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What qualities separate you from your competitors?

June 18, 2012

By Gary Gerber, O.D.

What sets you apart from the others? Every successful brand – whether it’s a well-known product sold in every city and hamlet around the world, or an optometry practice located on Main Street USA – has certain attributes that make it special. It can be a set of characteristics, a description, a visual image that consumers respond to. It’s what you hang your hat on, what you use to market itself and how you want patients/customers to think about you.

And, it’s a quality that proves so elusive to many.

That’s why many practitioners fall back on the easy and trite when it comes to describing who they are in terms of the image they wish to convey on their website, their ads and/or their direct mail pieces. “We always put the patient first,” or “our caring staff will make you feel at home,” hardly distinguishes you. It’s not memorable or newsworthy – after all, there are not many practices that would admit to not putting their patients first.

When patients hear your name, how do you want them to think about you? What will leave them bragging about you to their neighbors? Why with all the optometry practices throughout the city/town to choose from, will they come to you?

It might be a struggle to come up with an answer. However, as a means to an end, here are a few things that could help:

  • Try to put yourself in the shoes of your patients. If you were a patient, why would you go to you? Is it something about your training or experience? (e.g., “I am an expert in contact lens wear having been a consultant to leading contact lens manufacturers for 20 years.”) About your stock? (e.g., “We have the largest and most diverse inventory of frames in the city.”) The fact that you’re the only practice open several nights a week and on weekends?
  • Seek out the opinions of others. Sometimes others see you in ways that you don’t, so ask advice from your staff and patients. Make it a formal event – bring in dinner and have your staff stay late one night, and invite some of your best and brightest patients in on another night. Get the ball rolling by asking tough questions: What makes your staff particularly proud of working for you? What do they think makes the practice special? What convinced your patients to come to you in the first place? What are they particularly impressed by?
  • Be true to yourself. Whatever you come up with, make sure it’s real. Don’t be disingenuous. People are not stupid and won’t buy something they perceive as untrue. If you say you offer the best prices in town, make sure you do. If you say you specialize in fitting hard-to-fit contact lens wearers, make sure you can (and have patients who will offer testimonials to it). Does the technology you use to diagnose certain conditions really make you special? If not, you’ll quickly lose your patients’ trust. Along the same lines, make sure you feel comfortable with what you’re saying about yourself. If you feel funny saying, for example, “you’re the optometrist that other optometrists go to,” then don’t.
  • Decide on who you hope to target. This is the launching pad for making any decisions. The quality needs to be tied closely to the target you want to reach. If you’re looking to attract young families, your message needs to be very different than if you want to target the elderly.
  • Once you’ve decided, keep it consistent. To maximize awareness, keep your message the same in everything you do that reaches your audience. As a corollary to this, realize you can’t be all things to all people. You can’t be everyone’s optometrist. Get behind whatever you come up with, and stay with it.

Getting the kind of return you want won’t happen overnight. It takes time. Be patient. If you believe in what you’re saying, chances are so will the people you’re trying to reach.

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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