A Marketing Refresher How to Identify and Strengthen Your Personal Brand

For years, physicians have been able to enjoy the fruits of their labors. If there is one thing that the current economy has taught us, it is that there is now less fruit to harvest. As a result, no practice can afford holes in their schedules or in the schedules of their employed physicians and non-physician providers.

To prevent this from happening, it is more critical than ever to ensure you are properly marketing your practice. ’Properly’ cannot be emphasized enough. Times are changing, and patients are determining which physicians to see using a variety of media sources. This article will help you properly develop the structure of an effective marketing plan, provide details on some of the more common marketing methods that have worked, and identify some of the key mistakes made in unsuccessful plans.

Outline Your Approach

The first step in defining your marketing plan should be to identify your personal brand. How you view your practice and how you want others to view it need to mirror each other. If not, there will be a disconnect, and your plan will not work. Ultimately, this should become the driving force behind each of the different techniques that you employ. Staying focused and consistent is the key to an effective and successful marketing plan.

After your brand has been established, you must then make a determination of how your practice is currently viewed within the community and review recent trends in your patient volume. If patient volume has been on the decline, your approach may need to be more aggressive, or completely altered, in contrast to merely fine-tuning if your practice has been relatively successful.

Third, it is critical that you perform a detailed analysis of your target community or patient base. By doing so, you will be able to better judge what publications they may be reading, who may be referring patients to your office, or why your current plan is not reaching your intended audience.

Next, it is critical to understand who your competition is and what they are doing well. This not only includes what they are doing well from a practice standpoint, but what they are doing successfully from an advertising standpoint. Performing such a review can help provide an informal blueprint as to how you may want to proceed. It is also critical that your marketing plan not only promotes your practice, but serves to help to set you apart from others in your field. This might include focusing on a particular specialty or cutting-edge treatment that others are not yet performing.

Finally, you will need to determine how much you are willing to spend. A general rule of thumb is 1{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of total revenues. Having a budget forces you to sit down and perform a detailed review of the methods that you would like to employ and confirm that you are spending money in the right places. Too many practices have not considered this aspect of their plan and are surprised at the end of the year to see how much they have spent on advertising and how little it may have returned.

After each of the above components has been analyzed, there is one more piece to consider before implementation — will you use a consultant? There are many proven marketing techniques that work, and many more that do not. Given the amount of time involved in seeing patients and running the day-to-day aspects of your practice, this may be one area to consider bringing in an expert. Considering the possible benefits of a successful marketing plan, ensuring that your money is invested wisely is very important. Bringing in a consultant to assist with your marketing plan may give you the biggest bang for your dollar.

Proven Methods

Having your own Web site is a standard for most practices these days. Most generations now use the Internet as their primary source of information. Accordingly, how much you invest in a Web site should be based upon the target demographic, including referral sources, that your practice serves. When creating the Web site, there are a few items that must be considered, regardless of how sophisticated it becomes.

First and foremost, the site must be user-friendly. Second, the site should be updated regularly, which not only helps to remove stale data, but shows that you are taking an interest in the message you are conveying. Finally, it is important to understand that Internet searches will be a driver of traffic to your site. Therefore, the more information that you provide regarding specific procedures that you perform, symptoms that patients should be monitoring, and medications that are available, the more traffic you should experience.

To reach a broad demographic, many practices are now utilizing television, newspaper, and radio advertising. The most significant benefit to this type of advertising is the exposure that it provides to your practice. To be most effective, these ads need to be focused and include an element that draws the target audience in. It is recommended that the ads be tested by a sample of your target audience. Doing so will allow you to be sure that you are conveying the right message before a full ad campaign is rolled out.

Public outreach has always been a very powerful marketing tool, but is often overlooked. If you are a good public speaker, try connecting with one of the local health fairs, industry publications, or public television to discuss the possibility of speaking about a new procedure or technique that others may find interesting. Writing a medical advice column is another idea and is a great way to generate some free advertising. If you are unsure of a topic, consider focusing your efforts in times of crisis. This is generally a successful approach, as you are reaching out to the public during a time when they are looking for someone to answer their questions and provide information. Additionally, it is a time when people become more interested in what the media has to say, leading to a captive audience.

While not often considered, your office space can also be used as an effective marketing tool. An updated, aesthetically pleasing office space and convenient location not only welcome your patients and generate buzz among them, but also allow you to add another component to your marketing plan.

Photographs can be included on your Web site and in brochures, which leads to our next topic. Brochures are another ’must have’ for every practice, regardless of location and size. The biggest mistake that practices make with brochures, however, is that they create them and then leave them in a pile at the reception desk. These need to be proactively handed out wherever possible. Some of the best places to distribute them are at speaking engagements and other practitioners’ offices for whom you may offer complementary services.

The Yellow Pages, while becoming more obsolete, should also be on your list. There is still a very large demographic that do not have computers and rely on more traditional sources to find a practice.

Mistakes to Avoid

The biggest mistake made when implementing a marketing plan is to have no plan at all. Many practices choose their advertisements on a stand-alone basis, with no focused strategy behind them. Money is spent, but they have no idea whether their target audience is being reached.

It is also important to remember that an effective marketing plan should not just be rolled out and eventually forgotten. Effective plans are ongoing and evolve over time. The advertisement that is in the newspaper today should not be the same advertisement that is in the newspaper two years from now. Finally, there is often a lack of tracking to determine if the plan is actually working. While many practices do make it standard practice to ask a patient how they have been referred to the practice, are the results being tracked? On a regular basis, you should be updating some type of tracking report with the results so you can evaluate whether or not your advertising dollars are being spent wisely.

Most physicians use advertising to some extent in their practice. Done properly, with a well-conceived plan, advertising can be very successful in attracting an increased patient flow.

James Krupienski, CPA is manager of the Health Care and Pension Audit divisions at Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.; (413) 536-8510.