AJ Huisman is the Director of Marketing and Business Development at Dutch law firm Kennedy Van der Laan. He’s an expert in B2B marketing; prior to his role at Kennedy Van der Laan he was Marketing Director Continental Europe for Towers Watson, a leading global professional services company.
Not only that, he’s a very engaging speaker – I sat in on a talk of his at the Fusion Content Marketing Conference in Antwerp last year, which I’d gone to purely for the title: ‘How to make boring content interesting’. I wasn’t disappointed!
I caught up with AJ to talk to him about how his innovative content marketing strategy continues to do the business – Kennedy Van der Laan has a 93% client satisfaction rate – and why B2B doesn’t have to mean boring to boring…
When you joined Kennedy Van der Laan in 2011 what was your brief?
My first brief was to get in on the traditional business development side of things: to see who our clients are, who our new clients could be and then get them on board as soon as possible. And I said that’s all well and good, but first we need to have more of a marketing strategy. I firmly believe in business development and marketing coinciding with each other; the push and the pull. It came as a bit of a shock here at Kennedy Van der Laan.
Without a marketing strategy you’re just cold calling people, saying ‘Let’s do business’, and why should they do that?
So you won them over?
Well, I showed them some of the things I’d done in my previous role at Towers Watson – we’d written books and held seminars on themes that our audience was looking for – and said we’re going to do that. At first they said ‘Hmm, no’ and I said ‘Yes, it’s going to work!’ Slowly but surely we got there.
Sounds like your enthusiasm won them over! How did you get started?
We started at the top of the funnel on brand awareness. We were an outlier in the law firm industry here 22 years ago. I started on the 20th birthday of Kennedy Van der Laan – I wanted to communicate that it’s an innovative law firm keeping ahead of the game, we’re socially responsible and a very personal firm. One of the first things I did was to produce a video about a fictional 20-year-old girl called Kennedy Van der Laan and how she went about her day, living out the values of the firm.
On a day-to-day basis, we produce a lot of practical content. We train our lawyers to be blog post writers – we take an issue that keeps our clients awake at night (we actually ask them that question) and then write it in an informal way, instead of complex explanation with footnotes and referrals to legislation that nobody will understand or even read.
Interesting – do you actually get the lawyers into a classroom?
Yep. It’s a class situation where we have four-hour stints: two hours where we explain how a blog post is written and how SEO works. Then after a break we spend two hours writing stuff with them. At the end of it we have 12 blog posts! They actually do it in WordPress directly instead of in Word and cutting and pasting, so it’s very efficient. And they are more than willing and able to participate. We have time allocated in yearly budgets to do that stuff – it’s important to us.
Is the strategy working?
Yes. We are focus on certain themes and we’ve got our brand voice out there, which means we are getting more earned media. For example, recently we were on the national news giving comments about the antitrust case against Google in Europe and that happened just because we are out there blogging.
This sounds like great brand awareness, but what about getting potential clients through the rest of the funnel?
We have several calls to action in our online strategy. We start with a newsletter then at the end of the funnel our call to action asks people to come to one of our events – we run 50-55 per year and we have our own event manager in house. We try to convert new clients at the events.
It’s an online strategy followed by good old-fashioned meet and greet
Does content marketing give you an edge?
Think about it – if you are one of five firms pitching for business and you only do what procurement wants, then you are just one of the five. But we try to go the extra mile and say, ‘This is a subject we know a lot about, you can look at our website and see our ebooks or articles, or where we are quoted, to really see what our thought leadership is about.’ That is the edge we create.
What does ROI look like for you?
Bottom line is always business. But we have a step-by-step process where we go from views, likes and shares on social, plus views on our blog posts and website towards calls to action, to try and track people from their first visit to our site to becoming a client. It’s a hard thing to do but it’s something we are getting better at.
Finally then, what would you say to someone reading this blog who thinks their business is too boring to produce interesting content?
I’d say that’s bull! Every company, every business has an interesting story. You have to look at the pain you are trying to alleviate for your clients and provide solutions for that. Professional services firms give advice on a daily basis – so think about what the most common themes are you talk about and instead of producing the slides you’ve used a hundred times, why not write a 200-word summary, find some nice images and produce an ebook? I don’t believe anyone in professional services doesn’t have a story to tell.