Don’t Fall for Miracle Marketing Cures for Your Physician Practice
By Mike Killeen
We live in the era of the quick fix. The miracle cure. The hack.
Obsessed with our health — or at least with looking healthy — we try to transform our lives with fad diets, elaborate exercise contraptions, and exotic performance supplements. Infomercials, algorithmic ads, and YouTube stars all offer us health, happiness, and well-toned beauty in a colorful box for just three easy payments.
However, good doctors know that enduring health is not something you order online or complete in 30 days. And it’s not something for which you need an entrepreneurial inventor.
The same is true of marketing healthcare businesses. There are plenty of digital agencies and cloud-based disruptors who promise exponential business growth using nothing but the Silicon Valley solution that just happens to be their specialty or proprietary platform.
But enduring business growth, like health, is not something you achieve with a single, shiny, sexy solution.
Good health is simple: eat well, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep. Don’t drink too much alcohol and don’t smoke.
Practice these good lifestyle choices over a lifetime, and better health will follow. Indeed, multiple studies have found that lifestyle choices account for more than half of our health and middle age morbidity.
Beyond the basics, modern medicine and advanced interventions can cure what a balanced diet cannot. But heal a patient who continues their poor lifestyle habits, and you can be sure they’ll be back soon with something else wrong.
Good marketing of your practice is simple, too. While digital gurus and self-appointed paradigm shifters can give you a quick hit of attention, those benefits won’t last unless they’re backed up by the basics.
If you want a healthier business with growth that endures, here are the simple but effective marketing habits you need to practice consistently over time.
1. Set clear marketing goals.
Should you advertise your practice on Facebook? Rent a billboard? Send postcards? Start a blog? Sponsor a community event? Redo your website? What about that online reputation management firm that sent you an email ad? Are they worth it?
The answer to each is another question: what’s the goal?
Always begin your marketing plan with a clear articulation of your goals. Make sure your goals are specific and measurable.
Do you want to grow your new patient referrals by 10 percent? Launch your new practice area? Bring in enough business over the first three years to cover the cost of the new imaging equipment you purchased? Merge with another practice and both come out ahead?
Once you know your goals, develop an overall strategy for achieving them. Finally, choose the most effective tactics to implement your strategy.
Follow this process, and it will become clear whether radio ads, pay-per-click banners, a video, sponsored social media, print advertising, email marketing, or all of the above will serve you best. Your strategies will tell you which tactics to choose. Your goals will determine your strategies.
Goals, strategy, tactics, execution: in that order, every time.
2. Know your audience.
Here’s the thing about marketing your practice: most of the people don’t matter, and you shouldn’t waste your time and money on marketing as though they do. Who are your potential patients or clients? These are the only people who matter, and you need to know them well.
With some interesting exceptions, most medicine remains a locally practiced profession, which means you only need to reach people within a reasonable radius of your practice. What is that radius? It probably depends on the nature of your practice. Will people drive 50 miles to get to you? 15 miles? Will they board a plane and fly to you? Or are you providing lab and analysis services that aren’t constrained by geography?
What is the age range of your potential patients? If you specialize in hip replacements, you probably don’t need to market to Millennials yet. If you’re a pediatrician, your primary audience is parents with children. Sports medicine? Your audience’s age range is broad, but you need to target people with active lifestyles. Or are your clients other doctors, and how old are they?
What else can you know about your potential patients or clients? What are their income and education levels? Their preferred means of seeking information and advice? Do they even use social media, and if so, which platforms? What are they looking for from their healthcare providers? What does a good life look like to them?
Ask yourself these questions and many more. Learn all you can about your audience. Write up a persona that describes them with as much detail as possible. Revise it regularly as you learn more, or as demographics change. (Many Millennials are now parents raising children. Generation Xers may start needing hip replacements in a decade or so).
Knowing your audience well brings a laser focus to your marketing decisions. It keeps you from getting distracted trying to reach all those people who don’t benefit from your services. Develop your strategy and choose your tactics based on what will reach your unique audience. If the rest of the world doesn’t care, doesn’t like it, or doesn’t notice… well, that just doesn’t matter.
3. Build and maintain your brand and position.
Who are you, and what do you uniquely offer to your potential patients or clients? And how will people learn this about you?
Branding and positioning are fundamental to all effective marketing. They arise out of your goals: what kind of practice do you want to be? And they should speak to your audience: who are the potential patients of the kind of practice you want to be? If you want to attract those patients, you must have and follow a plan that will establish in their minds your unique identity.
In the marketing world, we have understood this for a very long time—branding creates a preference before there is a need—but many healthcare providers still don’t brand and position themselves well or consistently. Yet no marketing plan can have sustainable success without a well-developed brand and a well-articulated position.
While true in all marketing, this is especially true for healthcare. In a heartbeat, your potential patients may go from complete disinterest in doctors to making a life-altering decision. Which practice will they choose? The one that has already branded and positioned itself most effectively in that practice area… long before the patient ever thought to pay attention or care.
Consider someone who has just received their first cancer diagnosis. Where will they go for cancer treatment? They have probably not paid much attention to information about cancer treatment specialists, but suddenly this is the most important information in the world. They wonder, “Where’s the best place to get treatment for my cancer?” And they probably have an instant answer in the very moment that they learn of the need. It’s the practice that has, long before this moment, most effectively marketed its brand and position as the leader in cancer care.
Whatever your practice area, you want to be the instant favorite when a potential patient first learns they need the care you provide. You do that through marketing your brand and position consistently.
A lot goes into this. You need a quality logo and a visual identity that you use consistently across all communications and in your physical space. You need a story to tell and an articulation of your unique value. You need to tell that story to your audience and show that value regularly. You need to demonstrate why you’re different and better than your competition.
Branding doesn’t come with the same fast feedback loop you may get with a pay-per-click campaign. But over time, just like exercise, healthy diet, and good sleep, the benefits are profound and lasting.
Bonus: Don’t forget about the product.
For all that marketing can do to help you grow your practice, the single most effective way to bring in new patients or clients is word-of-mouth marketing. Good reviews from happy patients and enthusiastic referrals from other healthcare professionals do more than any email marketing campaign ever could.
So, here’s the best thing you can do to build a healthy practice: keep doing what you’ve always done. Be the good doctor you have always been. Treat your patients as well as you always have. Give them good care. Cure them when you can. Help them manage what can’t be cured. Ease their suffering. Keep learning. Try to do a little better every day. Do what you entered this field to do and have done every day of your career: help people live healthier, happier lives.
The best marketing campaigns — in healthcare or anywhere else — have this in common: a genuinely inspiring story to tell. Keep making your life’s work an inspiration, and use these simple marketing principles to share that inspiration with your audience. A healthy practice is sure to follow.