By Greg Ashbaugh
These are the seven fundamental healthcare marketing strategies that you should already be doing to ensure marketing success for your healthcare practice or business.
Let’s face it, if you’re not already experiencing success with your healthcare business’ or practice’s marketing efforts — and especially if you’re not yet marketing at all — there are many more than seven strategies that you should be considering seriously.
In truth, the best strategies are those that are customized for the unique needs of your enterprise. But in our experience, the following marketing activities can make a substantial and significant positive contribution to your efforts to reach, convince and compel your target audience… and then convert them into patients/customers.
- Ask for Referrals
Sound simple? It is. Actually, it may be too simple, because little else explains why so few healthcare businesses and practices think to ask for a referral. File this under “strike while the iron is hot.” When a patient thanks you, praises your staff or care or generally expresses satisfaction with the care he or she has just received, that is your best opportunity to directly ask for the referral. The time will never be better.
So, how do you “ask” for a referral? This part is just as simple. And it applies as much to healthcare businesses and specialty practices as to primary care practices. When customers or patients give you the opening, thank them graciously, let them know of your commitment to helping others, and then ask them — directly — if there is someone they know who could benefit from the care, products or services you provide.
This is when human nature kicks in. At this moment, people are likely to be grateful for your help and thus they are open to “returning the favor.” It’s also common for patients to be flattered that you would ask them. Typically, they respond favorably and positively to a polite request.
There are countless variations on this request, but what matters most is that you have the conversation. Many of our healthcare clients tell us that they aren’t comfortable with any form of asking their internal audience (customers/patients) for what basically amounts to “more business.” This is a personal foible… and business folly.
Requesting referral is nowhere near “crass,” which is what many healthcare practitioners and business owners are most concerned about. Also, please keep mind why this is the first strategy on this list: it works.
Another compelling reason to engage in this strategy is that your competitors very likely are doing it… or aren’t doing it. If they are, you need to keep up with the Joneses. If they aren’t, you have an edge simply by asking your internal audience, who loves you already, to share you with friends and family.
- Market to Your Internal Audience
Whether they’re patients, clients or customers, your internal audience is one of your strongest and most important marketing assets. These are the people who are already paying you for your products or services, which makes them among the most likely people to give you more of their patronage. They may need something they don’t yet realize you offer. They may need a service they don’t even know may benefit them. And let’s not forget that your marketing should target their wants (or desires) as much as their needs.
Of course, if you’re a general surgeon, it’s not likely the person whose gallbladder you removed last month is going to elect to have you perform an appendectomy they don’t need. But you definitely want them to know what you do, how you do it, and why their friends and loved ones would be wise to trust you for their surgeries.
To be clear, asking for a referral is a form of marketing to your internal audience. But here we’re talking about specific marketing tactics beyond asking for a referral. Your customers or patients should be kept informed about new products, new services, seminars, media appearances, news pertaining to their diagnoses, specific promotions, etc. (Email is easiest and extremely low-cost.)
If relevant to your business, be sure to send recall messages to your patients/customers who are overdue. Share new marketing materials with them so that they can be reminded of all that you do and why you’re different and better than the competition. When changes occur in your business or practice that warrant it, send a letter to your internal audience (staff and clinicians).
Remember, an important aspect of marketing is the repetition of brand and message. It is, therefore, wise to take advantage of opportunities to put the compelling facts, features and benefits of your business in front of your internal audience. They trust you already, and so they are most likely to bring you more business, themselves or by recommendation to others.
- Track Which Marketing Strategies Are (and Aren’t) Working
Marketing is, among other things, the fine art of testing, tracking and adjusting. With decades of experience, our success is due in no small measure to the fact that we’ve done a whole lot of testing and are therefore able to test with tactics, messaging and methods that have been thoroughly tracked and adjusted/refined. But even so, that is no substitute for always tracking the response to any marketing effort.
If you run a print ad, a radio ad and a billboard, and then your phone rings, it is imperative to know exactly why your phone is ringing. Was it because of the billboard? Or was it because of the radio or print ad? Or was it because Mrs. Smith went home after being asked for a referral and spread the good word to her friends?
Regardless of what type of healthcare business you are — or any other kind of business, for that matter — you need to know what marketing strategies are working and which ones are not. Marketing is not about throwing away good money after bad. If radio is drawing patients but print ads are not, you’ll want to make adjustments. This may mean doing more radio… or it may mean simply adjusting the print ads’ content to be more like the radio ads.
There are a number of ways to track response from your marketing efforts, including unique phone numbers associated with the different strategies and tactics. Asking callers how they heard about you is unfortunately not a very effective way to track your return on marketing investment. Many don’t remember and others remember incorrectly. But far, far worse would be to do nothing to track which marketing is and isn’t working for you.
- Market How You Help Instead of What You Do
Basically, nobody wakes up needing “Business X.” For that matter, they’re not looking for a medical procedure. Instead, they wake up needing help for a specific problem, pain or discomfort. They may want relief from gastrointestinal symptoms. Whether for a specific health problem or a specific healthcare-business challenge, your audience — whoever they are — has issues for which solutions are needed. How you can help them is where you need to point your marketing.
Too many businesses engage in marketing by promoting who they are or what they have. We commonly see healthcare businesses that advertise with their name as the headline. This is a pretty egregious disconnect. If I have foot pain, I need a headline that says “Get relief from foot pain.” If I’m a doctor whose business needs help upgrading its EHR system, my attention will best be captured by a headline and messaging that say “Upgrade your EHR system quickly, easily and affordably.”
It is certainly necessary to talk about what you do. But it must be in the context of your solution to your audience’s problem or need. Ultimately, the benefit has to be foremost. Get relief. Live better. Walk again. Grow hair. Worry less. Sleep through the night. Run your practice more efficiently. Lead by saying that you’re going to make things better, then follow with how you’ll do it.
- Leverage Pay-Per-Click Advertising (PPC)
These days, the Internet is more important to marketing healthcare enterprises than ever before. First, more people than ever are searching the Internet for healthcare providers… and likely everything else. Second, more healthcare businesses have websites, social media presences and detailed Internet marketing strategies than ever before. At the same time, optimizing for search using organic methods (and there are many) is highly competitive.
In many cases, PPC offers you a better way to be found via search. Also, PPC is a more intelligent form of advertising because it is keyed to specific search terms. This means your message is only presented to prospects who are effectively “pre-qualified.” Think of it as precision targeting, because that’s exactly what it is. Also, you only pay for those visitors who are searching for your specific service or product and who choose to visit your website. So, although you pay for the clicks, a refined PPC strategy can reduce your overall cost of sale by pre-selecting people who are most likely to need what you provide.
It’s important to keep in mind that, in this information age, your non-Internet marketing strategies — despite being designed to generate a response — may first generate a web search. A targeted PPC campaign with an effective Landing Page can reinforce the message in those strategies while also attracting patients all on their own. Both of these are valuable marketing goals.
- Manage Your Online Reputation
There’s an old adage: “All you have is your reputation.” It happens to be true, of course, but there’s a slight twist to it these days. Specifically, your reputation is now online, and virtually 100% of patients/customers will do an Internet search on your business. This means your online reputation is there for everybody to see. And you don’t have to think very long and hard before realizing that what happens on the Internet is not necessarily rooted in reality. In other words, you could have a reputation online that is nothing at all like the reputation you actually deserve.
On the other hand, your online reputation could also be exactly representative of reality. In any case, all businesses need to protect their reputations, which means you need to monitor your online reputation. Keep in mind that satisfied customers may well give you or share with the world, their positive feedback, but those who are dissatisfied are far more likely to share their feedback. Do right by 100 customers but fail one of them, and chances are you could end up with one online review that could be harmful to your professional reputation.
When a customer goes online with a negative review, you need to know about it. In fact, expect negative reviews, and plan to know about them, deal with them and repair the harm they cause your business. Even the best enterprises get negative reviews, deserving or not.
While it’s not enough simply to monitor your online reputation, it is a mandatory first step. By monitoring it, you’ll know what your customers are complaining about. If it’s a legitimate complaint, you just received free business intelligence about the need to improve your medical enterprise. And monitoring your reputation online is also the first step to managing your reputation, which is really the strategy we’re recommending here. There are ways to do this, including specific reputation management programs that help you address customers’ grievances, solicit positive reviews and promote a more positive online reputation.
- Train Your People to Maximize Your Marketing Success
Although last on this list, training is one of the most important basic healthcare marketing strategies that you should engage in now if you haven’t already. The point of your marketing efforts is that they need to work. And just as a hammer cannot build a house by itself, neither can your marketing convert leads and inquiries into customers all by itself.
Conversion is the key. Professional marketing can attract, convince, and compel your audience to make contact. But after that, your people have to book the appointment, order or sale. This makes them sales staff, even if they (or you) don’t know it yet. They must know how to comport themselves professionally, overcome objections, gather useful information, engender trust, and much more.
For some healthcare businesses, particularly specialty medical practices, one or more team members will need to be trained as “representatives” that visit other practices/business as part of a strategic referral-building program. For most businesses, staffers also play a role in communicating the brand and messaging to the target audience. Without training in these and other activities, you’re taking the risk that your marketing will be as effective as the hammer that can’t swing itself.
Healthcare marketing is often challenging and complex. But to assure business success, these are the seven most important strategies, and the foundation to your marketing plan. We can help with that, so please give us a call at 800-656-0907.