Preparing for Your Medical Practice’s Next Ad Campaign

June 29, 2012

Here are three vital questions to ask about marketing your practice before you spend another dollar on advertising.

Sadly, marketing and promotion may be last on the list of topics any of us were taught in medical school.

It’s been awhile since I was studying cell biology and smelling cadavers, but I’d suspect most students are currently learning more about how to follow guidelines than what brings patients in the door of their practice.

Our collective business ignorance as a profession creates a host of problems. One of the biggest is a lack of understanding of what constitutes good marketing.

Marketing should be thought of as an investment - not an expense.

What return are you getting on your marketing dollar? On the investment you made?

Here are three questions to ask your marketing consultant or advertising representative before you pay thousands for your next ad campaign or marketing outreach.

Question 1: Who are we talking to?

Only large multi-billion dollar corporations like Pepsi and Nike have the ad budgets to create ads that “reach everyone.” Brand recognition is what these companies are shooting for.

Despite the fact that most medical practices don’t have millions to blow on “shotgun approaches” to marketing, this is the method most often used by ad agencies and sales reps who sell advertising space.

Stop trying to reach every single demographic group with your ads and marketing messages. Start brainstorming who your target audience of potential patients should be. This will vary with your type of practice.

Here are some examples:
• For a plastic surgeon: young single women trying to attract a husband, or older, divorced women looking to start over
• For a pediatrician: athletes at a local high school who need pre-sports physicals or newborn babies (or their moms anyway)
• For a general surgeon: people with lumps and bumps they’re worried about, or breast cancer patients trying to find the best person to do a biopsy

Now, you may think about your ideal patient mix and conclude that you want to have all of them in your office. But the more generic you make your marketing message, the more you dilute the message to a patient with a particular problem, and the less likely it is that patient will respond.

Question 2: What makes our message different from what other physician practices are saying?

Copycat marketing goes on constantly in magazines - each company tries to outsmart, out-do, and outspend its competitor by putting a slightly different veneer on the same basic ad.

It’s even worse with physicians.

For example, it seems every practice introduces new physicians to the community as some sort of mandated ritual. This is true even if the new doctor is one of twelve internists in the same office.

My point is that the administrators of these practices approve these types of marketing messages chiefly because, “the other groups do that.. Not because they have something new and unique to offer patients.

What sets your practice apart from the other groups out there?

Do you have special, more convenient hours? Shorter wait times? Better snacks while you wait?

Is your practice the most experienced in the area? The oldest? Staffed with the most well-trained specialists in the region?

Question 3: How will you track the results of my campaign?

If you never asked another question, this one alone may save you thousands, if not tens of thousands of wasted dollars over the next few years.

Without tracking results, how can you judge the efficacy of a campaign or a message you’re putting out into the marketplace?

Ways of tracking marketing results may include the following:
• measuring numbers of clicks on a website
• counting numbers of visitors to a website in your offline advertisement
• tracking phone calls made after seeing your ad
• measuring the time people spend on your website on a page related to the ad you just published

Most physicians are satisfied if their name or picture or fancy logo is emblazoned upon a billboard or featured in a glossy local magazine. Don’t fall victim to this thinking!

Ask - no, demand - that your next marketing campaign be tracked closely and linked as directly as possible to specific revenue sources in your medical practice.

You cannot improve what you don’t measure. Plus, this strikes fear in the heart of every marketing consultant, forcing them to analyze the value they’re delivering to you in real dollars, not just warm fuzzies.

A final suggestion

If neither you nor your marketing person can’t answer these questions, I recommend you take that money and put it toward something that will deliver results.

Take a practice marketing course or set aside an afternoon to visit referring physicians once a month and save the money until you know how to spend it using trackable techniques with results (i.e. dollars) you can take to the bank.

Have you been “burned” by an advertising rep or marketing consultant that could put your name out there but never proved the efforts brought patients in the door?

Leave a comment and share your story!

Find out more about C. Noel Henley and our other Practice Notes bloggers.