Growing Your Pain Practice Through Effective Marketing
By Joe Carlon, MBA, Paul Lynch, MD, Tory McJunkin, MD, Josh filani, and Ted Swing, PhD
In a recent column (“The Number One Key to Business Development,” Pain Medicine News April 2013), we outlined the importance of defining your purpose, your values and your mission. Without a doubt, these are vital to the success of any endeavor, be it building a medical practice or executing a military exercise. If you haven’t gone through that process, I recommend you spend time there as a starting point.
But let us put some meat on the proverbial bone. In pure marketing terms, we were talking about defining your unique selling proposition—that which sets you apart from your colleagues. More specifically, how does what you do fulfill the needs of your customers (referring practices and patients)? Being crystal clear about your unique selling position, and communicating it effectively to your staff and to your customers, is paramount to your success. Not knowing can be costly, leaving you frustrated and lagging behind the competition.
So let’s take the unique selling position concept and talk about why you are defining it in the first place: to build your marketing platform and to grow your practice.
When we talk to most physicians about marketing, they tend to focus on advertising: magazine ads, radio ads and brochures. If only it were that simple. To be fair, one rarely comes across physicians who were offered marketing classes as part of their medical training. But when it comes to running your own small business, effective marketing can mean the difference between simply surviving and thriving. We recommend spending time dedicated to learning about marketing and engaging those who have had success in the past.
When you start to build your marketing platform, an easy way to organize your strategy is through the 4 P’s of marketing.
The 4 P’s
This is where you develop and define your unique selling proposition. Here is also where you develop your logo, colors, tagline, mission and so forth. What services do you provide to your customers? How do you perform them differently than your colleagues? How does that solve a problem your customer has? We recommend spending 50% of your time on this area of your strategy.
This is the advertising arm of your strategy. Who will deliver your product message? Will you hire a sales force? Will you advertise on radio or TV? How will you measure the return on your investment? What will you do internally to engage your customers? Will you focus exclusively on external marketing? Will your website be an educational site, or one where patients and offices can conduct transactions? Each answer will help define the next question; you should spend as much time here as required to answer each question.
Will you accept insurance contracts? How will you handle motor vehicle accident personal injury cases? Do you know the law around Advanced Beneficiary Notice? (Here’s a link that will help: http://www.cms.gov/Outreach-and-Education/Medicare-Learning-Network-MLN/MLNProducts/downloads/abn_booklet_icn006266.pdf.)
What will your “self-pay price” be? Will this be a competitive advantage you have over your colleagues?
Note: There is a significant amount of information to consider, as well as risk, in this category and you should consult your health care attorney to make sure you get it right.
Although telemedicine is a growing sector in the medical field, the traditional delivery system for care in the outpatient setting is still very relevant: the physician office. Have you thought about how the setup of your office can effect patient satisfaction? Have your considered how you can influence brand recognition through creation of internal educational handouts? The proliferation of electronic health record systems has created an opportunity to extend the reach of your practice via patient portals. You should become an expert in how this can effect your customers—patients and referring practice alike.
The 4 P’s, developed over time, build your brand. Your brand is ultimately what your customers believe about you and your product. Let’s look at two examples. first, consider Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.. Mayo has tremendously strong brand awareness: clinical excellence, compassion and patient-centric are all terms that come to mind. Recently, Mayo launched a campaign with the tagline “My answer is
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston is another company that has remarkable brand awareness. The name itself elicits an image, a feeling and an emotion in your head that is very tangible. The company also has made a concerted effort to leverage its logo to elicit those emotions. An excerpt from a recent press release describes exactly the point: “The logo integrates MD Anderson’s distinctive tagline, Making Cancer History, and the long-running cancer strike-through campaign, in which survivors tell their cancer stories and draw a red line through their cancer type to mark their triumph over the disease.
The intent of the mark is to make clear to all those who touch MD Anderson the commitment to this mission and the optimism of being on the cusp of major advances toward reaching it.”1
You might be saying to yourself, “But I’m in private practice. I don’t have a seven-figure marketing budget like these big companies. How do I make an impact?”
Keys to Success
- Do not spend a dollar on marketing unless you can track return on investment; this is critical, especially for those with limited resources.
- You need a simple tracking tool for incoming referrals; go to boostmedical.com for an example.
- Invest in phone training and education for your staff; this is the most overlooked area of a medical clinic, but perhaps the most important. Consider this: The interaction on the phone might be the only interaction a potential office or patient has with your practice. Get it right.
- Make sure your branding is consistent across all channels—messaging, web, colors and call-to-action should all be the same. Spend time and money up front.
- Hire high-quality people to represent your brand.
- Commit to consistent spending of your marketing budget.
Three More Considerations
Budget: How To Manage Limited Resources
Most practices do not set a marketing budget. They simply spend money based on the opportunities they know about or that are presented to them throughout the year. A Boost Medical–recommended best practice is to set a budget you are comfortable with each month. Then, be specific with allocation across channels (i.e., 25% on print, 50% on TV and 25% on web).
Testing and Tracking: It Matters
Many practices put ads in local magazines or on TV. How many also track the effects of those campaigns? Our experience tells us very few. One physician we spoke to recently said he spent $5,000 per month on marketing and that he would like to spend another $5,000. When we asked “Where have you had the most success?,” he couldn’t answer. Two recommended best practices are to use tracking software and to run a particular campaign for three months and test the results. How many phone calls did the campaign generate? How many unique visitors to your website did it generate? How many new patients resulted from the campaign? It’s critical to know the answers to these questions at a very granular level to be able to evaluate your return on investment and, ultimately, determine whether to continue with the campaign (and continue spending your money).
The Web Is Your Friend
When we speak to practices about web strategy, we’re often asked early in the conversation: “Are your clients on Twitter and Facebook?” To us, this is a signal of a cursory understanding at best. The web is complex; an entire column could focus on web strategy. Yet we are more connected than ever and your brand and your unique selling position can be positively effected by a smart, comprehensive web strategy. Keep the following in mind when thinking about your presence on the web:
- The web is working when you are sleeping; what is your website saying?
- Any patient or practice can go online and make a statement about you and your practice. Know what is being said and be a part of the conversation. Don’t let your customers define you.
- Your website can be as broad or narrow as you want it to be. Engage a creative mind (you or someone else) to create your strategy.
- Match your web aesthetic to your print material; consistency is critical.
- Don’t be afraid to be bold. Tell your story with passion
Marketing does not need to be complex. But it does need to be thoughtful and your brand should reflect who you are as a person and what you want your practice to represent to the community. Following the ideas and concepts in this article should put you on the path toward making a huge impact through your marketing efforts.