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In the competition with hospitals, independent must use their limited advertising budgets wisely
Independent practices struggle to compete with the colossal advertising budgets of hospital conglomerates. Private practices must adopt innovative and more aggressive methods of advertising and marketing to bring in new patients. Fortunately, there are some easy and cost-effective steps to help private practices grow their businesses, increase their caseloads, and compete with huge medical centers.
• Determine who will manage the advertising and marketing tasks in your office. If you’re working with a skeleton crew, then this responsibility may fall on your shoulders. Constrained by a lack of time and money? Then consider bringing on an intern to help drive the marketing side of your business. Not only will you have the chance to mentor and train a potential future employee, but your intern will gain insight and experience into what it takes to promote and grow a successful private practice.
• Create a monthly advertising budget. You must strategize which type(s) of advertising you will pursue-print, direct mail, Internet, etc.-and how much of the budget to spend on each one. Your target market will help you determine the allocation of your expenses. For example, if your patients generally skew older, then you won’t want to invest too heavily in Internet marketing, but lean more toward print advertising, such as community magazines or direct mail. On the other hand, Internet advertising provides the largest ROI for a younger clientele, as 44 percent of patients fifty years old and younger use online tools to choose a doctor, while 72 percent search the Internet for general medical information.
• Make sure your website is up to date and employs a variety of methods for increased SEO (search engine optimization). As a growing number of patients search the Internet to find doctors, having a clean and accurate website that grows with your business will be essential to your future success. Your site should attract both current and new patients through fresh and relevant blog content, video messaging, and active social media sharing. Hiring an outside marketing agency to drive this effort will pay dividends and establish the physicians in your practice as being experts in their fields.
• Develop high-quality print materials such as business cards and brochures. Creating select marketing materials is only half the battle; you must also get them into people’s hands. Start by obtaining a community mailing list from your local chamber of commerce and then send out a mass mailing to introduce your business to potential clients. Set up a booth at community fairs and other gatherings, offer to speak at clubs and guilds within the community, sponsor local events and sports clubs. By getting more involved in your community, you’ll have a natural avenue for distributing your marketing materials and extending the longevity and impact of your advertising dollar.
• Pause to re-evaluate your marketing strategy. You’ve potentially spent thousands of dollars to develop high-end print and digital materials; but if you don’t take the time to evaluate the success of your marketing approach, then you won’t be able to optimize its potential return. If you’ve advertised in local magazines and newsletters, then it’s likely that the sales agents will do the hard math to determine the rate of return on your advertising investments. Similarly, Internet specialists can determine the ROI for your digital advertising dollars. However, analytics on other forms of advertising, such as mass mailings and word of mouth, may be less tangible. Therefore, on your new-patient questionnaire form you should include a question that specifically asks, “Where did you hear about our practice?” Keep track of the responses for six months and then adjust the allocation of your advertising dollars accordingly.
• Discover what other practices and hospitals are doing right. The importance of monitoring your competitors’ marketing activities cannot be overstated. With the help of a competent Internet marketing agency, you can track your competitors’ website traffic, the sources of that traffic, how much traffic is generated, as well as their social network sites. By analyzing your competition, you can evaluate what works and then apply some of those ideas to your own business model.
The game of advertising is in constant flux. If you wish to remain competitive, then your practice must stay on the cutting edge by using the latest proven advertising methods to draw in new patients, while still maintaining the intimate, small-office atmosphere that makes your practice more appealing than that hospital conglomerate across town.