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Storytelling Lessons From Nike


Jane is at her kitchen table sipping coffee from a chipped mug with one hand and cradling her sleeping 6-month-old son with the other. Cereal boxes and dirty dishes are strewn across the table, along with piles of unpaid bills. On top is a notice from the IRS that says Jane, a single mother of three who cleans houses, owes $45,000 in back taxes. Jane stares at the notice and, slowly, tears start to fall from her eyes, dotting the letter.

Stories about real people overcoming serious challenges not only grab attention, but they make the audience feel connected and invested in the message. While law practices are built on stories like Jane’s, law firms and attorneys often leave storytelling out of their legal marketing strategies.

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But if a shoemaker can build an athletic apparel empire by telling stories, there is no reason legal practitioners can’t do the same.Nike began more than 50 years ago with a shoe for runners. However, even in those early days, Nike’s marketing campaigns barely mention shoes. The company focuses on the people in those shoes and their hopes, dreams, challenges, and victories. Everybody is an athlete, Nike tells us. Everybody can Just Do It, Nike makes us believe.

From the boy who wakes up at 3 a.m. to train for basketball in Nike’s 2011 “What’s Your Motivation?” campaign to the 2019 “Dream With Us” campaign that shows everyone can aspire to greatness, Nike uses touching, authentic stories to connect its audience to its product. Yet, while we see the clothes and shoes in the advertising materials, we rarely hear or read about them.

Nike uses what’s called benefits-based marketing. The product or service fills a need, and that is the focus of the marketing. Benefits-based marketing presents the service’s utility and how it benefits the client without filling the messaging with features of the service. Nike’s ads often don’t talk about their shoes’ durability and lightweight; they show people running great distances against what seem like insurmountable obstacles. Likewise, instead of focusing on a Master’s in Laws in Taxation and experience working as a certified public accountant, a tax lawyer would instead show how skilled, compassionate legal counsel can create real solutions for people in tax debt.

Law firms and attorneys can learn from Nike’s storytelling marketing approach and incorporate it into their own legal marketing strategy. Here’s how:

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Find the Stories

Everybody has a story — even you. Finding your story begins the same way you created your elevator speech or drafted your bio. Think about why you practice law, including why you decided to enter this area of practice. What are you passionate about? What drives you? Incorporate those answers into your messaging.

Then, think about the service you provide and your clients. What problems do they face? How do you help them? Make a list of client success stories and look for patterns.

Create a Story

Pick one of the stories you listed and develop it with additional details and emotional content. Begin by describing the challenge, how the client felt, where they were in the timeline when you met them, and even how you met them. Include what you did along the way, from meetings with opposing counsel to legal research at 3 a.m. As obstacles arose, how did you overcome them?

When a resolution was reached, how did you feel? How did the client react? How did you feel when the client reacted? All these details make your true story feel real, dramatic, and alive to the reader. This is where Nike excels, and you can too, by evoking emotional responses from your audience through messages of strength and overcoming adversity. Channel Nike’s minimalistic approach that focuses on the human, not the product.

Tell the Story

Now that you have your story, how do you tell it? Start by creating a legal marketing campaign and listing the communication vehicles that apply. Maybe it begins as a case study on your law firm website, which you then share via social media and an email marketing newsletter. Perhaps you want to take a page from Nike’s visual storytelling playbook and create a short video reenactment to share on social media. Or maybe you’re giving a presentation on settling tax controversies and you use the story as your opening. Award submissions, article pitches, and even talking to a new potential client are all also places to tell the story.

How and where you tell the story will depend on the audience you are trying to reach. Look back at your legal marketing strategy to ensure you are tailoring the story for your target and considering the best way to connect with them.

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Let’s finish Jane’s story:

The next day, Jane is sitting in an office across from a woman in a smart blue blazer. As Jane speaks, the woman nods empathetically and takes notes. The woman stands up, puts her hand on Jane’s shoulder and tells her: “I can help you.”

Jane pushes her baby in the stroller out the office door and the woman in the blazer gets to work. She sends emails, makes phone calls, and conducts research.

The calendar on her office wall turns a couple of pages and the woman and Jane are once again meeting. Jane is smiling and wiping away tears of joy as the woman shows her a paper from the IRS. The document shows that the woman negotiated a settlement with the IRS on Jane’s behalf and Jane now only must pay $2,400 – and she has a year to do so making $200 payments each month. Jane is relieved and appreciative of the woman, a tax lawyer who takes great pride in helping people like Jane through these stressful and scary situations.

What’s your story? Let Scorpion help you tell it!

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