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Marketing's New Landscape: Building for the Long Haul and Gaining Market Share after the Economic Storm

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Field of grass landscape with a single bare tree and cloudy skiesEditor's Note: This material is adapted from an article that we authored for THE Aesthetic Guide, a national publication serving readership in aesthetic medical practices. Many of the marketing concepts discussed in this article apply to other professional, medical and healthcare marketing situations.

There are positive signs on the horizon that the nation's economic climate may be improving. We're hopeful, but nobody is exceptionally confident about the months ahead. It remains to be seen just how rapidly the recovery will play out. One thing is clear; the marketing landscape was dramatically changed by the storm.

Just about a year ago, our article in these pages spoke about marketing during the recession. Back then, the economic headwinds were blowing strong, and the challenge for many aesthetic and cosmetic practices was pure survival. As we all know, it's been a turbulent time for many practitioners...and disastrous for others.

Fast-forward 12 months. There's a growing mood of optimism—cautious optimism perhaps—and at least some indicators have ticked up. But we don't hear anyone predicting an explosive recovery or a quick return to the "good old days." No doubt things will continue to improve...but progress will be slow at best.

If it's been tough for you (and you're sill in business), the aesthetic marketing landscape is quite a different place. For one thing, the competition is has changed. More than a few medi-spa practices, for example, are out of business or on a slippery slope to shut down. Competitive practices that successfully weathered the storm learned from their experience.

The buying public has changed as well. Prospective patients—who often were concerned about cost—are now hyper price-sensitive. Moreover, they are value-oriented, and they approach elective and cosmetic care even more conservatively than they did in the past.

For these reasons and others, the "new normal" calls for a fresh mindset; with an aggressive plan to rebuild and grow for the long haul. The primary business objective is to capture market share as competitors have not yet recovered, or have vanished from the marketplace.

The new normal that follows tough times, from a marketing perspective, presents its own challenges. For some practitioners, this will continue to be a matter of survival. At best, it's a period of gradual rebuilding, and making the most of new opportunities.

It means implementing a back-to-basics, no-waste game plan. The first requirement is to track and evaluate everything you do. Return-on-Investment (ROI) is the standard gauge in marketing. Compare dollars in against dollars out...and eliminate everything with a negative ROI. If you believe you're already doing this, do it again with a sharper pencil. You would be surprised how often we discover waste in practices small and large.

Here's an example: We recently consulted with a multi-million dollar aesthetic practice on the east coast. They were busy so they thought they were doing well. The truth is they were doing "OK," but not as well as they thought...and not nearly as well as they could be doing.

We took a fresh look at the numbers and helped them discover that "busy" isn't a reliable barometer. They weren't challenging the data. It turns out that they were busy with a mix of business that wasn't delivering the best return for the time and budget. With some adjustments to the marketing plan and the mix of business, the bottom line improved dramatically.

A triage approach shows what works best under your roof: The cases to attract, the best procedures, and the highest and best use of everyone's time. An unbiased analysis also reveals where to cut on the low end.

It's also important to work the top gateways, and they may not be what you think. Gateways into the practice may have shifted in the new marketing landscape. People don't come in the door because you "do everything." They opt for elective care that answers a specific need-a marketing gateway-that you can provide to them.

Think beyond the old horizon to identify and leverage only the best gateways. And keep in mind that gateways often have nothing to do with what you LIKE to do. You may have to put aside you bias and put emphasis on the proven winners.

Traditionally, women are a primary audience for aesthetic and cosmetic procedures. But you may discover other demographics and gateways in the new normal. Often there's a fresh opportunity attached. Cosmetic and aesthetic procedures for men have increased and, according to an AACS survey, they have grown in popularity with Asian, Hispanic, and African-American groups.

If you're wondering where to start—and your marketing war chest is strained—begin by beefing-up your internal marketing effort. In our experience, communicating with present and previous patients via email is often underutilized or totally forgotten. Email is a low cost tool, especially when compared to full-page, color print ads in up-scale magazines. (The breakeven point for expensive print ads is high, and the effectiveness doesn't always follow.)

Don't be reluctant to ask for patient referrals. It's a task that shouldn't be delegated or neglected. Satisfied patients are not only a great source for referrals, they are often eager to respond. (Increasingly they use digital and social media for recommendations and referrals.) But you have to ask—and make it a habit.

Online marketing tools are relatively low in cost and the payback can be good. Tune-up your internet strategy for maximum leverage. Are you getting the most from your internet investment or is your website overdue for updates? Are you pulling people into the site with email, online advertising, a video strategy, and other tools? Do you have new marketing gateways to present? Is your website attracting visitors and page views, but the phone isn't ringing?

Your website needs regular attention, but blogs and social media have become an important part the new landscape. Do you have a blog, a Facebook page, and/or a Twitter account? Many aesthetic practitioners have adopted these communications channels with impressive results. Here again, the cost is low, but the highly individualized nature of these tools—often delivered to a personal smart phone—makes them exceptionally effective.

Next, create high-value offers that capture the imagination of an audience that's more selective. What services can you bundle as a package to appeal to a specific need or audience group? After the kids are grown a bit, a "mommy make-over," for example, appeals to women who feel it's time to attend to their appearance. More than ever, prospective patients want reassurance about the worth of services to be delivered. Elective and cosmetic care is more acceptable to the budget when the value is high.

This may also be a chance to work closely with other (non-competitive and complementary) businesses that market to the same target audience groups. Appearance-conscious individuals may be receptive to the aesthetic benefits of a facial make-over when offered jointly with a cosmetic dentist, for example.

It's also important to know exactly what's happening at your front desk. More often than you'd like to hear about, a lot of potential business is lost in the first phone call. It takes a special talent, training and experience to handle inbound phone inquiries and convert these calls to office appointments. Many first-time callers are curious, but not convinced. And without the right person helping them, they often disappear.

Maintain or increase your visibility. Practices in the medical aesthetic community that fall silent when business is soft give the impression of being out of business. (Maybe they are.) Keep your marketing flag flying to protect your investment and to attract additional market share.

So what's the bottom line?

The recent economic downturn has been difficult for many cosmetic and aesthetic practices. And although the dark clouds may be parting, the slow process of rebuilding will take time and effort. The landscape has changed, and challenges remain ahead. In short, the stakes remain high and a smart, aggressive marketing plan can keep you in business over the long-haul...and emerge bigger and more profitable when this storm is just a memory.

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