As you plan your “marketing” activities for 2009, may I give you my best advice?  Stop Doing What You’re Doing!  Stop listening to every newspaper, radio, cable, billboard, direct mail, and postcard pack media sales rep that calls on your office, telling you what you “have” to do to succeed.

It’s your practice, so take charge.  Don’t let outside sales reps convince you that their advertising opportunity is the “silver bullet” that your practice needs to succeed in this tough market in 2009.

Let’s get this straight – there are NO silver bullets:

  1. Mass media advertising doesn’t work as well as sales reps claim. Advertising is too “hit or miss” for small businesses to consider as an effective tool.  Your prospective patients are just like you – they use a multitude of media during the week, making them hard to target in one or two media sources.
  2. You can’t spend enough to be heard above the noise. With so many media outlets available, you must be on multiple media outlets on a consistent basis to use advertising effectively.  If you’re like most chiropractors, your advertising budget just isn’t large enough to cover this expense.
  3. People don’t care about advertising – do you? Even for those prospects that hear or see your advertisement, do you think they will care?  Remember, they are just like you when it comes to being motivated by an advertisement.
  4. People don’t want to be bothered – do you? If you’re like me, you can clean out your “junk mail” pretty quick.  People don’t like their lives being cluttered by advertisements that intrude into their lives.  My guess is that you’re the same way.  I know your prospects are.
  5. And even if you happen to have a prospect view your ad – you’re still at a disadvantage. If your prospective patient isn’t ready to “buy” your services at the moment they see your ad, then the impact of that ad is extremely limited.  And, what are the chances of that happening?  Probably pretty low.

There has to be a better way!

Let’s reflect for a moment on your practice.  The primary question to ponder is, “How DO patients find you?”  It sounds like such a simple question.  Some practices keep track of how patients find out about them – some don’t.  Interestingly, even if you ask your new patients this question, their responses are somewhat suspect.  Why?  Because most consumers don’t really know how they found out about the product or service they buy.  It’s usually a combination of several factors.  So, it’s like the TV show “House”: your patients lie.  Probably not intentionally, but they provide an answer to your question just to look competent.

So, let’s just admit that maybe it’s too hard to know exactly how patients find you.  That’s OK.  But we still need to have a little better understanding of how patients end up in your office.  There are other ways to get at this information, but for now let’s start by reflecting on, “How do YOU find providers of services that YOU want to buy?”

For example:  How did you find that wonderful little restaurant where you love to eat?  How did you find your auto mechanic that is so honest?  How did you find the stylist that cuts your hair?  You asked someone – probably a friend.  You heard someone brag about their experience, or you shared your thoughts with your colleagues for their opinion.  You were most influenced by word-of-mouth.  One of the most amazing things about word-of-mouth is that its power comes from the trust we have in what our friends, colleagues, and family tell us.  It’s more reliable.  It’s more valuable.

So, the next question to reflect on is, “How do you INFLUENCE word-of-mouth?”  The most effective way to positively influence word-of-mouth is by providing a patient experience in your office that delights your patients so much that they are willing to tell others.  And you do this by (1) satisfying the needs of your patients in a way that delights them, and (2) inviting others through relationships to participate in your practice by being relevant to their lives.  It’s not about “yelling” at prospects through unwanted and intrusive advertising.  It’s about having a “conversation” with prospects through your “brand” in a way that connects with their needs and wants.

YOUR BRAND is how your practice is perceived by your patients in comparison to all other options.  It’s more than just your logo or tagline – it’s the substance of your practice rooted in your personal philosophy of health.  In other words – it’s why you went into chiropractic healthcare in the first place.  You wanted to heal the world – remember?

Branding and marketing your practice is critical to success in today’s market.  Get it right and your practice will enjoy the benefits of positive word-of-mouth out in the marketplace.  Get it wrong and you will be seen as just another retailer selling something that is irrelevant to your prospect’s lives.

It all begins with your brand.  And if your practice brand is just like everyone else’s brand, then your marketing is silent.  For example, are you just marketing chiropractic like all the other chiropractors or is your marketing approach built around you and your unique healthcare philosophy.  Branding is the foundation from which marketing operates.  Branding is about creating the patient experience and marketing is about telling others about that experience.  This is why branding is so important.  Without a memorable experience, there is very little to tell others!  As you reflect on your practice, make sure that your brand is well defined and permeates your entire practice so that the “patient experience” is memorable.

After your brand is defined and operationalized, then you can use relationship marketing strategies that make sense with today’s marketplace.  Don’t “yell” at your patients; rather, have “conversations” with them so they can experience your brand and know that you are different.

Building a solid practice brand and using relationship marketing strategies are long-term, sustainable strategies that you implement throughout the life of your practice.  They are systematic actions, tactics, and processes that are captured in your annual branding and marketing plan.  They lead to a solid, professional reputation that is in keeping with the dignity and honor of the chiropractic industry and they will allow you to feel proud about your work.

Stop Doing What You’re Doing!