When was the last time you bought a car? If it was recently, then chances are you didn’t walk up blindly and start speaking with the first salesperson you saw. You researched, you asked around, and armed yourself with so much information that before even stepping foot onto a dealer’s lot, you already knew the Kelly Blue Book value, the dealer’s markup, and perhaps even the individual salesperson you wanted to work with (this, based on past customer reviews).
Technology and transparency have leveled the playing field. Today, a full 82% of consumers research a product before buying it, according to Forrester Research. Google calls this pervasive trend the “Zero Moment of Truth.” It’s a critical part of today’s marketing environment, underscoring the fact that buyers can now find all the information they need to make a purchasing decision without even going to the product or service’s website or location, or talking to a company representative on the phone. This trend spans across all industries, even healthcare.
For example, I recently became a new dad. During pregnancy, my wife and I moved to a new city that has several top hospitals and a plethora of good physicians. Unfortunately, the first doctor we picked didn’t work out. So we decided to look for another.
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We had good insurance, so we weren’t stuck with a network or any other inane policies. We used easy online resources to read reviews and scheduled a few interviews before finally deciding on the practice – and the individual physician – we liked. That we were so easily able to do all this online is pretty significant. Because as a young, affluent, growing family, we’re worth hundreds of thousands to each doctor involved.
“Marketing” isn’t some isolated thing. It’s not advertising. It goes much deeper. Marketing covers your entire patient-facing operation, and takes place along a patient’s whole time with your practice, from the moment he or she finds out about you, all the way through to retaining him or her as a loyal patient and encouraging referrals.
For this reason, I’ve found that the best way to think about digital marketing is to map the stages each prospective patient goes through and align your marketing strategies and tactics accordingly. To grow your practice, you’ll need a steady stream of new patients coming in and a good amount of old patients sticking around. So how do you do that?
Step #1: Generate Demand for New Prospects
Some reports say we see an average of 5,000 advertisements per day. Per day!Before patients schedule their first visit or step foot into your waiting room, you need to capture their attention.
Specifically, you need to figure out how you’re going to reach your customers (the channels), and what you’re going to do to win and hold their interest. Everyone knows about the usual suspects like television, radio, billboards and direct mail. Those are good options, yet they can also be opaque and expensive. It’s online, however, where you have a variety of cost-effective options that provide more control (to improve conversions) and data (to figure out your ROI). Each one will still cost you something (see image below). For example, advertising takes more capital, but SEO requires more time, skill and patience.
Step #2: Convert More Prospects into Patients
After you’ve captured people’s interest, it’s time to get them to opt-in. There are several components to this, and you need each working, and all working together, to acheive the best results:
Zero Moment of Truth & Engagement: Start by Googling yourself. What do you see? Do you like the reviews and articles? Or is your brand completely invisible online?
Social Proof & Credibility: Are you a thought-leader in your field or market? How would people know? What content can they see? What prominent news or media publications have you been featured in? How many other satisfied patients or subscribers do you have?
Copywriting & Calls-To-Action (CTAs): Are you using the right messaging and copywriting for your target audience that solves their problems? And are you using direct, clear calls-to-action that tell people exactly the benefit or outcome they can expect?
Step #3: Nurture Patients to Build Trust
Just because someone books an initial visit, it doesn’t mean they’re going to come back. How do you increase retention (keeping people engaged and in the loop), while also reducing churn (the amount of single visit patients that drop off your radar)?
This is where traditional marketing channels fall short. A radio spot, billboard, or direct mail piece doesn’t really connect and build trust with people. Email marketing, by contrast, excels here, enabling you to create messages that are relevant and timely. In this respect, it’s no surprise that email is now the best performing marketing channel for repeat customers, according to Forrester. Social media offers largely the same advantages; there’s no better channel to build trust that provides accessibility, scale, while also providing the potential for one-to-one personalization.
Step #4: Get Loyal Patients to Refer You
Finally, take advantage of built-in network effects by running social media promotions that make people feel good about recommending and referring you to their social graphs, especially when others actually sign up (keep in mind that certain incentives carry legal restrictions, so do your homework here). Creating campaigns like these for each major stage of the buying cycle will make sure that you’re consistently generating enough demand to significantly grow your practice.
In a world where consumers can and will shop around long before they reach out to you, you can’t rely on insurance networks or other antiquated strategies to provide patients. In order to create a brand that people will seek out, you need to be proactive. The path from total strangers to loyal patients depends on consistent messaging about the value you provide.
Brad Smith is a digital marketing consultant and the editor of The Doctor’s Journal, an online publication that chronciles how healthcare is changing and evolving. His advice has been featured in well known online media properties like the New York Times, Business Insider, and more. This is the first of a series of posts on The Doctor Blog about marketing for physicians.