Have you ever been involved in an automobile accident?
I hope the answer is no. But if it is yes, you may find the story that follows all too familiar.
A few months ago, my wife was in an automobile accident.
I’m happy to report it was nothing serious. Only a fender bender (fender cracker?) in which she was rear-ended at a stoplight.
Fortunately, no one was hurt.
This was a new experience for us. Neither of us had ever been involved in a collision before.
And while we were a bit apprehensive about the process of navigating police reports and insurance claims, the accident had been fairly straightforward.
The fault was clear, both drivers had insurance, there were no injuries, and the police arrived on the scene relatively quickly.
How complicated could it be?
Turns out, more complicated than we thought. But that is a story for another day.
Today’s story deals with something else that came after the accident.
Something communications-related that we definitely did not see coming.
We call it “The Onslaught.”
As a rule, accidents are unexpected. And so was the follow-up, as we soon learned.
For example, here’s the timeline of events:
- 7:00 am – Auto accident occurs, police are called
- 7: 15 am – Police arrive, write up an accident report
- 8:30 am – Police file accident report electronically
- 9:45 am – Wife’s phone blows up as “The Onslaught” begins
While teaching her students that day, she found herself glancing curiously at the cell phone glowing regularly on her desk.
The calls were pouring in, and her voicemail box was full.
I’m sure you’ve already guessed who was calling her.
Make Them Pay
That’s right; it was the personal injury lawyers.
The “ambulance chasers” you hear your uncle mutter about when they air on TV between innings of the baseball game.
The people who promise to “make them pay” for whatever wrong has befallen you.
The ones who’d somehow heard about the accident report and were now rushing to be the first to grab my wife’s attention.
I come from a family of attorneys, so I know the lawyer stereotypes aren’t always true.
But these guys were certainly doing their part to earn their reputation.
By evening, the torrent of calls had become an intermittent trickle.
By the next day, “The Onslaught” was over, or so we thought.
Our postman knew better.
Next, the letters came. Dozens of them. The outreach process had to be heavily automated.
- First, you call. And fast.
- People don’t always answer their phone, so now you send direct mail.
- When that doesn’t work, you send an express package straight to the victim’s door.
We never saw anyone sitting in a car anywhere waiting to accost us, but I can’t say for sure that it isn’t a “Step 4” on this list.
A “Crash Course” in Content Marketing
In total, the deluge of communication we received from these law firms was overwhelming.
But in hindsight, it was also educational, and not necessarily in the way you might think.
There is a professionally relevant point to all of this.
I came to realize you can draw a few useful parallels to content marketing guidelines from the post-auto-accident experience, whether from best practices or not.
Timing is Everything
When the phone rang, or a piece of mail arrived after the accident, we couldn’t tell if it was a timely communication about our insurance claims or someone else trying to file litigation on our behalf.
And then there was the volume of communication.
It was clear that everyone wanted to be first to reach us, but that didn’t differentiate them.
It simply made the experience worse for their audience and assured they blended into the general “noise” we were hearing.
Rather than deploy communications tactics with a low success rate and a high likelihood to annoy, more law firms should have waited a few days, then sent personalized outreach with useful information attached, rather than a straight sales pitch.
That way, the sender stands out from the crowd and faces less risk of adding to the anxiety an auto accident victim (or other key audience)
Be in Tune with Your Audience
As marketers, we rely more and more on automation.
It can save us time, ensure more people see our message, and allow us to accomplish more.
One of the dangers of automation, however, is we risk missing the chance to personalize our message, tailoring it to how our target audience is feeling when they receive the communication.
After all, neither driver was hurt. And the police report triggering “The Onslaught” stated this, yet the automated messaging process began nonetheless.
The message didn’t resonate with the target audience, but that didn’t stop them from coming.
A bit more targeting could have saved everyone time and frustration.
Provide Utility with Your Content
While most of the communication the law firms sent after the crash wasn’t helpful, there were exceptions.
And those exceptions were what got me thinking about content marketing in the first place.
A couple of the law firms sent full printouts of the accident report to us, which we did not have.
This was quite helpful, especially given the runaround we were facing with insurance claims.
And we were grateful to avoid having to track the report down at a police station in another town.
One firm sent what I’d call a true content marketing piece along with the accident report.
This booklet explained the process of “what to do after an accident,” featured FAQs from accident victims, and provided guidance on dealing with insurance, police, and healthcare institutions.
And it did this without an inappropriately hard sell to hire the firm.
The kit included information I didn’t know but needed.
(We still didn’t need personal injury lawyers, but if we did, these are the guys I would have called first.)
Content Marketing Lesson Learned
Looking back, were these content marketing lessons I was unaware of during the post-accident experience?
No, they’re fairly basic.
But sometimes seeing tried-and-true practices tested in an unexpected arena serves as a more impactful reminder than encountering best practices during a daily routine.
I don’t encourage you to have an auto accident to brush up on your content marketing skills.
But I can tell you to keep your eyes open because you never know where your next content marketing inspiration will appear.