When it comes to marketing your practice, what you don’t know can kill you — at least metaphorically.
Last week I had lunch with a new friend who is a business coach. We talked about the state of the economy and several companies he was working with when he paused a bit and said to me, “You know, I’ve been doing this a long time, and I know one thing to be universally true.” “What’s that?” I said, anxious to hear the answer. “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
It’s true. I recall having said similar things to my clients over the years. In marketing, you may think you have a brilliant strategic plan and award-winning creative for a campaign, but sometimes the unknown ends up biting you in the butt.
While it’s not exactly a perfect analogy, healthcare is not dissimilar. As a physician, there are cases where you’d never consider not ordering a panel of tests for a patient. Why? Because you don’t know what you don’t know, and what you don’t know could kill your patient.
Lately, our firm has been talking to more and more physicians about marketing. One internal medicine practice has been in business over 30 years. The managing partner, a physician, has begun to seriously consider marketing and advertising for the very first time because he is seeing the healthcare landscape change with reform, with the economy, and with (because of the Internet) the hyper-informed healthcare consumer. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, and what he doesn’t know could seriously compromise his practice just as he begins to consider and plan for the sunset of his career. He wants to end well.
He’s not alone. Many physicians and practices are experiencing a sea change in how they are operating their practices. Marketing is but one of the “moving parts,” and yet, it is increasingly becoming a more critical one — one that can make or break it.
With that in mind, here are 3 steps to consider for smarter practice marketing.
1) Get some outside perspective. Whether it’s a business coach, a marketing firm, or a trusted colleague, ask someone what they see. How does your practice look to them? Often, it’s not easy to get beyond your own biases and see your practice objectively. Asking for perspective from the outside can yield valuable insights you either can’t see or have chosen to ignore.
2) Consider doing market research. If you’ve decided to move forward with a new marketing effort, before you launch it, find out what you don’t know by doing a bit of marketing research. What do patients think of you and your staff? Do they feel well taken care of, from the front desk to the checkout desk? Has your patient mix changed? Where are patients coming from? Are physician referrals sufficient? Is your core patient base “aging out”? Is your mix of insurance pay vs. self-pay and elective at a good ratio? Are new patients similar to long-time patients or are their demographics different? Research is often seen as an unnecessary cost because most of us think we know our business. We have the attitude: “If it’s true for me, it must be true for everyone.” But knowing — really knowing, not just guessing — the demographic and socioeconomic profiles of your patients and what motivates their decisions can help you to make intelligent decisions about marketing, reducing costly mistakes that can wipe out your budget.
3) Test what you know (or think you know). A long-time marketing colleague of mine is known to say, “I don’t know what I don’t know, but what I don’t know I can test.” It’s one thing to have the marketing research data in hand. It’s quite another to have a mindset that reacts to the market in real time. I’ve seen campaigns fall flat because no one, including the agency, was willing to change direction once it was clear that it wasn’t working. In today’s marketplace, you have to be willing to respond quickly to market dynamics. Test your findings by running small campaigns in multiple media first before you commit to a full-blown campaign.
The tools for knowing and understanding how to successfully execute a strategic marketing communications program for your practice, even in a down economy, have never been better. Use them, and grow.
Chuck Morris is principal of Morris Creative Group, LLC, a 21-year-old marketing, branding, and public relations firm in Knoxville, Tenn., specializing in healthcare. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @cjmorris.