Perhaps it stems from the slightest possibility that an enormous “bang” gave shape to a vast universe. Or, maybe more likely, it is the byproduct of witnessing seemingly single events turn history on its ear in the nick of time. Regardless of the origin, law firm marketing plans often seem deeply rooted in the belief that all it takes is one spectacular occurance, and the market will beat a path to our door.

Sports is rife with big-bang metaphors: a grand slam with two outs in the bottom of the ninth; the “hail-Mary” reception for a TD as time expires; a 3-pointer from half court as the buzzer sounds.

In politics, the right (or wrong) sound bite can redirect history. Even on the global stage, in the midst of today’s economic malaise all eyes are on the strategists, hoping against all evidence that someone will step into the batter’s box, and with a single swing, cure the ailing markets – before it’s too late.

Whatever the source, the tendency to think of marketing in the context of a single great idea, tag line, ad, logo, or event should be no surprise.

In fact, marketers perpetuate the myth that success can hinge on creative deliverables. It was the genius of the “Just Do It” tag line (with a little credit to the swoosh logo, of course) that turned Nike into a leader in athletic apparel. Never mind the millions invested in market research, target identification and product R&D that gave shape to a multi-year multi-billion dollar multi-celebrity marketing campaign.

Apple hit a late-inning home run the moment the company introduced the cultural phenomenon oddly (at the time) named iPod. Lightening struck twice and an i-market expanded with the introduction of iPhone. Through it all, the most visible aspect of the entire strategy is award-winning advertising.

Companies like Apple and Nike make the formula seem simple: offer a reasonably good product (or service), create a superior message (using a celebrity or two doesn’t hurt), and BANG! You’ve created a winning marketing strategy.

Only one or two issues: marketing plans like Nike’s or Apple’s depend on significant investments of time and money. The time is about research (listening to the market), solution-testing and more market research. The money? Well, to turn the image of an apple or a stylized check mark into a universally recognized translation of a company name, and then leverage that brand to capture market share for shoes and mp3 players, think ten figures…and a minimum of thirty-six months.

Try applying this strategy to the marketing challenge currently facing law firms, and even IF budget is not an issue, there is no quick fix for too much capacity, an economically stressed market, and shrinking revenue.

So what is the plan for today’s law firm marketers? For discussion purposes, consider this simple three step plan as one way to start.

A Three-Point Marketing Plan For 2009-2010

1. Identify A Target. There are three reasons every marketing plan should begin with target identification: a) it is the only way to build a solution (thus, create a message) that speaks directly to the reason(s) a potential client should make a hiring decision; b) this kind of target focus is the key to maximum resource leverage; and c) (if no other part of the discussion has your attention) — apart from luck, strategic targeting is the only way to accelerate the hiring decision.

2. Build Research / Feedback Into Your Plan. Resist the temptation to skip this step. Information gleaned here is essential to success. The premise: ask the right questions, listen closely, and existing clients will tell you what it takes to grow your share of their legal spend. New targets will spell out what they wish a law firm would do for them. Think of this as definitive competitive intelligence. And competitive intelligence will map the shortest distance between where you are and growing your practice.

3. Respond To The Market. This is the payoff of strategic marketing. Invest resources and expend creative energies on designing a solution that delivers what the market needs.

Marketing success is rarely about the size of a budget or creative genius. On the other hand, It is often about resisting distractions posed by a myriad of opportunities, and staying focused on the target. This necessitates being able to prioritize and say “no” to non-strategic opportunities.

But if focus is difficult, the first and often greatest challenge — one for which there is no easy answer — is to resist the temptation to relegate targeted marketing to products and services outside the profession of law. To give in to the idea that what works in every other professional service arena won’t work here is to agree to live and work in a market that will call you when it needs you. And in that world, absent the budget of Apple, marketing is less a bang, and more a whimper.