17 Things Savvy Healthcare Providers Can Do To Keep Their Organizations Healthy Despite A Very Sick Economy
There's no doubt that the nation's economic news is serious and troubling. Your own experience tells you that people—pretty much all of us—are justifiably concerned, from Wall Street to Main Street. While everyone's situation is different, you've likely felt the pressure and pain—both personally and professionally, and it's not going to get better anytime soon.
Worse, most doctors' greatest sources of wealth, i.e., their businesses, their homes and the stock market, have received blow after blow of late.
Although we can't guide you about broad economic affairs in the nation, our years of experience in working with professional healthcare organizations of all types across the country tells us there are a number of things that you can do to win patients and profits—even in the face of heavy economic headwinds.
When the economy moves from "soft" or "bumpy" to outright "crisis," scared consumers tend to flee to safety—cutting back on non-essentials, preserving and protecting their resources, and waiting for the storm to clear. From a marketing perspective, we also know that consumer behavior lags reality; they tend to stay on the sidelines longer.
Our expertise is in working closely with many physicians and healthcare organizations during rough economic times. Over the years we've come to recognize the most common (and financially painful) marketing mistakes to avoid. Here's what NOT to do:
What these healthcare businesses and organizations don't know is: The better course (although counterintuitive) is to stay in the game. It's the secret that successful organizations and practices keep to themselves—marketing savvy businesses actually want others to be scared off the field. Here's why...
The most productive and cost-effective marketing opportunity is when there's little or no competition.
And when many hospitals, organizations and private practices duck-and-cover with negative economic news, it opens the playing field for the smart marketers. The competitive vacuum is a rich opening to reach and attract the patients who are still seeking services, to protect your patient base and to build a larger market share overall.
While consumers are spending less, it is still possible to gain new patients and actually increase profitability. The nation's economic headlines notwithstanding, healthcare services are based mainly on personal need, and regardless of the economy there are always people who require your services.
True, you'll need to play the marketing game smarter and more carefully these days, so here are some tangible recommendations:
Yes, there are many proven marketing strategies that will win patients despite the current economic crisis. And, yes—it may seem counterintuitive. (Marketing savvy healthcare organizations often keep this insight to themselves...and take advantage of the lack of competition.)
But having consulted with thousands of group and solo practices over several decades, our best advice to you implement a carefully considered and resource-conscious marketing plan. Here are 17 medical marketing strategies that you can begin implementing immediately to counter the effects of the current recession and increase patient count, revenues and profits.
1. Focus on strategies that deliver a trackable ROI. First, and perhaps most important, narrow your promotional sights from the wide field of all things you do to selectively focus your promotional message on the professional services that build profits. The test is: "If I invest $1,000 today, I want to realize $4,000 in return on this investment tomorrow."
If money is super tight for you, it is ok to tread a little carefully at first. BUT, that doesn't mean you should disappear from the marketplace altogether.
Instead, take smart risks and reasonable steps until you find that magic combination of variables that works. Once you do, turn up your marketing while everyone else sits on the sidelines.
2. Consider what the consumer wants. Determine what it is that prospective patients want or need the most. (Changes in the economy may have changed people's priorities.) Don't think about what you want to sell, but determine what it is that they want to buy—then deliver it to them.
3. Keep your marketing budget consistent. The hospital or practice that abruptly silences its voice is totally and suddenly invisible to people in need. Maybe it "feels" like you're preserving resources, but you are giving up more in lost revenue and opportunity. Every dollar wisely invested has a stronger Return-on-Investment potential (when the competition is standing-down). And as an added bonus, media costs might be available at bargain rates.
(If you don't have a marketing budget, now is the time to get one. Make it a priority as you develop a specific plan. See items 16 and 17 below.)
4. Take advantage of the competitive vacuum. This is when most of your competitors have cut their marketing back to little or nothing. Use this time (while their practices are invisible) to grow market share at their expense. Advertisers who increase their budget in a soft economy increase their market share.
5. Prune any wasteful spending that has crept in. Take this time to carefully examine where there may be waste anywhere in the business. This is a good time to reorganize what's being spent and what can be applied to serious ROI marketing.
6. Be open to new tactics that you might not have otherwise considered. Doctors and healthcare professionals tend to be conservative. (We are too, by the way.) But some doctors are so conservative that they dismiss good new ideas out-of-hand—ideas that could vastly improve profitability of their organization or business. Remaining open to new ideas is especially important right now.
7. Fortify and strengthen professional relationships. Of course this is something that you should be doing all along—especially with those practices that refer to your business. But when they're busy, doctors, administrators, and staff tend to put off some things. But when things are slow, it's critical to strengthen those relationships. Take care of the people who take care of you.
8. Refocus on low-risk internal marketing. Most doctors understand the importance of taking care of their patients—and professionally, of course, they do. But when things are rushed in the office, they can overlook the exceptional added value of patients who are the internal marketing audience. Internal marketing—working with existing (and satisfied) patients is low cost, low risk and high ROI. Your best asset is your patient base and it's a solid source of referrals, especially in a declining economy.
9. Begin (or turn up the efforts) in Internet marketing. If you are not already doing so, begin an aggressive program of Internet marketing. Why? Because online advertising for healthcare is becoming more challenging. Many savvy doctors and organizations are already doing Search Engine Optimization. Pay per click advertising is getting more expensive. Every day that goes by the game gets harder and more expensive for those that follow.
10. Cross promote. This is an easy strategy, and perhaps you've done this in the past. Work with like-minded businesses or practices to promote each other's enterprise. This may be as simple as exchanging a quantity of brochures or "take one" information with another business or non-competitive practice.
11. Negotiate with the media. If your healthcare organization is advertising, use the opportunity of a recession to negotiate. This is a time when the media is hungry for new business and they can be much more flexible about rates.
12. Look for ways to bundle your services. Finding a combination of services can create a value-laden and compelling package for the office to present. For example, some savvy plastic surgeons are bundling together liposuction, Botox™ and tummy tucks into a product they call the "Mommy Makeover."
13. Sell affordability and financing. Consumers are concerned about how things fit into their monthly budget. In orthodontics, for example, practices have been successful in selling a course of treatment for $99 per month. It doesn't seem to matter how many months...just as long as it's $99 per month. That's affordability.
14. Test low-risk offers. Consider how you might present a trial offer on something in your office. Allowing for a low-risk or introductory trial is appealing to a conservative audience. Most practices underestimate the opportunity and effectiveness.
15. Communicate VALUE. Your marketing message in general should be much more about the value you provide (and less about gimmicks or fluff). People respond to value as a means to get more for their expense.
16. Create an objectives-based marketing budget. Budgets should span a course of at least 12 months, and need to be based on specific objectives and your Return-on-Investment goals. And along with this budget...
17. Create and follow a marketing plan. Your well-considered plan must be based upon who you are, how you practice, what you're trying to achieve, your goals, etc. And it should be organized by category—Internet marketing, internal marketing, external advertising, professional referral marketing, publicity, branding, etc.
In good times or otherwise-the purpose of a marketing plan is to generate the maximum, cost-effective bottom-line results and Return-on-Investment. (If you don't have a marketing plan, let's talk about creating one for you. If you have a plan, we can guide you on how adjustments can boost the results such as incorporating a healthcare SEO strategy.)
A hard-working marketing plan is your most valuable defense if economic times are soft. Your oranization can gain ground, increase profitability and increase patient count while the competition is on the sidelines.