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By: Steph Weber
As competition in healthcare increases, a solid marketing strategy becomes an essential step in maintaining a profitable and thriving practice. By finding the right mix of marketing methods, both traditional and non-traditional, practices can reach new patients while also increasing services to existing patients.
Here are the best methods to market your practice for growth:
Determine your growth goal
Before coordinating any marketing plans, a growth goal should be established.
"Usually [practices] are looking for growth to meet either an income need or to cover expenses," said Joe Welfeld, founder of Welfeld Group, LLC, a healthcare consulting firm located in Teaneck, N.J. "They create a net revenue projection, and from there, focus on the type of patients they will target."
Elderly or chronically-ill patients may visit several times per year, while younger patients may only visit annually. Analyzing the increase in expected revenues from such visits would help identify overall growth projections.
"Estimating revenue from practice growth [can] be used to identify expected break-even for the marketing effort," said Welfeld. "Volume required to reach a break-even should be the minimum target."
With 84 percent of U.S. adults online, practices would be wise to develop an online presence.
"Unless [physicians] are already well-known in the community, any physician without a strong digital footprint will suffer when it comes to marketing," said Bonnie Harris, an integrated marketing communications expert and founder of Wax Marketing, a marketing firm located in St. Paul, Minn.
Content marketing is one way to establish that mandatory digital footprint. It involves the curation of unique, educational content that is relevant to both the practice and patients. The content is shared across the practice’s website, blog, and social media accounts.
"The practice website should be rich with content and provide a lot of educational information about the conditions the practice treats," said Harris. "Patient testimonials, in particular video testimonials, are always very powerful to share on the website and social media."
Regarding social media, physicians should choose one or two platforms and engage followers consistently. "[Social media] increases the reach of your practice considerably in the old 'and they told two friends, and they told two friends' fashion," said Harris.
However, reputation management becomes vitally important as the practice's digital footprint grows. Garrett Mehrguth, CEO of Directive Consulting, a digital marketing agency located in Irvine, Calif., says managing online reviews is a key component to any marketing campaign. "With over 92 percent of customers now looking at reviews before making a purchase, the number one priority for physicians is to build a tremendous review profile across Yelp and Google My Business," said Mehrguth.
Practices should develop a process to regularly acquire patient reviews, while also addressing any negative reviews left online.
Referrals and remarketing
Referrals are a tried-and-true marketing tactic, although a self-sustaining referral network can take years to build. "It is one of the most cost effective sources of new patients," said Daniel Soteldo, practice manager at Westgate Skin and Cancer, a dermatology practice located in Austin, Texas. "If a practice has strong operational efficiency, it's going to keep patients happy and simultaneously keep its referring physician network happy."
Tracking referrals is important though. Soteldo was able to double their patient conversion ratio by implementing a more regimented booking process using an online tracking system. With referrals coming in via fax, email, and even online, the system provided an overview of the complete cycle, allowing him to follow-up on referrals as needed.
Remarketing is yet another emerging option. "[It's] the most underused tactic for small practices," said Mehrguth. "Remarketing allows practices to show ads to people who visit their website." The ads, created through Google AdWords, follow the visitors through their online activity, populating on various websites, and when related terms are searched on Google. The goal is to convert initial patient leads into conversions.
Traditional marketing methods, like newspaper and radio advertisements, are increasingly touted as less effective. However, with a few simple shifts in strategy, it remains a viable marketing approach.
Harris says physicians should be selective about print advertising. Instead of marketing across a large metropolitan area, hyper-local marketing is a better alternative. This advertising is "zoned," usually disseminated among specific zip codes. Advertising in regional print publications and on local radio and cable stations are also good options according to Harris.
Welfeld agrees. "[Traditional] advertising still works, particularly in local community papers," he said. "Readers often go cover-to-cover looking for discounts, so it's a great place to advertise new programs, new office hours, or free flu shots."
Finding the right mix
Marketing can certainly be challenging. Finding the right mix of strategies is key, though it is heavily influenced by the intended target audience.
"A practice should always know their target audience and the target demographics," said Soteldo. "Marketing efficacy will be dependent on demographics such as patient age, geography, income, and gender for the services being offered by a clinic."
Soteldo recommends that practices targeting younger or more affluent populations focus more intently on online marketing, while practices with an older or more rural target audience may find traditional marketing strategies more effective.
Finally, don't overlook existing patients. "The easiest place to start is [with] current patients," said Harris. "[Send] a well-designed monthly email [containing] practice news and informational content. Combine that with a content and social media program, even if it’s just Facebook, and you’ve got a good start."
Steph Weber is a freelance writer hailing from the Midwest. She writes about healthcare, finance, and small business, but finds her passion for the medical field growing in sync with the ever-changing healthcare laws.