A detailed marketing strategy that focuses on a specific goal can increase the reach of a practice.
A marketing strategy can benefit every dermatology practice. Whether the practice is large, small or mid-sized, and regardless of the number of years in business – newly launched or established – every business can benefit from public relations and marketing. An effective marketing plan can help grow your client portfolio, increase awareness of your business in the community and be a cost-effective way of increasing revenue.
A strong marketing and communications plan can draw in new patients for the first time and help to strengthen the relationships with existing clients. Current clients, or perhaps patients who have not visited your practice in some time, might be spurred to action by seeing a Facebook post with skincare tips or a tweet with a link to new products or services. Also, with many hometown practices, providers build relationships with their patients, and a strong communication plan can help better connect the practice with the community.
Working In-House Compared To Outsourcing
The first decision to make when crafting a marketing plan is whether the plan will be executed in-house or by an outside firm. There are positives and negatives to both approaches – carrying out the plan yourself will result in lower costs, but an outside firm can dedicate their full expertise and attention to marketing your practice. You may have personal connections with local media outlets that may feel slighted if contact with your firm is through a third party, but the marketing firm has connections on a regional and national level that you may have not yet cultivated.
Before embarking on an in-house plan, there are a few important points to keep in mind:
- Who will be responsible for creating and carrying out the plan? Do you, or does someone on staff, have the time and creative resources available to write press releases, handle social media, attempt to land trade journal and magazine article placements and handle interviews?
- What will be involved in your marketing plan? Do you want to manage social media accounts? Would you consider regular features in the local newspaper’s health pages? Do you want to take out paid advertising in local media outlets? If so, what is the most cost-beneficial route to take?
- Do you have the creative skills necessary for a polished, professional message? Make sure you have someone available for a second read before you send anything out. A press release, article or tweet riddled with grammatical errors and inaccuracies reflects poorly on your practice.
If you decide to employ a professional marketing firm, make sure the relationship is a good fit from the beginning. You are trusting this firm to help improve, not harm, the reputation of your practice, and you will be working closely with them to refine the tone and delivery of your marketing materials.
“Having an outside firm really pushed us ahead of our competitors,” explains Dr. Kathy Polo, who used marketing to expand her Colorado practice and increase awareness of her practice’s cosmetic procedures. She credits the increased profile of her offerings with the eventual successful sale of her practice.
Defining Your Plan
First, take a look at your practice and determine a goal for your marketing and public relations plan. Do you want to drum up more business for the new aesthetics services you are launching? Or do you want to increase awareness about what insurance plans you accept? Would you benefit from increased product sales?
There are a variety of ways to achieve these goals, but the first step is to set the goal and then begin working toward it. Decide, in conjunction with your in-house team or your marketing firm, the best way to reach this goal. Do not limit yourself during the initial brainstorming session – but be sure you do not set a goal that is out of reach or unattainable. Realistic goals with a clear strategy for achieving them are the best tools to achieve success and avoid frustration.
There are some basic steps to follow when developing your marketing plan:
- Define what makes your practice unique.
- Who do you want to reach in this marketing effort?
- What are some of the benefits and services you can offer clients?
- How will you promote your services?
- What methods and platforms will you use?
- How much do you want to spend?
Dr. Polo began by identifying a specific goal for her marketing plan and carried it out over a multi-year period.
“It was different, to be focusing on the traditional marketing aspects of a business rather than the medical,” she says. “As medical professionals, that is not usually something we concern ourselves with – we had never advertised, and having the optimized website and the other approaches really drove us to success in those years.”
The Benefits Of Social Media
Social media platforms – LinkedIn, Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr – are some of the most powerful tools in the marketing arsenal today. Below are some usage statistics for the social media platforms most commonly used by businesses1:
• Foursquare: 33 million users; 1.3 million businesses
• Facebook: 1.11 billion users
• Tumblr: 170 million users; 100 million blogs
• Twitter: 500 million total users; more than 200 million active users
Your clients – and potential clients – are increasingly mobile and increasingly obtaining information through social media. Think of social media as similar to the traditional “word-of-mouth” method, only with an audience that has the potential to spread much wider and faster than ever before.
These powerful tools do come with a tradeoff, though. You will lose control of your message once you put it out there, and you cannot make a mistake or error in your posts to these networks. While many have a “delete post” option, by the time a post is deleted, it has often already been delivered to the phones and computers of your followers.
Loss of control is a difficult hurdle to leap. It is very easy to go negative in today’s online world; people often post negative comments or false statements with little thought to the impact of their actions. Monitor your social accounts – it is not advisable to delete every comment you disagree with, but it can be a good idea to respond with factual or correct information when appropriate.
Keep in mind that social media, while free or nearly so, requires an investment of time. It is not enough to create a page on Facebook and wait for customers to come to you – the most successful social media strategists will tell you that frequent, on-target, conversational posts are what get the most attention in the online world.
Utlizing The Local Media
With ever-shrinking reporting budgets and higher legacy costs, many local media outlets are on a constant search for inexpensive, original content that does not require a great deal of work to prepare, while simultaneously providing useful information and data to readers. Online, broadcast and in print, local outlets like hometown newspapers and television stations are still the primary sources of information for many of your clients. Think beyond press releases and ribbon cuttings – would your local newspaper be interested in running a periodic, health-related column you provide offering skincare tips? What about inclusion on the media outlet’s “expert on call” list? How about sponsoring a portion of the local television station’s website with a series of short videos? You could even offer expert opinion on local, state or federal legislation through letters to the editor, but, in doing so, you should make every attempt to stay away from partisanship.
Raising Your Profile Outside Of Your Hometown
At times, you will want to raise your profile outside of your home area. There are many ways to do this. The first avenue is social media, which, as discussed before, is not bound in terms of geography. There are “old-school” methods, too – reaching out to important trade journals and industry magazines, for example, and submitting op-ed pieces for consideration, or updates on studies or research of which you are a part. Regional business magazines are often interested in news releases on new office openings, HR moves, new products and service lines and general business news. Speaking at conventions and seminars can also raise awareness of your practice among your peers, along with participating in panels and discussions at universities and colleges.
An estimated 114 million Americans used smart phones in July 2012, a total that accounts for almost half of the population age 14 and older.2 Increasingly, people are using smartphones to stay connected to businesses they frequent and services they use in new and ever-changing ways. Why not create a mobile app, providing the electronic resources you already offer patients in a forward-looking way? With online medical records, many practices are providing patients with remote access to their records. Building secure access to those records in an app – an app that can simultaneously push marketing messages and payment reminders – can be an easy, cost-effective way to capitalize on current trends and developments to reach patients.
Dr. Polo says the incorporation of a multi-media marketing plan, which included streaming video, a strong website and other marketing strategies from the author and Dynamic Innovation Group, contributed to the successful sale of her business.
“We were able to draw attention to our strengths and service offerings in a way none of our competitors were,” she explains. “Dynamic Innovations worked with us to create, refine and implement our marketing plan. Having a clear strategy in place facilitated exponential growth and created prime market position for us when it was time to sell the practice, which we were successfully able to do.”
Developing A Strategy That Works For You
A marketing plan is what you make of it. There is no “one size fits all” or “one budget is the answer” approach that guarantees success. The best strategies are tailored to the individual practice’s needs, with a clear goal that is set from the beginning and supported by a strong physical and virtual presence.
Stephen Donnelly, owner of Dynamic Innovation Group, is a seasoned marketing and communications professional who can provide a special emphasis on improving efficiencies in medical practices’ business services, operations, marketing and communications. Other services include EMR integration and optimization, reducing operating costs and expenditures for medical practices while increasing efficiencies, and HR services. He also has experience in helping prepare and market practices for eventual sale.
Dynamic Innovation Group is a full service technology, marketing and business consulting firm with physical locations in New York and Colorado. For more information, visit http://dynamicinnovation.net/.
Disclosure: Mr. Donnelly is the founder and president of Dynamic Innovations Group.
1. Digital Marketing Ramblings. How many people use the top social media, apps & services? http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/resource-how-many-people-use-the-top-social-media/. Accessed May 3, 2013.
2. Business Insider. Actually, the US smartphone revolution has entered the late innings. http://www.businessinsider.com/us-smartphone-market-2012-9. Accessed April 30, 2013.