The current stance many practices have taken about a slow or dying economy has passed, and now it’s time to start preparing for what I think will be a great year for ophthalmologists.

With the economy now on the mend, I’m here to tell you that your 2011 can be much better than 2010. It will take a lot of work both internally and externally. This article will give you some helpful hints on how to do just that.

Expand your marketing budget—nothing ventured, nothing gained. I recommend spending 15-30% more than you spent in marketing dollars last year. Why spend more and not less? You want your practice to grow, not shrink. Spending the same in marketing as last year may get you decent results in this rebounding economy, but spending less is almost certain to hinder your growth in a competitive market.
So, how much should you spend? While we want to remain prudent with our 2011 marketing dollars, again, we want to grow. I’d recommend spending between 5-10% of your gross revenue towards marketing this year. Spending money in marketing is much like playing the stock market. You want to put enough in to make a difference but not so much that it can keep you up at night.

You Talkin’ to Me?

Yes, that is a corny title. So what? If I wrote “Your marketing message,” would it be memorable? You wouldn’t even notice it was there. What you say—your message—is much more important than where you say it—your medium. Your message has to hit home with consumers, emotionally and logically, all while being very different than what your competitors are saying. Make them feel like you are talkin’ to them specifically. For example, many years ago, an ad campaign featuring “Wake up and see the alarm clock” was used for LASIK. What was powerful about this ad? Almost every adult wearing glasses or contacts could relate. Furthermore, what do you think they thought about when they woke up the next morning after LASIK? Bingo.

What kind of ophthalmologist would use a chicken in his ad? A successful one. The headline simply read “LASIK for chickens” with a picture of a baby chick. This ad hit a grand slam because it connected emotionally to patients who suffer from the fear factor while rethinking whether a health care professional is allowed to be silly in his/her ads. You can compare this ad to the Geico gecko, or the Energizer bunny. These icons have nothing to do with what they represent, and it doesn’t matter because everyone recognizes them.

We had a client that wanted a premium IOL ad that described visual rejuvenation. The initial slogan, “See Young Again”, was thought to be misleading and forgettable. After a few creative sessions, our creative team came up with a new campaign: “Your eyes don’t have to act their age.” The artwork featured an older woman playing with her grandchild, and the campaign was a big success.

Socialize Me

Social media has taken the world by storm, and this phenomenon adds a new dimension to your marketing arsenal. Just a few years ago web development was all about search engine optimization, which simply meant patients had a higher probability of finding your site so you could update them on what the practice had to offer. Social media pushes the envelope to a new limit: “user-driven content.” That’s righ! Consumers, i.e., potential patients, want to hear what others say about your practice, not what you have to say. In fact, 78% of consumers trust peer recommendations.
To launch a social media campaign, we first create Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages. We customize each page as much as possible by adding videos and pictures of the staff and physician(s). We create practice-driven content and then we start recruiting fans, subscribers and followers.

Here are some tips on getting fans for Facebook:

  • Have your employees invite their friends to your social media pages.
  • Send an e-mail out to your patients asking them to join.
  • Add social media icons to your email signature and business cards.
  • Have a “most beautiful eyes” contest using social media as a submission platform.
  • Have a “why I need LASIK” essay contest using social media as a submission platform with LASIK being the prize.
  • Encourage people to openly post their good experience(s) at your practice. Give people incentives. Be seen as a social butterfly rather than a social fruit fly. Check out our website for more social media tips.


Internal marketing—lay the foundation before building up

I once had a practice tell me that internal marketing was of the utmost importance to their growth. Looking around, I disagreed. Thankfully, the practice wasn’t offended by my admonition (or my lack of a social filter) and allowed us to maximize their internal efforts. We started by producing updated and unique posters, creating new brochures, and making an internal looping DVD on premium services. After we had the staff in matching uniforms we took some group photos and created a patient newsletter. It took about 3 months to get everything implemented, but it really started paying dividends almost immediately. We basically gave the practice an internal facelift. FYI: If the inside of your practice looks outdated, patients might also think your medical care is outdated.
Internal marketing is extremely important, especially for practices that don’t advertise. One more piece of advice on internal marketing—customer service is paramount. Make sure your front desk staff and phone staff have a glowing personality and are always putting on a smiling face. They make the first impression, which is the lasting impression.

Media – Who Put That There?

Media placement can be tricky. Just like eyes, no two practices are alike. For example, you might be a huge practice willing to spend 20% of your revenue towards marketing, which could open up broadcast television, radio, print, etc.

Alternatively, you could be a solo practitioner that has never marketed and is cornered in a big market like New York or Los Angeles where television and radio are out of the question. I can tell you that radio and web generally work best for LASIK. Television and newsprint are the best media for premium IOLs.

It takes a good bit of research to place media effectively for a campaign, even with a strong and creative message. I recommend using an ad or media placement agency. At the very least, find a media rep you trust to help you choose which stations, times, etc. are best for your practice. What Are You Waiting For?

That’s it. Don’t wait. Remember the key points. Perfect your internal marketing, conjure up a great message, and get it out there where it will be heard. Don’t neglect social media, as it can be an extremely effective tool for your practice. If you do all of these things and do them well you’ll find yourself saying, “Oh thank heaven for 2011!” … and no, they’re not paying me to say that.

Written by SMM