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The 7 All-Time Most Frequently Asked Questions about Healthcare Marketing

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Red dice with "F" "A" "Q" letters on itAnswers that have guided thousands of practices and health care
organizations in achieving their growth goals.

Our daily work puts us on the receiving-end of a stream of healthcare and medical marketing questions of all kinds. We wouldn't think of saying that we've "heard 'em all," but our collective experience adds up to fielding many thousands of questions.

Still, some common themes tend to come up time and time again. With only a small amount of literary license, here are the 7 all-time most frequently asked questions (and answers) about medical marketing:

1. "What kinds of problems can marketing help us solve?"

The answer: Plenty...let's list just a few.

The bottom-line objective in healthcare marketing is usually—but not exclusively—to grow the practice or organization. Often this means attracting more patients, but a well-rounded marketing plan will achieve much more for the provider. Effective and ethical marketing opens the door to benefits for providers to:

  • Achieve profitable growth;
  • Attract cases that the doctors either enjoy or have special expertise for;
  • Protect and grow market share against competition;
  • Build the professional reputation of the provider with the community and peers.

These high-level objectives also translate into answers for challenges and opportunities such as:

  • Attracting better paying or more profitable cases;
  • Reaching "ideal patents," directly and cost-effectively;
  • Changing the mix of patients or types of cases;
  • Winning more professional referrals;
  • Supporting a new location, provider or technology (or all of these);
  • Building volume for an ancillary service;
  • Transitioning to a "cash business" or "all-referral" practice;
  • Standing out from the crowd in positive ways;
  • Answering competitive challenges;
  • Finding more personal time and greater professional enjoyment; and
  • Tastefully building and extending your reputation.

Read more about this Question and Answer in our library:
» Ethical Marketing Systems - A whole new way to "work smarter, not harder"

2. "Sounds great, but how can we tastefully market without hurting our reputation?"

The answer: It's all in how you do it.

It is no secret that many doctors and healthcare organizations remain "marketing-shy" more than 30 years after the landmark 1977 Supreme Court case Bates V. The State Bar of Arizona made marketing legal for doctors and other professionals. What's more, while the licensing boards deemed marketing to be ethical in the early 1980s, and over time many thousands of healthcare practices and organizations nationwide began marketing, many doctors still feel uncomfortable because they are worried about coming across as "needy, cheesy or greedy."

If that sounds like you, we certainly understand your concern. After all, your most precious asset is your reputation, and you certainly wouldn't want to jeopardize it through distasteful or unethical marketing.

What's important to remember, however, is that the way you market your practice or business — and therefore the reputation you build — is completely up to you. Think of it this way:

Marketing is an important channel for positive influence in shaping how others think of you. You're telling patients, prospective patients, colleagues and others what you do, and reminding them when, how and why to think of you and your organization. The message that's received depends entirely on the message that you send, so you want to control and direct this process.

Healthcare marketing—done professionally and using the right strategies and tactics—will produce professional results in measurable growth, and actually enhance your reputation in positive ways. (And, of course, the reverse would also be true.)

The starting point for marketing is like a blank canvas: people who don't know you are completely unaware of what you do and have no image of you at all. The professional marketing messages of your organization communicate your credible, impressive, ethical and highly professional image and reputation.

Surprisingly, many doctors would argue that marketing is actually more ethical than not. Their rationale?

Marketing is a positive tool to inform and influence people toward a better quality of health and life. On the other hand, NOT marketing would be withholding valuable and helpful information. So which is the more ethical approach?

Unfortunately, like most tools, marketing can deliver a disastrous outcome if you don't know what you are doing or understand how to use it properly and effectively. So, you'll want to do proper homework and then seek out expert guidance prior to embarking upon a new marketing program.

3. "Gee, isn't marketing expensive and/or risky?"

The answer: Results-based Marketing reduces risk and maximizes ROI.

Clearly, there are no guarantees in business any more than there are absolute outcomes in a clinical practice. But—to continue the clinical analogy—a knowledgeable doctor applies his own skills and depth of experience (and that of many others) to reduce risks in achieving the desired outcome.

Likewise in marketing, learning from the outcomes of thousands of healthcare marketing campaigns significantly reduces risk. Over the years, our real-world experience in working with thousands of clients around the nation enables us to recommend an results-based marketing methodology. The key steps that we apply in reducing risk and achieving success include:

  • * Learn from the marketing outcomes of thousands of other healthcare practices and organizations;
  • * Create a strategic marketing plan based on strategies and tactics most likely to be successful, including geography, specialty, personalities, strengths and weaknesses, etc.;
  • * Test whenever possible before committing significant sums of money;
  • * Track results carefully; and
  • * Roll out the "winning" strategies.

And NO, marketing is not an issue of expense or "expensive." Some highly effective marketing strategies and tactics are low or no cost. And while other tactics may require a reasonable investment of some kind, they will also have a Return-on-Investment attached.

This is where the above steps of testing, tracking and roll-out apply. Let's say that investing $4,000 a month on marketing produces $200,000 or more in new revenue—it would not be "expensive," it would be a successful 400% ROI.

4. "How should I establish a marketing budget?"

The answer: Budget by objectives. This is probably easier than you think, but it's even easier to get it wrong.

There's just not enough space here to list all the wrong ways to approach a marketing budget. And even well-intended clients have been known to give up in frustration and try to "play-it-by-ear," or worse, they do little or no marketing because they have no budget. (As you can imagine, this self-fulfilling, no-budget-and-do-nothing approach would be getting it wrong.)

The correct approach to a sound marketing budget is to begin with the end in mind. Clearly define what you intend to achieve in specific and quantifiable numbers.

Start with the overall incremental growth objective even if your marketing plan has several segments. You may have to work through this exercise several times for adjustments and refinements. You'll find a practical worksheet by way of the "Read More" links below.

Keep in mind that your goals and your budget are two parts of an equation that need to be aligned with each other. The purpose of your 12-month budget is to assign adequate resources to achieve realistic goals, and this goes hand-in-hand with tracking and calculating Return-on-Investment.

5. "What is the difference between medical marketing and medical practice management?

The answer: These are relatives, but they have quite different roles in the practice.

Broadly defined, Medical Practice Management embraces operational matters such as coding, payer selection, accounts receivable, staffing, HIPAA, software, cost cutting, and about a million other issues that are the day-to-day business of the business/practice.

In its purest form, Medical Marketing is about building a positive reputation, getting your phone to ring, getting people to come in for a first appointment and converting them into patients.

Practice Management is largely about the wheels that turn inside the practice. And Practice Marketing is the planned process of communications that goes on with individuals who, for the most part, are not yet aware of or part of the practice.

6. "Is marketing synonymous with advertising?"

The answer: No. Advertising is a small sub-set of marketing, and one that you may not even need.

While marketing and advertising are often mistakenly used interchangeably, marketing is the very broad, overarching heading. Marketing encompasses many variables, oftentimes referred to as the Seven Ps of Marketing. These "Ps" include Product (the services you deliver and needs you fulfill), Packaging (how you bundle services), Price, Place (physical facility and geography), People (you and your staff), Positioning (why you) and finally Promotion.

That final "P" for promotion includes doctor referral marketing, patient referral marketing, publicity (free press), branding (the sum total of experiences the patient has with you), Internet marketing, community marketing, case presentation, point of purchase displays and finally advertising.

A well-considered marketing plan may or may not include some form of advertising, depending upon objectives, budgets, philosophy, marketplace and many other factors .

Read more about this Question and Answer in our library:
» What is Marketing?

7. "I never market."

The answer: Opps...sorry, but nearly everything you do is marketing.

We'll let it slide that this is a statement and not a question. But the fact is that you DO market your business. Like it or not...call it something else if you like...but virtually everything you do is sending a marketing message. Paul Watzlawick was right when he postulated, "You cannot NOT communicate."

It may be that a organization does not have a written Marketing Plan, or that it deliberately avoids newspaper or other forms of external advertising. But it is a mistake to think that a provider "never markets." This is more than semantics. The way a business greets and interacts with patients...the decor and appearance of the office...the demeanor of the staff in person and on the phone...caregiver manner...what patients are likely to say (or not say) about the business to others...among dozens of examples, are ways the business is marketing itself.

The result of this—intentionally or unintentionally—represents the messages that are communicated about the business. Marketing includes communications, by any means, about a business that encourages the recipients of the communication to respond positively.

The question is, "Are you actively controlling your message and therefore reputation and results, or are you simply allowing things to happen by chance?"

Read more about this Question and Answer in our library:
» What Is A Health Care Marketing Plan and Why Do I Need One?


Because marketing is so widely misunderstood, doctors and other healthcare providers often dismiss it out of hand. Yet, marketing can be a powerful tool to enhance both your reputation and bottom line.

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