Marketing your practice today is not easy, especially during the pandemic (thanks Captain Obvious) but, do you believe it will get any easier going forward? For that matter, if you have been in business for more than 10 years, do you suppose marketing in 2019 was easier or more difficult than in 2008?
Truth be told, things have been shifting steadily toward the more complex, specialized – some would say: difficult – for years now. It isn’t the marketing tasks that have gotten harder per se, it is the complexity of the audience, their expectations, and the extensive adoption of attention-absorbing media and tools.
Sure, marketing itself has gotten more sophisticated. If you are of a certain age you probably recall the days when a simple local newspaper ad would make your phone ring for a week. A good direct mail package could help you hit your monthly sales goals and mostly everyone was a private pay patient. Nostalgia inducing, isn’t it?
Over the past decade or so we’ve seen multiple technology improvements in the industry as the shift from analog to digital was completed in earnest. That digital transformation applies not just to devices, but to communications in general. But what of your marketing? Has it – or have you – kept pace?
A Closer Look
We can get prescriptive in a moment, first though, we need to see the landscape for what it is, with all its changes. Today’s (and tomorrow’s) consumers are connected and informed, they use any time spent thinking about hearing care to conduct research online.
They review manufacturers, they read articles, they ask friends, they ask the anonymous community at large, they seek reviews and feedback, they follow multiple links online into rabbit holes we can only imagine. Then they emerge with an armful of information and hopefully a commitment to proceed.
These consumers are also different than before in a few other ways… they are not as old as previous patients, they are more engaged in active lifestyles, and they want what they want, when they want it, and how they want it – on their terms. Today’s market also supports a variety of buying models. Traditional private pay still thrives, but increasingly other routes are becoming more prevalent. Namely third-party payer solutions.
Your feelings toward this shift in consumer may vary, yet there is no returning the Genie to the bottle. The market is reflective of what hearing care consumers want and need. Your choice is not about accepting it, the real choice is about how you’ll choose to manage your business to meet your needs.
What to Do?
Marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t get all caught up in the tactics, use your awareness of the market and today’s consumers to inform and direct your plan. Therein lies the key word, plan. Create one! If you don’t have it on paper it doesn’t count.
Adapt and adjust as situations change but knowing where you want to be makes getting there easier – that’s what a marketing plan does for you. Look at your previous performance to determine where you’ve had success and where you have no traction. And, if you are not recording results, you can’t improve the outcomes. Data rules, feelings and hunches won’t cut it.
Marketing is more than advertising; it is communication and perception as well. Influencing others to do something they may not want to do, but likely need to do, is hard work and takes time. Use all the tools at your disposal. Apply your message consistently, check frequently for feedback, and measure results.
Start with your existing customers. Your database is a critical success factor for marketing going forward. Are you in contact? How? Are you using email to keep top of mind? How about social media? Are your existing customers speaking proudly of their experiences with your practice?
So many practice owners focus on the need for new patients and the tools for attracting them (website, SEO, SEM, social media, advertising, direct mail, etc.) yet neglect to stay relevant with their existing customers. Keeping in touch and staying relevant are the keys to this challenge. If you don’t remain top of mind, someone else’s marketing will attract them.
Start small if you haven’t been working your database. Identify key segments of your customer list and speak to them about what’s in it for them. Do they need to come in for adjustments, updates, or even an upgrade from older tech? What about the more recently purchased group, what do they need from you to feel good about their decision – not just for the tech, but for selecting you as a provider? Can you prompt them to endorse your business, word of mouth is incredibly powerful marketing?
Lastly, evaluate your options for alliances and connect with sources of patients you do not need to market to. Let others do that work, adapt and adjust your processes to bring on clients from other source streams (insurance, affinity programs, VA, unions, etc.) and fit them into your practice schedule in a way that serves your business best.
No one should be treated less than completely, after all, hearing care is why you do what you do. Yet, if the predisposition is there to make a transaction, adjust your schedule to serve them and bank the time you normally spend convincing others why they want to act.
Open your doors and open your marketing to serve your practice while keeping the customer needs front and center. It isn’t new, just the situation is.
Jerry DeRosa is Vice President of Marketing for Your Hearing Network. He draws from more than 30 years of marketing experience with expertise in direct and retail marketing, along with advertising and digital media. Previously, Jerry was director of marketing with AHAA and director of marketing communications for Wolters Kluwer Health, a medical information, data and publishing company.