Let’s address the elephant in the room: chances are you didn’t start a healthcare practice because you love marketing.
What’s more, marketing for a healthcare practice is sensitive. In this industry, “marketing” doesn’t mean the same thing it does in other industries. Your “customers,” of course, are patients. And they’re looking for a trustworthy healthcare provider.
We spoke to industry experts about the nuances of this particular kind of marketing. As Chris Ygay, owner of Private Practice Dollars, told us, healthcare providers have a unique set of legal obligations and compliance requirements.
Daniel Weinbach, President and CEO of The Weinbach Group, a healthcare marketing agency, added, “[For] more than 60% of healthcare services, the patient does not have the privilege of comparing providers. And for the vast majority of healthcare services, price has little to no bearing on the consumer’s decision. As a result, one of the primary drivers of consumer decision-making has been eliminated from the equation.”
While these factors may make it seem like marketing should be less of a consideration, in fact, they mean that marketing requires a little more consideration. Rather than viewing them as restrictions, you can see them as built-in guidelines.
Look at it this way: if patients are limited in terms of comparing providers, then you have to focus your marketing efforts on retention or excellent customer service to keep patients coming back. Or you may have to identify what sets you apart from competitors and build a strategy around that.
From there, healthcare marketing falls in line with typical consumer marketing practices: “Just like consumer marketing, healthcare advertisers seek to differentiate one provider from the next by capturing attention, demonstrating benefits to the user, and eliciting a call to action,” says Weinbach.
So where do you begin? Ygay and Weinbach recommend starting by building a sound and effective strategy.
Step 1: Define your brand
Before you even consider marketing tactics, you want everyone in your office to be aligned on what your practice actually is––what you offer, but also, where your practice sits within the greater marketplace and how it compares to others. Laying this foundation now will enable you to properly guide all your marketing efforts.
Start with a SWOT analysis
The first step in defining your brand is running a SWOT analysis: identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that face your practice.
This exercise is meant not only to define your practice’s standalone attributes but also to contextualize them, giving you the chance to see your practice in relation to competitors and within the larger industry.
Collaboration is key—get everyone in the office involved so you can build as full and true a picture as possible.
Here are a few questions to consider during your SWOT analysis:
Strengths: Where does your practice excel? For example—and this is a rapidly growing consideration—do you have a good online patient experience? Do you communicate regularly with your patients or clients, perhaps by sending them appointment confirmations over SMS text messaging?
Weaknesses: What do you still need to improve? Have you received any specific negative patient feedback? By looking into survey results and online reviews for your practice, take as much patient feedback as you can into consideration. If you don’t yet have any patient feedback, solicit it by emailing a survey to patients with an opportunity to submit their Net Promoter Score (NPS) and leave some anecdotal feedback in a comment box.
Opportunities: Where are the opportunities in your sector? When you look at your competition, where are the gaps that you can fill for prospective patients? Are your competitors slow to adopt digital tools and more efficient ways of operating, or could you beat them to the first step by looking into cloud tools?
Threats: What advantages do other practices have over yours? Which economic, environmental, or cultural factors could negatively impact your practice? This is where you must be as objective and pragmatic as possible.
Your SWOT table should look something like this:
Create a positioning statement
Once you’ve collected your SWOT analysis data, and you understand the internal and external factors impacting your practice, it’s time to take what you’ve learned and write a positioning statement. This is a document you circulate internally, like a mission statement.
A thoughtful positioning statement, says Weinbach, is “an essential component for an effective, sustainable healthcare marketing program. It’s vitally important for ensuring consistency of message. It’s also a great way for healthcare practices to reflect on how they want to be perceived by various audiences, including their own employees and fellow practitioners.”
Ygay suggests including the following four key points:
- The specialty or category of your practice
- A description of your target patient base
- The benefit or promise you will deliver to patients
- An explanation of how your practice will deliver on that promise.
A good positioning statement will answer these questions, provide direction for your employees, and give you a great baseline from which to start setting marketing objectives.
Let’s use the example of a fictional cosmetic dentistry practice we’ll call Bright Smiles:
Step 2: Define your client personas
Now that you’ve got the who, what, and why of your practice, you’re ready to address the primary question underlying marketing: how to attract clients.
By building client personas, you’ll be able to paint a realistic picture of who is seeking your services. This will help you decide which marketing channels to focus on and how to draw in prospective clients within those channels.
A great starting point, according to Ygay, is defining a demographic, dividing patients by age, gender, nationality, economic status, and geographic location. Next, Ygay suggests asking questions like, “What are their common challenges and frustrations? What types of media do they consume?” and “How will they pay for services? Cash? Insurance? If it’s insurance, what’s their insurance plan?”
The goal should be to create about three to four fictional client personas that feel like a true reflection of your client base and can be revisited at any time.
Again, using the fictional example of Bright Smiles, your client personas might look like this:
Household Income: $100,000–$150,000/year
Profile: Annie takes good care of her appearance and wants to stay looking youthful but doesn’t want to make any drastic changes. Her teeth are in good health, but she wants to brighten up her appearance with something low maintenance.
Main Procedure: UV whitening. Will not go through insurance.
Household Income: $55,000–$70,000/year
Profile: Harold is not a fan of the dentist, but he’s in need of a crown. His insurance will cover it, and he wants a quick procedure that he can get over with without having to return for subsequent appointments.
Household Income: $55,000–$60,000/year
Profile: Stephanie missed out on getting braces as a child, but now that she has dental insurance through her work, she’d like to improve the look of her teeth with whitening and Invisalign. She would like to cover what she can with her insurance plan, but is willing to invest more if needed, as this is something she’s been wanting to address for a long time. She sees this as a long-term process and feels more comfortable with a good amount of explanation and consultation from staff.
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Step 3: Build your marketing funnel
A “marketing funnel” is a term used to describe the journey that clients or patients go through as they interact with your business. The funnel assumes that there are three stages, or states of mind, a client can be in when shopping for a service. Your job is to understand each different stage in order to effectively address the needs, concerns, and questions a patient will typically have at each stage.
Here’s an example—we’ll look at each part in more detail below:
Top of funnel: Awareness
When marketers refer to the top of the funnel, they’re referring to prospective clients who are aware that they have a problem to solve—but that’s all they know. At this awareness stage, a prospective client may be Googling symptoms.
They’re not yet looking for information about what your practice does, specifically. To reach patients at this stage, you’ll have to go broad. For example, publishing informative, relevant content on the topics patients may be searching for. This positions you as an expert while also providing patients with real information––even if they don’t need your services now, they’ll remember you later.
At the middle of the funnel, prospective clients are weighing their options. They may be searching online for more specific, localized terms, they may know to look for specialists in their geographic area, or they may have a referral from a GP.
At this stage, your tactics should be more deliberate. Make sure your website is optimized for local search terms (for example, “ENT specialists in Cleveland, OH”). Make sure you’ve reached out to your network of local primary care physicians, providing them with materials that they can use for patients needing referrals.
Bottom of funnel: Decision
At the bottom of the funnel, the prospective client is ready to make a decision, either through their own research or as a result of advice from another healthcare provider.
This is the stage where one-on-one interactions make a huge difference. Identify which staff your prospective patients will interact with first, and ensure they’re well-trained so that an interaction is as seamless as possible.
As you can imagine, prospective clients and patients have very different questions and considerations at each stage of the funnel. That’s why it’s important to step into their shoes, asking yourself: What is the primary concern of someone at the awareness stage? At the decision stage? Which channels might they be using at the consideration stage versus the awareness stage, and what information do they need? Does someone at the decision stage want a conversation or a seamless booking experience? Can you anticipate a need they might not yet know they have?
Next, we’ll talk about how, when, and where to address these questions.
Step 4: Build out your marketing strategy and tactics
To quickly recap, if you’ve been following along so far you have:
- Defined who you are as a healthcare practice
- Defined who you serve
- Considered the various states of mind a prospective client or patient could be in when seeking service.
Now is the time to combine these three things to build out a marketing strategy. As Weinbach is careful to note, “There’s no magic formula that yields guaranteed results.” However, if you keep in mind that the vast majority of your patients will either come from a referral or as a result of research, focusing on tactics that support these avenues will go a long way in getting the attention of your prospective clients.
Here are a few marketing tactics that can help healthcare practices attract more clients:
Networking (digitally) in your community
It’s a time-tested grassroots approach that transcends sectors––from politicians canvassing to restaurant owners sponsoring Little League teams.
One great way to get to know your community is by showing up: attending and speaking at conferences, knocking on doors, and participating in events.
But what if your audience isn’t exactly local? Maybe you provide telehealth services to people across the country. Or what if your patients and clients are physically having difficulty coming to your practice because there’s, say, a pandemic?
Then, you’ll want to expand your concept of “networking” to include social networking. This is where having a Facebook page and/or an Instagram page would come in handy, as it lets you reach an online audience far beyond your immediate geographical region.
Of course, if for example you’re a dentist and your patients must come into your office regularly (you can’t exactly provide digital dentistry services…), then this may not be as relevant. But having an up-to-date social media network can still be useful for getting your name out there locally.
Local search engine optimization
Appearing at the top of a Google search result is incredibly important. Ygay recommends optimizing your business’s published online information by using relevant keywords. That means thinking about what your prospective patients will be entering in a search engine.
Maybe it’s “Best chiropractor in Seattle” or “Top 10 cosmetic dermatologists in Los Angeles.” Essentially what this means is that your website (usually this would be on the blog) should have pages that contain these keywords. This could be in headlines, blog posts, or architected into the back-end of your site.
These keywords should also appear in any directories that publish your business profile information. The closer your site’s language is to matching what patients search for, the more likely it’ll show up in the Google results list.
Creating an educational newsletter
An email newsletter is a versatile tool that allows you to showcase your expertise and serve patients between visits, which boosts your visibility and credibility. This is a great tool for any stage of the client lifecycle: a newsletter can help attract new patients who may have signed up after navigating to your site, and it can nurture recurring patient relationships, keeping you top of mind.
Patient satisfaction and retention calls
The doctor-patient relationship shouldn’t end when the patient walks out the door. Follow up with a phone call, SMS text message, or email to get valuable patient feedback, ask for online reviews, and solicit patient referrals.
Ygay reminds us that not only is this a mutually beneficial exercise, both for the patient and for your practice, but it also maintains treatment compliance.
Building a professional website
Your website often makes the first impression on prospective patients. It’s crucial that it’s professional, informative, and easy to navigate.
Let’s take a look at an example: theseattlechiropractor.com.
First, let’s look at the URL:
This is an incredible URL for capturing local SEO. Can’t get any more localized of a search than “The Seattle Chiropractor.”
You can also see that the headings on the homepage are optimized for local SEO with “SEATTLE CHIROPRACTOR DR. JUSTIN FAVREAU OFFERS ADVANCED CHIROPRACTIC FOR BACK PAIN RELIEF”:
And oh look, a blog! They have an extensive resources page for clients, meaning there’s a high likelihood for anyone in the awareness stage to land on one of these pages and move further down the funnel the more they learn:
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Step 5: Measure your marketing efforts
Tying your marketing efforts back to specific return-on-investment metrics can be very difficult. Did a patient make an appointment because of your newsletter or an ad on Facebook? Was it tabling at a dental convention or because of toothbrushes donated to the local middle school? You may not know.
Weinbach suggests tying ROI metrics to goals. “Are you trying to increase visibility and awareness? If so, then you’ll need to have a benchmark [like] original market research. Or are you trying to generate new patients? If that’s the case, then you’ll need to measure inquiries and lead generation.”
Basically, this means you have to first define the goal of each marketing effort––whether it’s the number of inbound calls or leads from newsletters or events––and then defining a benchmark for success so that you can track results.
Ygay adds that the cost of each marketing effort should be judged against profit. “Healthcare practices are typically small businesses,” he says. “This means it ultimately boils down to profitability. Was the revenue generated from the strategy greater than the cost? If so, it was an effective marketing campaign.”
The bottom line: Take your marketing online to reach a broader audience
If there’s one thing experts agreed on unanimously, it’s that marketing is an iterative process from which you can constantly learn. You won’t always get it exactly right the first time, and that’s okay.
There’s also great potential for marketing your practice online, beyond the traditional neighborhood flyers and newspaper ads.
But going digital doesn’t mean losing the human touch. Ygay adds that a personal touch though will always win out. “Everyone is so used to digital communication,” he says. “Checking in on patients with a phone call or thanking referral sources with a handwritten note will go a long way.”
No matter what kind of marketing you opt for, well-defined goals and a clear understanding of who you’re trying to help is the key to a marketing strategy that puts your services in front of those who need to find them.