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Physician Marketing Tools Have Changed, But Relationship Building Remains the Goal

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

by Healthcare Success Co-Founder Lonnie Hirsch

The missing piece puzzle piece  floating above the puzzle illuminatedJust recently, we happened to spot a thoughtful article about how small business needs to embrace new marketing methods to better cope with the nation’s tough economic climate. It turns out that the article was nearly two years old (an “eon” in marketing time), but small business is still struggling, and many of the author’s well-stated points still have a present-day application to healthcare providers and medical marketing.

Professional practitioners and small business owners need to recognize that there is no swift turnaround on the horizon. Traditional business development methods and old-school marketing approaches are not going to gain traction in what we refer to as “the new normal.” Those businesses (practices) that adapt their marketing methods are securing new accounts (patients). Those who have not adapted continue to struggle.

At its core, successful marketing has always been about relationship building and nurturing. The means and methods to accomplish this have changed in recent years.

A dramatic shift in consumer shopping and buying attitudes, the economic downturn, advances in technology and the Internet—as well as recasting healthcare delivery systems—are significant change agents. Marketing in this environment calls upon a diverse, integrated marketing program comprised of newer Organic (Inbound or Pull) Marketing, and traditional Mechanical (Outbound or Push) Marketing.

Unfortunately, many businesses have lost touch with the concept of nurturing a relationship. Perhaps with a sense of desperation, they end up churning customers, bringing them in the front door (getting harder all the time), and spitting them out the back door.

There’s no doubt that some tools in the Traditional Marketing Model have become difficult and expensive to use effectively. For example, cold call marketing—by definition the polar opposite of a relationship—is increasingly ineffective. Nevertheless, other traditional tools are far from irrelevant or obsolete.

As for the Organic Marketing Model, our attention-deficit online "virtual life" is an environment best suited to the first stage of relationship and credibility/trust building. It can bring the prospect to the initial purchase, and to subsequently maintain contact and reinforce value with established customers between in-person encounters.

On the front end of this organic marketing model, there is only a virtual relationship.  In the after-purchase stage, a business can take advantage of online communications and interaction to nurture and reinforce "real life" customer experiences, whether those experiences are in person or by phone. In the online space, initial contacts serve to attract a prospective customer and build enough interest and credibility for the prospect to try the business (service or product). In this respect, it serves the same purpose as the one-way marketing and advertising messages as traditional mechanical marketing.

Although a fledgling “relationship” of sorts has begun, the critical link—and often the missing link—is the need for a genuine, in-person customer purchase experience that moves to an engaged relationship. This critical connection is where a high percentage of healthcare provider businesses—both private practices and hospitals—fumble the handoff, and the post-purchase virtual relationship is rendered inert and irrelevant.

Worse, that negative customer experience in their first in-person encounter with the business inspires the use of online communications to provide an instant and easy vehicle for customers to post negative online reviews.

So for many healthcare provider businesses, the process (time, effort, budget) of initial relationship building is ultimately a waste of time. Without a continuing relationship beyond the first in-person purchase experience, the marketing effort is ultimately unsuccessful.

And ironically, the net effect of the marketing investment—regardless of the model in use—is to generate a negative result…negative word-of-mouth…damage to reputation…lost revenue and future opportunity.

Regardless of the healthcare marketing mix or marketing model—“Traditional” or “Organic”—success is about a relationship building, not the “quick sale.” It is the continuing patient/customer relationship that answers the rough economic times that are the New Normal.

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