Surgeon Mr Dev Lall believes there are seven particular areas to be wary of when you are trying to grow your private practice in 2015…
Marketing, to many people, is not only something of a black art but also very ‘hocus pocus’ in nature.
A bit like alternative or complementary medicine, it all seems a bit ‘pseudo’, with no evidence base or underlying common sense or basis in reality.
There appears to be few, if any, rules and the only commonality you seem to find are terms flying about the place such as ‘engagement’, ‘branding’ and ‘getting your message out there’.
And yet the truth is actually quite the opposite. There are a number of well-founded, evidence-based principles of human behaviour that underpin successful advertising and marketing.
Does it work?
Indeed, good marketing is actually pretty scientific, with controlled trials, statistical analysis and so on.
[quote]Each marketing effort is, or should be, evaluated for efficacy – in other words, did it work? Did it generate more business? Even more pertinently, did it generate more income than it cost? [/quote]When creating your marketing strategy, it is equally important to consider how you will measure and track its effectiveness when you are trying to grow your practice.
Like homoeopathy, crystal therapy and other complementary therapies out there, the common problem from which I would argue the seven marketing areas below suffer is an inability to reliably measure, track and demonstrate the efficacy of approach.
1. Image advertising
I think this is probably one of the worst possible ways to market anything. The idea is that you use images to attract attention of the potential customer and to associate your product/service/business with certain values.
Frequently, companies use unexpected images that catch you by surprise in their image advertising, such as a red umbrella in a sea of black umbrellas, or a brightly coloured penguin in a line of black-and-white penguins.
Such strategies, while good for big advertising agencies because they can be fun to craft and even win awards, are unlikely to be of any value in growing your medical practice.
2. Brand advertising
Brand advertising is very closely related to image advertising and the idea is again to create a unique name and perception of a company through advertising campaigns and business material with a consistent theme.
So you might have a nice logo, a consistent use of imagery and colours on your website, stationery and advertising.
While it is a good idea to have consistency purely from an aesthetic perspective, this is actually of no value when it comes to growing your private practice.
Marketing companies love brand advertising – but, again, the problem is one of demonstrating that it has worked and actually brought in new patients for you.
For this reason, the best strategy is always direct response marketing. In your advert or marketing piece, you ask viewers to do something in particular: say, to ring a dedicated phone number.
In this way, there can be no doubt that the patient came to see you as a direct result of that marketing approach.
If you are looking for assistance in growing your practice and the response you get focuses on ‘branding’, then run away. Fast.
Ah, the logo. Fun and nice to have, but completely pointless. Do you ever take a company’s logo into consideration when deciding whether you are going to do business with them?
No. And neither does anybody else. Only three people in the entire universe have any interest in your logo. You, the guy who designed it for you and your mum. And she’s only pretending because she wants you to be happy. Forget about the logo.
4. Social media marketing
There are two ways you can promote your private practice on social media.
The first way is with paid advertising on platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Paid advertising like this is a great idea when targeted correctly.
It is effective at generating patients, is scalable and trackable, and because of this, you can show that it is generating more income for you than it costs to implement. That is not what I am referring to here, though.
The pointless social media marketing I am referring to is Facebook ‘likes’, fan pages, ‘tweets’ on Twitter, blog posts, Pinterest ‘pins’ and the like.
While these can be made to work in some circumstances, I would emphasise the ‘can’ and ‘some’. In general terms, it is a lot of work for unpredictable and untrackable outcomes and with little, if any, demonstrable benefit.
And while it is free to perform for yourself, it is also a massive time sink and distraction from other more important activities such as treating patients and marketing your business in ways that are proven to work.
5. Search engine optimisation
Good old SEO. When you search for any content on Google or any of the other search engines, you get two results: Adverts or ‘Sponsored Listings’ at the very top, right-hand side and bottom of the page; and natural search results which comprise the main body of the results shown.
The higher up you appear in the natural search listings – ideally in the number one position on page one of the search – the more likely the person performing that search is to visit your website.
This, in turn, increases the chance they will call you to book an appointment and become a patient. This is, of course, a good thing.
Take the results of a Google search for ‘glaucoma’ – see screengrab on the right. The results in the green box are natural search results, those in the red boxes are ‘sponsored listings’ – in other words, adverts.
The principle behind pay-per-click advertising is that you pay the search engine to get your website to the top of page one when people are performing relevant searches.
The idea behind search engine optimisation is to try and get your website coming as high up on page one of a Google search as possible without paying Google to do so – to come to the top of the natural searches.
There are several problems to overcome, not least of which is obvious from the example. There are 2,850,000 web pages relevant to the search term ‘glaucoma’ and getting to the number one spot with 2,849,999 competitors, many of which are trying to do the same, is difficult, unpredictable, can take months and is expensive.
And even if/when you do get to the top of the search rankings, the amount of patients you get as a result can be surprisingly low, because the ‘quality’ of the clicks is low – in other words, visitors to your website are not necessarily interested in becoming private patients.
And never forget that the visitors you do get could all disappear literally overnight when Google next changes the way it ranks web pages.
6. Your website
Paradoxically, your website could be helping very little to grow your practice.
That is because most doctors’ websites are very poorly designed. The primary purpose of your website is to generate private patients, and most are simply ineffective in doing so.
The key thing is to drive visitors to contact you by phone or email to make an appointment. To that end, every aspect of your website must be designed to encourage people to do that one thing.
Most consultants’ websites are either the online equivalent of a glossy brochure or a CV. Neither is effective at generating patients.
7. Marketing without a ‘power calculation’
The most important thing with any marketing strategy is to get your name and practice out there in front of people who have the potential to become patients of yours.
Not only that, but it has to be financially worthwhile for you. Yes, it sounds obvious, but you would be amazed at the number of times people make a mess of this one.
When you are doing research, you have to consider the incidence and prevalence of a given condition, the sensitivity and specificity of the test for that condition. Then you perform a power calculation to inform the study design, duration and numbers of subjects required. In the same way, you also need to consider comparable variables when it comes to creating a marketing campaign.
Sure, the assessment is generally much simpler, but you do have to do some basic sums and so inform your strategy before you start.
And just like clinical research, you need a defined, measurable end point. How do you know if the marketing approach you have chosen is working? You need to be able to track and measure the method by which patients find you.
How many patients has the campaign generated? How much income does this equate to? How does that compare with the costs of the campaign?
And when you take in the lifetime value of each patient in terms of income for you, how much are you willing to spend on marketing per patient generated?
Yes, it is all common sense when you think about it, but – sadly – most people don’t think about these things at all.
Mr Dev Lall (right) is an upper-GI surgeon and runs a specialist private practice consultancy www.PrivatePractice Expert.co.uk