A Detailed Quick-Start for Medical Practices
As a physician you’ve spent years becoming credentialed in your field. Now you’re finding that sustaining and growing your practice requires you to enter into competition with other offices to get new patients and referrals. In order to compete, you realize that you have to learn about marketing and branding your practice. Marketing and branding are “necessary evils.” A sound marketing and branding campaign can help grow your practice, increase patient-retention, and when done right it — even inspire staff.
1. Begin by defining a set of goals.
Begin by exploring what kind of an image you want your practice to portray to your patients and/or referring physicians. Don’t just think things, write them down. Write a mission statement describing (a) what makes you unique as a practice (b) your short-term and long-term goals as a practice (c) the goals of your marketing efforts. Consider how your unique practice and your goals can relate to your practice marketing.
2. Perform Important Analysis
Write down your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT analysis). Turn your mission statement from #1 above into your USP (unique selling proposition). Test your USP by imagining it as a print ad headline. Does it capture the best part of your practice? Is it unique to your practice? How is it different from your competition’s? Define your geospecific target area – how far away will patients come to your practice? Define your demographic and think about how you are going to educate your demographic about your practice—this is the heart of Zen marketing.
TIP: Make sure your image development and USP go beyond the ubiquitous “provide excellent patient care.” If that’s all you’ve got, go back to Numbers 1 and 2 and dig deeper.
3. Lay the groundwork for great branding.
Branding is one of the most important investments you’ll make. Branding can be explained best with the three “C’s.” Credibility. Consistency. Connection. How do you know if your designs are any good? Answer: are they credible? High-end professional designs used consistently become familiar and with familiarity comes trust. When we talk about connection, we’re talking about a “value proposition” (who you are, what you can deliver, why you can be trusted). Can your target audience of patient and/or referring physician connect with your value proposition? To summarize, branding is about credible high quality designs, used consistently, and joined with texts that make a connection with the target audience.
4. Prepare for marketing and branding by developing texts about your practice.
Write it down, or better, hire a copywriter. This is the best way to determine if “this is who we are” or “wait, that doesn’t capture what we’re about.” Marketing is the process of getting your practice out in front of the people that will sustain your practice–either patients or referring physicians. Marketing requires thoughtful messaging, a plan and then action to follow the plan. Organization along with consistency will help your campaign achieve its goals. And of course, you will need a budget. Practices that target the individual like dentists, dermatologists or cosmetic surgeons have larger budgets than practices relying on referrals.
5. Brand your practice.
Design cohesive and matching corporate collateral: business card, letterhead, envelope, prescription pads, signage, brochures, print ads, newsletters, etc. Cohesive and matching marketing materials build trust with patients, referring physicians and the community. Poorly designed and written materials reflect poorly on your practice. People don’t have time to read loads of information, so employ short paragraphs of text and bullet points. It is recommended that you have a separate short branded brochure for each specialized service you provide and a general one for the practice. Patients and referring physicians alike will be able to easily get the information they need about your practice with this method. THE KEY to successful marketing material, print or web, is to emphasize the benefits of your practice. If possible, create differentiation between you and your competitors.
TIP: Social Media is a big part of branding and marketing now. Make sure that your Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and the like are set up properly, look inviting, and have lots of posts with hashtags.
6. Your website is the online extension of your practice.
You must have a brand coordinated website design that is easy to navigate and informative. A website is very much like a virtual employee and you want your best employee greeting web visitors. The website will become a prominent part of your marketing plan, so make sure you’ve also hired a professional that will make it SEO-friendly (easily picked up and ranked high by search engines). Particularly for plastic surgeons, dentists, psychiatrists and other professionals reliant on web traffic, your goal is to show up on the first page of the major search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo!) for the keyword search terms that patients will use to find you. However, if most of your patients come from referrals, then your web presence will be engaged with providing information and the credibility needed to open doors. In this case while SEO may be less of a priority, credibility certainly is not. And don’t forget to include directions to your practice as well as any patient information sheets or other information that will help spare your receptionist.
7. New patient marketing.
Your marketing strategies depend upon whether you are targeting the individual or the referring practice. If you are targeting the individual or perhaps even companies, you have more options available such as local magazines that target different ages/demographics, pay-per-click ads, banner ads on local websites for your city. However, if you are targeting referring physicians or practices, your activities will be more focused. In this case you’ll need to decide if you are going to do this through one-on-one meetings (highly recommended) or by sending marketing collateral in the mail (or both). Your marketing firm should tailor your efforts to your specific needs. In either case, you’ll need the highest quality marketing and promotional materials you can afford. And at the very least you do need to be ready to go with your website, appointment cards, and a brochure as your base.
8. Patient “re-marketing.”
It’s not just about new patient marketing – taking care of patients that you already have is a must. Not all methods are applicable to every kind of practice, but in general, you want to do things that make the patient feel valued. Birthday cards and birthday cards with coupons are great for plastic surgeons, for example. Your social media presence is a way of remarketing as well. You are trying to add value to the patient experience. Each patient can become a referral machine, so take care of the ones you’ve got.
FINAL TIPS: Your main brochure should contain all the basic information such as office hours, a map, your website address, and services. Not only will this help market your practice, it can free your office staff from answering frequently asked questions and help avoid potential patient misunderstandings. Make sure your waiting room is a pleasant experience. Make sure that you have “leave-behinds” at the “check out.” Make sure you are advertising other services or reminders for certain kinds of check-ups as patients leave. Most of all, remember that branding extends far beyond design – your staff is an extension of your brand, so make sure they communicate with patients in a way that supports your brand and goals.