You want to grab the attention of someone who knows nothing about you. And then, ideally in some automated fashion, you want to influence him or her to desire your product or service. How to do this?

The answer is content marketing. And it is a bizarre alchemy of science and abracadabra.

This article is reprinted from Law Journal Newsletters, offering 17 monthly newsletters that provide analysis of the latest trends in all major practice areas. Learn more.

The science piece is obvious. You create hypotheses about what content strategy will generate ROI. Then you test and measure. You reject bad hypotheses and move on, and you build on your successes. Depending on how geeky you want to get, you can measure dozens (hundreds?) of relevant metrics on your dashboard. You experiment until you can generate new clients profitably at will. Then you scale the business and rule the world. QED.

Of course, none of this will work without the abracadabra.

Why do we need magic? Because business intelligence is not just a science. You’re dealing with human beings. And you’re dealing with them not in some dry, abstract, rational framework, either: You’re aiming to make emotional connections.

As anyone who has raised a toddler, broken up with someone (or been dumped), lost a loved one or climbed a mountain can tell you, human emotions are weird. They cannot be boiled down to numbers. You can “science” them all you want, but the process will never be sterile. Nor should you want it to be. Emotions fuel our humanity — they’re why we’re in business (or should be in business) in the first place.

Okay, so content marketing is part lab work and part therapy. Where does that leave us? More specifically, how does this insight help you create winning campaigns?

I’m going to (mostly) ignore the science part for the purpose of this discussion. The short answer is that you approach the lab as you would approach any science experiment. You gather evidence. You make educated guesses about strategy. You test using appropriate indicators. You study the results. You adjust course and start over. You rinse and repeat until you win.

Now, there’s some artistry here, too. You need creativity to know what hypotheses to test; what metrics to measure; when to pull the plug on an experiment and when just to tweak it; and so on.

There’s also a fundamentally stochastic element to this process. What resonates with an audience today might bore them (or repulse them) tomorrow, etc. So the science piece has its challenges.

But getting the abracadabra right is far harder.

It’s the reason, in my humble opinion, why growing a business (law firm or otherwise) is so damn hard. It’s why most content marketing yields anemic results. It’s why most content marketers don’t spend their days idling in their great wealth, bathing in piles of gold coins a la Scrooge McDuck.

Why? You probably have already ideas such as …

  • The content must take the prospect on an emotional journey!
  • The content must tell a story with the prospect as the hero who overcomes great hardship thanks to your product/service!
  • People buy because of emotional needs that will never be fulfilled; you must understand the emotions that drive action and build your content based on that understanding … !
  • … and at the same time, the message must be constructed in a logically taut way, appealing to reason, and supported by believable evidence!
  • Etc.

But there are three key concepts that very few attorneys (and those who market to attorneys) don’t really understand about the abracadabra. And these ideas can be quite helpful:

1. The difference between a message that resonates and one that repulses may boil down to just a few words or a subtle turn of phrase. In the animation world, they call this the “uncanny valley.” When you’re almost there but not quite — in terms of connecting with people emotionally — the dissonance created can be intense.

The concept, as related by a cool article from The Guardian, usually refers to a “characteristic dip in emotional response that happens when we encounter an entity that is almost, but not quite, human. It was first hypothesized in 1970 by the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori, who identified that as robots became more human-like, people would find them to be more acceptable and appealing than their mechanical counterparts. But this only held true up to a point. When they were close to, but not quite, human, people developed a sense of unease and discomfort.

If human-likeness increased beyond this point, and they became very close to human, the emotional response returned to being positive. It is this distinctive dip in the relationship between human-likeness and emotional response that is called the “uncanny valley.” One cool takeaway: If your copy isn’t performing, don’t necessarily junk it. It could be 90% of the way to the finish line. Figure out that missing 10%, plug it in, and you could be in business.

2. Stuck trying to take the prospect on a hero’s journey? Having a hard time empathizing? Not a problem. Figure out your own problems and emotional needs, and write from that place.

As my business mentor, Rich Schefren, once put it: “That which is most personal is most general.” The easiest way to get into a prospect’s head is to get sensitive to what’s going on in yours. Big-league standup comedians do this as a matter of course. They experience troubling, quirky, beautiful and ridiculous moments in their own lives. They recognize the universality of these moments. They use the insights to relate to an audience in an eloquent/funny way.

So why are you in pain? Can you relate to your prospect’s “hero’s journey” personally? What relevant fears and anxieties do you feel or have you felt? What would be useful to hear, know, or buy?

Be genuine! Promote it as if you’re marketing to yourself or a loved one. And if that sounds like hokey advice — or if the prospect of promoting your services to intimates makes you uncomfortable — please recognize that this discomfort may have less to do with the messaging per se and more to do with your fears about gaps in your service or value proposition.

3. Be willing to make mistakes and embarrass yourself … a lot. Finding the right message is not something that will happen overnight or in an instant. It’s an iterative process, like riding a bike. You will fall down and get bruised. You will not instantly strike it rich, unless you’re a once-in-a-generation savant. There will not be a eureka moment when all the pieces snap suddenly in place. Expect this.

In fact, weirdly enough, eureka moments don’t generally exist in real life. People who make astonishing innovations do so over time, as if they’re carving a statue from marble. It takes discipline and creativity to general novelty, not bolts from the blue.

Content marketing is not a dry, sober, clinical thing. It is a way of systematically taking people through an intimate experience in a predictable and repeatable way, similar to writing a movie screenplay. You need the head. You need the heart. You need to engineer and plan. You need to get wild and go for the throat.

Don’t give up. And do not think you can just sit back and wait for the muse. You must go out and call her forth. Grab your chisel.


Adam Kosloff
is the founder of Virtuoso Content, a content creation enterprise for legal services. He may be reached at 818-601-6747 or