When it comes to practice marketing, everyone is always looking for the edge that will set them apart. It's easy to start thinking that whatever is new, improved, better, more effective, or more efficient is the magic ingredient you're missing. It's a type of quest for the "holy grail of effectiveness" that keeps us up at night. This is true for healthcare providers across the board, and it’s only getting more challenging each passing year. It gets harder to stretch the budget and to maximize the measurable results, so practices begin to feel pressured (or even desperate!) to make things happen. They look for areas of weakness in their marketing plan and solutions to make those weaknesses better. Unfortunately, this often leads to a practice trying to take on the unwinnable scenario.
There are two basic “no win” situations in healthcare marketing:
- It’s That Time of Year
- Wrong Side of Town
It’s That Time of Year: Every business (including healthcare!) experiences seasonal fluctuations. Some months are peaks while others are valleys, and you can pretty much chart on a calendar when these occur. A desperate practice will look at these fluctuations, see the slower months, and think it’s a good investment to advertise more during these down periods.
However, what seems like an intuitive and genius move is actually a waste of dollars. If you see a cyclical pattern then you can tell that’s what it is—a pattern. For example, perhaps July is slow (families gone on vacation!) but September and May are busy. It's good to understand when your cyclical patterns occur. You just shouldn't throw all of your marketing dollars into filling the schedule during those months.
Instead? Promoting your practice during the slow times won’t bring in the ROI you're wanting. Instead of throwing money away during your off-season, look ahead to those busy times and plan accordingly. If May is a peak time for you, plan to spend more money during March and April so that you increase business during those periods that new patients might be looking for your services.
Schedule evening or weekend hours during your busy month and consider closing on Fridays (or any other day) during the slow times. By capitalizing on your busy months, you’ll be able to generate additional revenue that gets you through the down times. Slow times are also a great opportunity to focus on things like improving your online presence or adding new options such as online scheduling. You may be stretched thin during the busy months and not able to get to those tasks. By not panicking about slower months, you can invest more wisely for busy months and improve your return on investment.
Wrong Side of Town: When you opened your practice, you located it in a community you believed you could help, and which you believed would also benefit you. But just like the families who lived there, communities grow and change. Demographics change, and you may now find yourself in a neighborhood that is now less desirable than before. New areas are bound to have sprung up that seem much more in line with the services you offer and more in line with the ideal patient you hoped to serve. And despite our better intentions, we often develop biases that may keep us from seeing the value of something.
It would seem like the simple answer would be to relocate your practice to a more desirable neighborhood, but relocating isn’t always so simple. While the temptation may be to spend your marketing budget attempting to attract other communities to you, you may actually be missing opportunities right in front of you.
Instead? You can throw a bowl of spaghetti against a wall, and some of it will stick. Likewise, you can throw a lot of marketing dollars at every audience you can think of, and you’ll attract a few new patients. But targeted practice marketing will yield far better results. Targeted marketing includes reaching out to new patients in your area, as well as retaining a higher percentage of your existing patients, and reactivating former patients who have dropped off your charts.
Letting potential patients see the benefit of your location, the services you offer, your operating hours, and your professional staff will help to secure your reputation in the area you serve as the best provider around. Marketing to current patients helps them to feel like they matter to you and your practice. And reactivating former patients allows you to build on the foundation you’ve already laid. With a targeted strategy in place, you can not only stay where you are currently located, but you may eventually be able to open a second location, or a third, or as many as you can reasonably manage.
When you come upon seemingly impossible marketing challenges, it’s usually best to acknowledge them for what they are, and then look for alternatives. Being realistic doesn’t mean giving up; it means identifying what you can do and building from there. A little common sense, a bit of creativity, and before you know it, those roadblocks become stepping stones to better patient relationships, revitalizing former patients, and opening the doors to new patients who are looking for a provider just like you.
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