Of Widgets, Duckies, and Teddy Bears

In marketing professional services, or anything else for that matter, it helps to have a widget.

What’s a widget? A widget is a thing that you use as a give-away, a gift, a door-opener, and (when you have a very good widget) as a symbol of your firm.

(You might enjoy an article I have included below concerning the little yellow rubber ducky used by a famous hotel chain.)

Smart Marketing client Meg Rudansky of Sag Harbor, NY, has a great widget in the form of her Senior Resource Guide booklet, which you will hear much more about in the weeks ahead. And fellow client Rick Law has a wonderful widget in the form of his Law Elder Law teddy bears.

The bears are soft and fuzzy and wear a tee shirt. On the front it says Law Elder Law. On the back is has www.lawelderlaw.com and 800-810-3100.Dscn0251

The bears cost abour $12.50 each from Vermont Teddy Bear Company.

Sound expensive for a give-away item? Listen to the first reactions Rick and his staff got to the bears:

Rick    "Today, Wednesday, February 23, 2005, was the birthday of the Vermont Teddy Bear butter-cream style dressed in a natty T emblazoned with Law Elder Law on the front and www.lawelderlaw.com  and 800-810-3100 on the back," said Rick. "At my first meeting in a potential clients home, we are going through the beginning-awkwards and after about 10 minutes, I say, ( while looking directly into the wife’s eyes),’Do you have any grandchildren?’ She answers, ‘Why yes! We have 12.’ Now, Mark Merenda did not tell me what to do when they say…12, so I have to punt. ‘Oh, well you probably wondered why I came in today with a notepad and a gym bag.’ Then I lean over to the floor and unzip the bag and pull out a bear while saying, ‘You’ll just have to decide which grandchild deserves to get this bear.’ She accepts the offered bear and hugs it and says, ‘This little guy isn’t going anywhere, he will stay right here with me!’ 
         "Now friends, I don’t know if I will ever have these folks as clients. The warm-up and get acquainted stuff went as well as a sales guy can hope at that point, and it was way too early to try to close. My only real agenda today was to make friends. Trust me, that bear went further than any of my eloquence could have gotten me."

JonathanAnd here is further testimony from Rick’s associate Jonathan Johnson.

"Amanda Law and I visited a supportive living facility in Aurora, Illinois and spoke with the Marketing director and received a full tour of their facility. We were treated with a major amount of respect after a sit down lunch we had with them. We explained what we did and gave them testimonials of clients we have helped transition and they were impressed at the extent of our services and care for our clients. We went on to tell them that we were more than a law firm but an elder resource company as well. After spending two hours with the marketing director and meeting most of the other staff such as the admission director and social workers and even the accountant, we met the son of the owner of this facility. He was a younger gentleman that was glad to see us and commented that he had never experienced an elder law firm with a young marketing staff much less one with a nurse practitioner aligned with it. He immediately suggested holding seminars and exchanging referrals and referral sources. As the end of the meeting drew near we presented the group with the Law Elder Law teddy bear. Their reaction was stunning. They stated that it was "such a nice touch for the field that we were in" and gushed about how cool it was and what a "brilliant marketing tool" it was. They sheepishly offered us their coffee mugs and actually apologized that it was not as good as our offering. I want to reiterate that this was our marketing call! I am trying to get referrals from them! And they are treating me as if I am a multimillion dollar client. It was truly amazing to me that if you offer a little bear, a family name, and some help where it is needed, suddenly you are the most wonderful and compassionate guy in the market.

To read about the rubber ducky, please click "Continue reading" below….

Continue reading

Mark Merenda’s article in The National Law Journal

Developing medical-community referral sources
Estate lawyers can add elder law practices by networking effectively.

By Mark Merenda
Special to The National Law Journal
Monday, February 14, 2005

The last few years have seen a change in the estate planning
market. The apparent determination of President Bush and the Republican
majority in Congress to do away with the estate tax has made marketing
estate planning more difficult.

Most estate planning attorneys know there are plenty of
reasons-reasons completely unrelated to tax issues-that an individual
needs to make an estate plan. Most of these reasons have to do with
family issues. Perhaps parents have a son-in-law they don’t trust.
Perhaps one of their children is a spendthrift. Perhaps one child works
in the family business and others do not. All are very good reasons for
making an estate plan.

Yet lawyers would be fooling themselves if they do not admit that
the hammer that has driven the estate planning market is fear of the
estate tax. It is this fear that most often drove individuals to stop
procrastinating and create an estate plan.

Unfortunately, that fear is greatly diminished. Procrastination is
back in vogue. As they currently exist, estate tax laws actually reward
procrastination-at least until 2010.

The bursting of the Internet bubble and subsequent dive in the
stock market did not help matters, as many high net-worth individuals
decided that their net worth wasn’t so high after all.

For many estate planning attorneys, a viable strategy to boost or
maintain revenues has been to add elder law and Medicaid planning as an
extension of their estate planning practices. This strategy makes a lot
of sense. Medicaid planning, after all, is asset protection of another
sort and for another purpose. Instead of protecting someone’s life
savings from the estate tax, lawyers are saving someone’s (much more
modest) life savings from nursing home costs.

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There are several advantages to this market. For one thing, the
number of people who qualify (net worth $50,000 to, say, $600,000) is
huge compared to the less than 2% of the population who need tax-based
estate planning. For another, some attorneys find a great deal of
emotional and even spiritual satisfaction in helping these "salt of the
earth" individuals and families. And from a purely marketing point of
view, these people are strongly motivated by a very real fear of the
devastating effects of nursing home costs.

But attorneys who have decided to extend their practices in this area often have trouble knowing how to market their services.

Continue reading

Marketing Lessons From The Car Wash

I’ve heard that when you are an attorney, you see everything as a legal problem and that when you are a doctor, you see everything as a medical problem, and so on. So, of course, I see everything as a marketing problem.

Dscn0229_1Case in point, my car wash. I have been going to several car washes here in Naples, Florida, for the past 20 years. They are all more or less the same, so the news that a new car wash was opening, not far from my home, was not cause for great excitement. Nonetheless, when it opened, I decided to give it a try.

The first thing that struck me was the name: Auto Spa.

Not just a car wash, but an auto spa. The name "spa" conjured up European luxury, pampering, and other pleasant associations. When I pulled in, I noticed several attendants in sharp red uniforms. They immediately opened the door for me, asked what kind of wash I wanted, and entered all the information into a computer. The next time I came, they explained, the computer would generate everything from my license plate number.

Inside, more pleasant surprises. Hot gourmet coffee and muffins. Useful auto Dscn0231accessories. Fun greeting cards (good ones!). At the cash register, I was offered a deal: $250 for a year-long pass, good for as many washes as I wanted. I did a quick calculation. At 11.95 per full-service wash, it would only take 20 washes, or less than one every two weeks, to break even. If I washed my car once a week, I would be cutting the price in half. If I did it twice a week, I would get $1,242.80 worth of car washes at an 80 percent discount. I signed up.

Around the corner was a comfortable lounge with a big screen TV tuned to the morning talk shows. There was a generous sampling of magazines. Outside, another 4-5 uniformed attendants scurried about drying my car. When I got in, the car was immaculate. And then there was the final touch. On my dashboard was a long-stem white carnation.

Now, the old car wash I went to charged 8.99 for a wash. And there was nothing wrong with it. The attendants wore jeans and tee-shirts and did not give me the impression that I would be safe to leave my wallet in the car, but overall they did their job well. There was no lounge inside, just a couple of plastic lawn chairs and lots of business cards from real estate salesmen and chiropractors. I had no complaints. Until someone showed me something better.

The marketing lesson here concerns the packaging. The actual mechanical process of washing my car was probably no different in either place (at least I did not notice any difference in the cleanliness of my car). The employees did an equally good job. But the Auto Spa offered small amenities, an attractive facility, employees who look like professionals, and a white carnation.

(By the way, in the dark old days, Xerox sent their copy repair people out to do repairs in their street clothes. When they started dressing the repair men in uniforms and ties, customer satisfaction went up 400 percent.)

Now, I go to the Auto Spa. My license plate number is entered in the computer and it tells them I am on the annual paid program. Inside I get my morning coffee and maybe look at the newspaper. Outside I pick up my clean car. And when I get to the office, I give the carnation to one of my female employees.

What could you do at your office to turn it into a "Legal Spa"?

Hot(line) idea

I ran across this the other day and was struck by the concept. I think, with a few refinements, it could be a great marketing tool. The idea in a nutshell: Get a toll-free number and establish a "hotline" for your particular area of expertise, let’s say, elder law. Anyone who calls the "hotline" can get "free information." You take the calls, decide in a minute or two if they are a prospective client. If so, urge them to come in for an appointment. If not, tell them you will send them a "Free Resource Guide" (maybe Meg Rudansky’s?) or other material.

http://www.southbaynews.com/news/2005/0201/Community_News/023.html

We’ll be happy to help Smart Marketing clients set it up. Who wants to be the Guinea pig?

Health Secretary Calls for Medicaid Changes

LeavittMichael O. Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services, called Tuesday for sweeping changes in Medicaid that would cut payments for prescription drugs and give states new power to reduce or reconfigure benefits for millions of low-income people.

In his first speech as secretary, Mr. Leavitt also said it should be more difficult for elderly people to qualify for Medicaid by transferring assets to their children.

"Medicaid must not become an inheritance protection plan," Mr. Leavitt said at a convention of health care executives here. "Right now, many older Americans take advantage of Medicaid loopholes to become eligible for Medicaid by giving away assets to their children. There is a whole industry that actually helps people shift costs to the taxpayer."

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/02/national/02health.html?ex=1108011600&en=9c741f8896c13615&ei=5070

My take on this development: It’s a wonderful sales opportunity. Reprint the article, wave it in front of prospective clients and tell them "They are doing everything in their power to make it as difficult as possible for you to qualify for Medicaid. You need an attorney and you need to do it now."

California Dreamin’

As many of you know, I’ve just returned from 9 days in California where I held a special day-long session for Smart Marketing clients and then presented (along with SM client Jan Copley) at the California Forum in San Diego. We videotaped the whole thing and we’re in the process of editing right now. As soon as we have finished, we’ll burn CDs and send them to all Smart Marketing clients. The bulk of the training centered on "Scripting the Client Experience" and included handout materials, which will be available to those who would like copies. In the meantime, please enjoy the photo album at right entitled "San Diego, January 2005."