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Break down the marketing effort into simple steps

May 9, 2012

By Gary Gerber, O.D.

Marketing an eye care practice successfully can seem like a daunting task. While the objective of such an effort may be obvious, to generate more revenues and increase profitability, the road to developing and implementing an effective marketing campaign can seem like a long, twisting, and perilous journey.

The fear of making a wrong turn, or getting lost along the way (which, in the minds of many optometrists means spending money that fails to bring a justifiable return), leaves many frozen, unable, or afraid to do anything.

This is a mistake: very few optometrists, or any small business owners for that matter, can expect to sit by the phone, put their feet up on the desk, and wait for the phones to ring.

Life simply does not work this way. Being an excellent clinician, offering great patient service, and having an accessible and convenient location, all help in building a business, but only if people know about it.

Marketing constitutes a key practice building block to success, but it is unfortunately viewed by many practitioners as more trouble than it’s worth.
But, like breaking a complicated dance into a series of individual steps, the process is not as difficult as it may seem.

In both cases, the steps work together, and in unison, can achieve the desired outcome.

Brand awareness

There are three primary steps in the marketing process. Step number one is about building brand awareness. This means having a practice known for something in what can be an overcrowded and anonymous field.

Without having such an identity (and it doesn’t have to be a specialty per se) the practice lacks a clearly defined image in the minds of patients and prospects.
In most cases, building a brand does not happen overnight. It requires a sustained effort in terms of well-focused advertising and/or promotion.

It involves, as an example, driving home a message that a practitioner is a technology expert who offers the very latest in diagnostic equipment; or the contact lens “specialist” with the ability to help even the most difficult-to-fit patients.

Branding can be achieved through an ongoing advertising campaign that features a hard-hitting headline or tagline that defines the doctor or the paractice in a certain way, or an eye-catching logo that over time becomes recognizable and closely associated with the practice.

Getting into the community to speak on certain topics before various groups and having an active and well targeted website or social media campaign can help further this goal.

Credibility

Step two involves enhancing credibility. Patients need to believe, over time, in the practice.

Running an occasional ad in the local newspaper may help enhance recognition, but will not in and of itself create credibility (or, for that matter, build brand).

This is where a sustained and focused effort comes in, where people begin to see the same name associated with an expertise or attribute over time.

A public relations effort is the best way to accomplish this because the third-party endorsement that it offers, as someone else is inferring that the practitioner is the “expert,” unlike an ad that is viewed as self-serving, builds credibility in the minds of patients and prospective patients.

Even patients who have been going to a practitioner for years are likely to feel reassured by seeing their doctor interviewed on television or quoted in a magazine.

In addition, a well-written and targeted newsletter that highlights the practitioner’s work, for example, with diabetic patients; or demonstrates how the practice works with the vision of patients to enhance sports performance; or educates parents about keeping their children’s vision healthy, can support this.

Take action

The third step is to convince people to take action. Often, this means making a conscious effort to touch people multiple times, in advertising, public relations efforts, and online programs, because it takes time and repetition for people to retain a message and take action (in terms of making an appointment).

If they understand and are receptive to the brand that’s been created and believe in the expertise of the practitioner, they will come.

This determines the success of the marketing effort. Then, it is up to the doctor and staff to convince these people once they contact the office, that they’ve made the right decision.

Gary Gerber, O.D., is the president and founder of The Power Practice®, a practice management consulting company. He can be reached at drgerber@powerpractice.com or 800-867-9303 (www.facebook.com/ThePower Practice and Twitter @PowerYour Dream). Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AOA.

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