Local marketing is inexpensive and can be managed in-house with an investment in time and planning. For individual practices, this is the most effective way to build patient loyalty and turnover… and your competition may never even realise what you’re up to.
Canadian academic and management strategist Professor Henry Minzberg once said, “All strategy is local.”
This is absolutely true for optometry practices. You don’t have to win the national battle, or the state battle. You just have to be the best in your market, and your market is local.
However, there is much to think about before you plunge into the deep and icy waters of the great marketing ocean.
…most practice specific marketing should be ‘direct marketing’ (DM), because this enables you to speak directly to the patient
First, you’ll need to get prepared by clearly defining your unique selling proposition (USP) or so-called point of difference. This is the marker buoy you should always return to – it will help ensure you talk to the market about the benefits your business offers customers, rather than its features.
DEFINE AND KNOW YOUR CUSTOMERS
To ensure your marketing is focused, take the time to develop a factual and detailed analysis of your target market. Your practice is surrounded by patients but they might not all be a part of your ideal target market, so define who your existing patients might be, and who you want as your patients then do the research. Understand their location, age, work, recreation etc. So often we rely on anecdotal evidence and guesswork when facts are available. How many times have we heard “We have a low conversion rate because of all the Veteran’s Affairs patients!” A simple search will tell you there are around 91,000 veteran clients in all of Australia.
Your customer base will change over a normal recall cycle of two or more years and if you’re not aware of the subtle changes, sales can drop as a result. For example, in the last few years, patient behaviour has changed dramatically thanks to industry marketing as well as the ability to easily research products and compare prices via the internet, on the go, before hitting the shops.
DIVIDE THE MARKET AND TALK TO THEM
It’s not possible, as a single practice, to market to every demographic or subset of its market. Doing so necessitates broader tactics that are more suited to companies with a national, state, or even regional presence. These companies, for instance, promote their brand or a consistent standard of service to capture awareness.
Instead, most practice specific marketing should be ‘direct marketing’ (DM), because this enables you to speak directly to the patient.
The most effective DM campaigns use lists of targeted prospects in order to send messages of relevance only to the people with the greatest potential to become patients / customers. For your practice this might be parents of kids returning to school, private health insured patients, people with specific interests/ hobbies or professionals who are most likely to need or want the products or services you offer.
Having defined your target market, you can match knowledge about their wants and needs with a specific product or service – ie a value proposition that you’re able to offer and preferably have some interest in.
MAKE IT PERSONAL
Optometry and health care is personal. You may have 10,000 patients in your practice, but they only have one optometrist. That’s you. When you undertake local DM you are talking to one person, not 10,000. This is a great way to build loyalty.
With this in mind, you can break your database into groups defined by age/ profession/ interest etc. then target each group with personalised promotions, letters and offers that create an immediate link with your patient and increase their personal connection to your business.
But before you go out with your message, do some thorough research to ensure you understand how your products/services can provide the optimum solution to meet your target market’s needs. For example, you wouldn’t market to people who go fly fishing for trout without first understanding the sport and thinking about how specific lenses can enhance vision while they’re engaging in it.
Practices can combine DM and loyalty strategies to keep and build patient relationships (e.g. by sending birthday cards, discount offers or invites to upcoming sales).
SAVE TIME, MONEY, AND MEASURE
Most DM tactics involve time and effort rather than spending dollars. In fact, this is probably your most affordable and cost effective form of marketing available. For under $100 and some time spent, you can get a message to 60 –70 potential new patients who might easily have a conversion rate of over 60% and an average spend of AU$300 plus.
The effectiveness of a DM campaign is easier to measure than other types of advertising. This is because DM campaigns often contain a call to action and are focussed. You know the response you are looking for. So, for example, your practice can measure its success by how many patients make a call or appointment, return the card, use the coupon or click on the link.
One of the best aspects of DM is that it is generally low profile
YOU MUST DO THE FREE THINGS
There are other DM tactics you can include in your marketing plan that cost little to nothing.
Develop and maintain meaningful relationships with people within your target market, such as local businesses and prominent persons. Social and sporting clubs are a huge opportunity, and of course social networking is another free option.
Many industry and related organisations help you to market their own area of influence. For example, Macula Month, World Glaucoma Week, Children’s Week … the list is quite extensive. Industry suppliers will also help with product specific and brand based promotions that have a mutual benefit.
SOCIAL MEDIA IS GREAT
Australians are now among the world’s most active social networkers – 15 million of them are on Facebook. That’s 60%.1 Your practice can’t afford to ignore this important communication opportunity.
Social media will give your practice the opportunity to engage directly with patients on a regular basis and it’s not intrusive if done properly.
By all means use social media as a way of getting the general message out to patients, but make sure to also use it for specific, more focused communications.
DM IS STRATEGICALLY GOOD IF PLANNED
One of the best aspects of DM is that it is generally low profile. You can get some good market share and your competitors will not have any great idea about how their market share is reducing. If your targets are good, your sales will improve on a nice cost/benefit ratio.
Of course, you will need a plan. Marketing implementation of any sort is good, but it gets best results if you plan it carefully, tie in factors like internal activity, practice expertise, high value products, and local opportunity, then coordinate across the practice’s social media platforms, websites and other communications.
Mark Overton is a Director and Principal Consultant at Ideology. With science and business qualifications and an extensive 35 years’ experience working in public and private business, he advises optometry practices on business planning, marketing, benchmarking, people and performance management, and the acquisition and sale of practices.
Reference 1. www.socialmedianews.com.au/social-media-statisticsaustralia- january-2020