Marketing is no longer an optional undertaking for physician practices, particularly independent ones. As competition increases and patients take a more active role in practice selection, your viability and growth will increasingly rely on strong marketing initiatives. Relying primarily on referrals from other providers and patients is a losing proposition.
The good news is that while marketing may seem like a daunting endeavor, particularly if you are already overburdened with responsibilities, there are some tried-and-true approaches that can significantly improve your ability to connect with prospective patients and quickly grow your patient base.
Here are the first steps all practices need to take:
1. Know your market: Initiate a marketing study to understand how patients, prospective patients, referrers, and prospective referrers view your practice. This market study—which should be conducted by a marketing firm with proven outcomes related to helping other, similar practices grow—should evaluate how aware patients and referrers are of your practice, and what type of reputation it has in the community. The firm should use a variety of approaches to glean this information and provide you with a thorough report, including a survey of individuals in your area that align with your target patient demographics, and interviews with referrers and potential referrers. The findings will help you better understand how the market sees you, and where you need to make improvements.
2. Find your unique voice: Conduct a competitor messaging analysis to determine how you can differentiate your practice. While the marketing study will help you understand how patients and referring physicians perceive your practice, this analysis will help you understand how you want them to perceive your practice. Start by creating a list of each of your competitors, and then consider how they present themselves to the community. Review their website language, collateral, and other materials. For example, do they focus on high quality care? A personalized experience? More advanced treatments? Then, consider what your practice could say and do instead—or better—that would lead patients and referrers to select your practice over others. Also, modify the language used on your website to ensure it comes across as credible, genuine, and consistent. Patients are inundated with persuasive messages, and they will quickly move on to the next practice if your language and tone fail to resonate.
3. Make strong first impressions: Audit your website. Now that you know how to differentiate your practice, it’s time to get the word out there. Start by reviewing your medial practice website. This is the first place many prospective patients will go to find out more about you. Key questions to ask include:
· Is it clear what your unique value is? Does it clearly describe the kind of care you provide? The conditions you treat? Your approach to care?
· Is it easy for patients to navigate and find the information they need?
· Do you have patient testimonials prominently displayed?
· Do you have physician headshots and bios, and if so, do the physicians appear personable and relatable?
· Is it clear what insurances you accept and, if applicable, what healthcare systems you are affiliated with?
Answer these questions and modify as necessary. If you have the resources, invest in professional video services and/or website development services to upgrade your image and visual branding.
4. Make it easy to be found: Create an SEO optimization and social media plan. This is another area in which professional help is highly valuable. An SEO expert with experience in practice marketing can help tweak your website language so that it is more likely to appear in searches conducted by prospective patients and referrers. Also, up your social media presence, particularly on Facebook, and consider investing in Facebook advertising. The right expert can help you create ads that reflect your value proposition and which are sent out to your target audience. Finally, monitor review websites and appropriately respond to reviews as you receive them.
5. Be a known expert: Connect with local journalists. Serving as a media expert will enhance your credibility and increase patient demand. If someone in your practice conducts a groundbreaking procedure or if you have a unique patient story to share (and if you have the patient’s permission), give your local paper or TV news station a call to see if they might be interested in running a story about it. Publications are always looking for inspiring health stories, and for experts who can help explain trending health topics. We recently helped a practice secure coverage from People, CNN, and a local ABC affiliate. Even if you don’t achieve media recognition, post a couple of paragraphs about the story on your website and link to it in a Facebook post.
Most practices haven’t yet embarked on these critical five steps. This is your chance to get a head start and get ahead of the competition. Take advantage of it, and in a year or two, you’ll be glad you did.
Boh Hatter is Chief Marketing Officer at Sage Growth Partners, a healthcare research, strategy, and marketing consultancy. He is also Chief Advisor of Marketing Strategies at Scale Physician Group, which partners with physician organizations to help them grow. With more than 30 years of experience as a marketing executive, he specializes in strategy, messaging, visual branding, public relations, and website development.