Seth Godin has some insights on game theory, the marketplace of ideas and the demand for free.
"Radio thirty years ago was simple: everyone hears it for free and a few buy it.
For a time, one could use free to promote an idea and have leverage to turn that attention into paid sales of a similar item (either because free went away or because the similar item offered convenience or souvenir value).
I think that might be changing. As the free-only cohort grows, people start to feel foolish when they pay for something when the free substitute is easily available and perhaps more convenient.
Think about that–buying things now makes some people feel foolish. Few felt foolish buying a Creedence album in the 1970s. They felt good about it, not stupid."
Can’t disagree with anything he says in his post. Especially since this gives me an excuse to give an obligatory Creedence link as well as a link to the same song in The Big Lebowski, one of the 10 greatest movie comedies of all time. The Dude was, without doubt, one of the laziest men in Los Angeles County, which placed him high in the running for laziest worldwide.
Godin gives the example of what all this means in the context of, say, Lady Gaga: the music is basically given away, but the concerts cost money. Lawyer blogging is somewhat similar in theory, and somewhat different. Unlike Lady Gaga, whose product is mainly the same songs she performs in concert, lawyers are selling legal advice, but they don’t actually give away much of it on the internet. Law is a knowledge-based business: even if you give away a free analysis of what some case means or what some development signifies, you are not really giving away your songs. The application of the knowledge is so fact-intensive and so variable under new circumstances that you are really not giving away all that much, truth be told, that you could put a price on in the first place.
Instead, lawyer blogging is less about transfers of information from paid to free than it is about branding. I know, a lot of lawyers are completely uncomfortable with talk of branding, selling, marketing, and so forth — bring up the subject and they react like you just set a basket of snakes on the desk in front of them. I myself see nothing wrong with the concept of selling, because I don’t have a concept of lawyerism as a mystical calling. It’s a hard job in a highly regulated field with a lot of responsibility, but still a commercial endeavor, and all in all, one I’d rather do than what I did in my younger years: hauling hay bales, driving tractors and cleaning cow manure out of barns with a pitchfork. As the economist John Kenneth Galbraith said, if you’ve ever worked on a farm, nothing else ever seems like work. Selling legal services is as much a part of being a lawyer as writing briefs and arguing to judges.
The concept of branding is increasingly important to legal work these days, and this is something that has to be thought through, because the days of low hanging fuit in the legal business are done. Blogging or some other promotional activity is an integral part of branding, because increasingly, as is clear from the Godin post, if you aren’t giving some information away it will be assumed you don’t have anything anyone wants, either for free or to pay for. You have to be part of the mix, a player. How you differentiate yourself, and if you can, is something you have to give thought to. The first step is to ask yourself what you have to sell that someone would want. It’s a hard question, and uncomfortable for many. If the answer is you don’t have anything, you have to get something. You can’t sell something if you don’t have anything to sell that someone would buy. Asking yourself this question is pretty uncomfortable, because the answer may involve making changes, perhaps some big ones.
I formed many of my ideas about legal marketing from Joe Gerber of Cozen O’Connor. When I read this speech he gave about the subject, it was a thunderbolt, a Road to Damascus moment, one of the most amazingly true things I’ve ever read. Joe is one of my heroes, a guy with ideas as well as a guy who does stuff, he’s the Legal Ayatollah of Rock’n’Rolla. Over the years I have re-read this speech at least two dozen times and handed it out to lots and lots of people. Not sure how many have read it, but I’ve handed it out.
I think I’ll conclude by noting something else Godin said in his post:
"Does the game theory of the market make it likely that those in search of discovery will accelerate the use of free to get attention? Of course."
This point is something to ponder. The implication of it for lawyers, as I’ve said, is that people have to know who you are and that you are selling something. But Joe Gerber says, "don’t just do it." If you’re going to do it, don’t do it because someone is telling you to or just to go through the motions, do it with passion and creativity and because you believe in what you are selling. For Joe, any and all marketing is good marketing — if it works. If it works, it can be quantified on the bottom line. If it can’t be measured on the bottom line, it’s not marketing. It might be something else, such as a social activity you enjoy, or perhaps just a complete waste of time that you are deluding yourself with to try to look like you are doing something, but it isn’t marketing.