Have you ever attended an event with the intent of befriending every single attendee, hoping to establish fruitful, long-term relationships full of potential connections and possibly referrals? Absolutely not—and you shouldn’t take this approach with social networks either.
Each year, we review hundreds of proposals from firms looking to sell you some form of marketing or promotional service. Some we have seen for years, and then there are the new ones we have to take some time to assess. In general, there are two or three out of every hundred that have real merit or, with a slight adjustment, make sense for an orthopaedic practice. Some, however, are complete scams. Meaning, you write them a check, and you never ever see a dime of value. Sad, but true.
Having reviewed these for years, we can share with you what we do when looking into new offers.
There is a single focus that winds through every top-notch orthopaedic practice—a focus they may not even be aware of because it is part of their culture, their organizational DNA.
If I have seen it once, I have seen it a hundred times, your new associate has been in practice with you six months — maybe even a year — and his volume is only at 50% of target capacity. It is likely you have set a reasonable timeline on how long it will take to keep your new associate busy based on past experiences, but regardless of that taking another year or two, tensions start to appear. Tensions from your new associate, his or her spouse, and the Practice as a whole.
Each year at Venel, we get calls from practices looking for a firm to help them with business development and marketing, yet because of the exclusive nature of our business, we are unable to assist over 500 practices within the U.S. We work with only one practice per market area, and this leaves many practices struggling with identifying and evaluating resources to help them effectively grow.
To these practices and others looking for marketing communications assistance, the following is intended to help you work through if and when you should hire an outside firm and the type of firm you should be looking for.
I have a soft place in my heart for marketing directors at orthopaedic practices. Like any new hire, they come into the position with a select number of talents, and within weeks, they are immediately overwhelmed with the broad number of skills necessary to deliver real results for a never-ending list of ever-increasing expectations; expectations that far exceed what any one person can effectively deliver. And those expectations come from numerous directions. Multiple doctors in several subspecialties, all with individual wants, wishes, and demands, along with multiple service lines and an unlimited number of interactive communication channels that undergo sizable changes, updates, and refinements every month.
The Internet and interactive communications have been and will continue to be important communication tools, but the fact is that interactive marketing, whether we are talking about websites, social media, email, text, etc., is a vehicle to deliver messages, no different from television commercials, radio spots, and newspaper advertisements.
What is the one thing that, if you did it, would allow you to dominate your market? Don’t worry yourself about how long it would take or how much money it would require. We are not concerned about whether or not you have the right people to pull it off. We only care about what it is. What could you do that would exceed any competitive response? What could you do to influence any and all new orthopaedists to either join your practice or head out of town because competing with you would be too difficult?
Put a list of your five favorite companies (or brands) you look forward to engaging with, purchasing from, or visiting. It could include a specific hotel or restaurant; it could also include a particular car dealership or an online specialty store.
Once your list is complete, identify the reasons you look forward to interacting with them. What you will often find is that there are specific brand attributes you seek out and consistently patronize. These attributes say a lot about what is important to you as a consumer.
Whether you’ve traditionally had a marketing director or are considering this position for the first time, we want to help you with this process.
We have a soft place in our hearts for marketing directors at orthopaedic practices. Like any new hire, they come into the position with a select number of skills, and within weeks they are immediately overwhelmed with the broad number of talents necessary to deliver real results for a never ending list of ever increasing expectations; expectations that far exceed what any one person can effectively deliver. And those expectations come from numerous directions. Multiple doctors in several subspecialties all with individuals wants, wishes, and demands. Multiple service lines and an unlimited number of interactive communication channels that undergo sizable changes, updates, and refinements every month.
Starting the New Year provides every orthopaedist the opportunity to look back over the previous year and evaluate the successes and failures of the practice’s marketing and communication efforts. Too many practices take the stance that better results will come from doing more of the same. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially if you find yourself with little, if any, data to prove otherwise.
The following are six questions you should be asking yourself, your partners, your administrator, or anyone involved in the marketing and communications of your Practice.
At times, some orthopaedic practices find themselves with no major initiatives, no new associates, and patient volumes at capacity levels. Practices at this stage fall within two categories: 1) they are naive and think they have finally arrived at a healthcare oasis, or 2) over the past three years, they have planned and executed a strategy to put them in a position to take advantage of larger opportunities and have significantly fewer challenges. Practices in the second category know they are not at the top of the mountain. They are at the base of the mountain, with time and resources to start building walls to keep competitors from even approaching.
A group practice has its advantages—the ability for individual doctors to focus on a single subspecialty, participate in ancillary opportunities, and leverage patient volume with payers and hospitals. But unlike a solo practice, decisions and choices become far more complex with the addition of every new partner.
I was invited into a large orthopaedic practice by the senior partner, Dr. Johnson, to talk about marketing communications with his ten other partners. Dr. Johnson had been an advocate of marketing communications and promoting the Practice, but after an experience with a previous design agency, the other partners were less than excited to reengage in the conversation.
As we sat down, Dr. Johnson introduced me to the partners and provided a little background on the previous engagement. I sensed that it had been a rough road based on the faces around the room. After a brief overview, I jumped into my usual modus operandi with a list of questions, mostly about their previous efforts. I didn’t get very far when Dr. Bailey, one of the other partners, spoke up loudly to say, “The only thing we completed that had any value was the brochure.” I stopped and looked at Dr. Johnson, and he presented me “the brochure.”
Of all the research I have reviewed over the years in regard to marketing an orthopaedist, the one that stands out most is the study we completed a few years ago. The study covered 27 U.S. markets, 137 orthopaedic practices, and 4,077 random household participants over a 12-month period. The study evaluated the market awareness and market preference levels of orthopaedic doctors and their groups.
Every month we run across orthopaedic practices that, in an effort to compete, are throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the market in hopes of generating more and more patients. Our involvement usually starts with receiving an email from the practice marketing director who, directed by an orthopaedist, is on the hunt for another approach or tactic. The hope is that we might have a new and advanced kitchen sink they can buy and hurl at the market as well.
The doctor who coined the three words ability, accessibility, and affability was right on when he identified the core elements necessary to meet the needs and desires of the market or any target audience. But just as they are core to your Practice, they are likely core to your competitors. Pending your market, there is less opportunity to differentiate by leaning on the three A’s versus looking forward and integrating the three E’s.
In many ways, you have always "managed" an important portion of your brand; you have just referred to it as your reputation, and for most orthopaedists, that has revolved around managing the perceptions and opinions of your medical community. And it made sense. The medical community has traditionally been the sole holders and providers of clinical information and, thus, were the go-to source for referrals, especially when it came to specialty care.
It is not common for an orthopaedic practice to have a clear understanding or evaluation of their competition. Most make the mistake by limiting their evaluation to their opinion of care that their competitors provide and to the scope of their marketing that is easily seen. In both of these cases, neither really matters.
The fundamental mistake most orthopaedic practices make early on in designing their marketing communication strategy is focusing on specific tactics before they agree on their overall objectives. I hear practices list off a number of specific initiatives, such as direct mail, public relations, and sponsorships, without clarifying a single objective. It is one of the reasons most practices are unaware of why they are involved in social media. They are focused solely around the tactic, ultimately resulting in significant activity and minimal, if any, results.