believe that more than anyone, lawyers need to hear this message.

Lawyers are among the most risk adverse creatures on Earth. Protecting our clients from risk is one of our strengths. Paradoxically, it is also one of our weaknesses.

In the world of business, lawyers are known as “deal breakers”. To protect our clients, (and ourselves), we often overstate the likelihood and potential consequences of perceived risks, often to the detriment of our clients’ business interests. A deal not struck cannot result in loss but neither can it result in gain.

In marketing their services, many lawyers are also deal breakers. They don’t want to appear weak or unprofessional or make a mistake that embarrasses them or gets flagged as an ethics violation, and so too often, they do nothing. Or they do something that is so watered down, so colorless, the results aren’t even worth mentioning.

Steve Jobs was successful because he took chances. He defied convention. He stuck his neck out and challenged the world to a duel. He had many defeats and many detractors but he accomplished great things because he didn’t worry about what others thought.

Most lawyers don’t like marketing, not because they feel it is beneath them, although that sentiment also exists, but because they are afraid to fail. They can sell their ideas to a jury, risking everything on behalf of their client, and when they lose, shrug it off and bounce right back. But when it comes to selling themselves, many lawyers freeze in their tracks.

Learning how to market ones services helps to reduce the fear, but in the end, lawyers need to just go for it. As Los Angeles Dodgers great Maury Wills, who stole 104 bases in one season once said, “You can’t steal second base while keeping one foot on first base.”

While many baseball fans know about Wills’ record setting base stealing, they may not know that he also set a record for being thrown out while attempting to steal a base–31 times during the 1965 season.

Nobody ever achieved great success by playing it safe. All great achievements have come from taking great risks. Steve Jobs took risks every day and lived every day like it was his last. He had many losses and many wins but, I am sure, few regrets.

Steve Jobs’ resignation: what it means for your law practice

Steve Jobs’ abrupt resignation yesterday had social media buzzing about the news and what it means for Apple (which saw its stock immediately drop, and then rebound) and for the tech world. Every news channel and blog had something to say and the tweets and wall posts abounded.

But what does his resignation mean for attorneys? How will this affect your law practice?

Well, unless you work for Apple or one of their affiliates, it won’t affect your practice at all.

So. . . why the tease? Was my headline a gimmick to get more clicks?

Well, yes and no.

It’s true that I don’t have anything to say about how this news story will actually affect your practice, and while that smacks of gimmickry, there is a lesson in this.

The headline that brought you here illustrates an important marketing technique: tying your message–blog post, tweet, post, email–to something already on the minds of your readers or followers. According to a new Kindle ebook by Dan Zarrella, about the science and metrics behind social media, this is called “priming”. Zarrella says,

“If a subject is exposed to something related to your idea before he actually encounters your idea, he’ll be more sensitive to it, and this makes it easier to catch his attention. . . .

“The easiest way to make priming work for your idea is to create timely content. If there is a topic or news story currently making the rounds in your target audience, relate your idea to that topic, and the zeitgeist will do the priming for you.”

And so, primed as you were by the news of Jobs’ resignation, you were more inclined to click through to read this story. Yes, I cheated a bit with my headline and yes, it would have been better if I had something to say about how the resignation affected the legal profession, but then this would have been a very different blog post.

Zarrella’s book is brief, not at all dry, and has some great insights and data, such as the most and least re-tweetable words and the best times and days to tweet, blog, post to Facebbok, and send email. “In many cases, the most effective times to send are the less popular times. Because your messages have less clutter to compete with, they break through.”

Zarrella also says that people share on social media not for altruistic reasons but because the information they share reinforces their reputation. People prefer to share breaking news, for example, because it is scarce, rather than humor or opinion which is all too common.

Some might say that putting news in your headlines to piggyback on what’s already on the minds of your readers isn’t a new idea, and they would be right. I’m sure this post, with the headline, “Man Accidentally Impregnates Goat,” is getting lots of traffic. Like my post, the lesson is in the headline, not the story. (Be sure to download the free ebook he mentions, “How to Write Headlines That go Viral with Social Media”.)

So, not a new concept. What’s new is that now, social media metrics let us quantify what we always suspected, while leading us to discover ideas that never crossed our minds.

Zarrella’s book is also free, through August 27.

The ABA Journal wants to know what lawyers think about the economy. I don’t.

How’s business? The ABA Journal wants to know. They are surveying lawyers on the job market and the state of the economy. They’ve asked me to mention this on my blog, so here it is:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=9Dhw2g7bX_2bxfq4mW8eB1Cg_3d_3d

Surveys are interesting, but guess what? The job market and the state of the economy have no bearing on your life. Unless you believe it will.

If you believe the economy will materially affect your practice or job, it will. If you believe it won’t, it won’t.

Does that sound naive? Some kind of new age hooey? Well, if you believe that, then for you, that’s exactly what it is. But I have different beliefs. I believe we create our reality. I believe we can choose to be successful in the face of adversity or we can choose to capitulate, wring our hands, and suffer along with everyone else.

It’s our choice.

You can choose personal responsibility. You can choose to be optimistic. You can choose to see opportunity when others see Armageddon. In the Depression of the 1930’s, unemployment was twenty-five percent and millions suffered. But many made fortunes. I guess they understood that periods of great change create opportunities for the status quo to change. Of course that’s also why many previously wealthy people jumped out of windows.

Business philosopher, Jim Rohn, said, “It is the set of the sails, not the direction of the wind that determines which way we will go.” How are you choosing to set your sails?

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Update: In case you’re interested, here’s a link to the survey results: http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/14307_lawyers_predict_the_future