How to Create a Doctor Marketing Plan
The essential elements of a marketing plan for a doctor’s office are surprisingly similar to many other service industries. But few industries and professions have experienced the sweeping (and continuing) changes in health care.
Regardless of the professional specialty or sub-specialty, finding and attracting new patients is neither an option nor an incidental idea for providers. A solid and successful doctor marketing plan is a fundamental requirement for success in business.
And the entrepreneurial, business-minded doctor would be well served to begin with a blank page and create a plan with a fresh view for several reasons:
- Previous assumptions have likely changed: Although experience counts, don’t take “familiar” ideas for granted, and validate all key considerations.
- The competitive landscape has shifted: Not only has competition among healthcare providers increased dramatically, what you think you know—or knew yesterday—has probably changed.
- Patients are a different animal: Societal shifts—driven in large part by Internet access—are creating more informed and empowered patients. Who they are, where they are, and what they need or want are critical values.
Effective marketing is the fuel of business, and it’s not sufficient to wish for more new patients or assume they will—somehow, as in the past—find your front door. Be aware of the benefits you can provide individuals in need; the value you can deliver is why someone will select your services over other providers.
Creating a detailed marketing plan is a guide to communicating that value message, protect your market share, grow your business, and achieve your personal, professional and financial goals. Conversely, having no plan, or an ineffective plan, is a recipe for little or no results, and wasting precious resources (and risking failure) in the process.
Mission Critical Components for a Successful Doctor Marketing Plan
Given the dozens of variables involved, no two marketing plans will be identical. But in our experience, highly effective marketing plans will always include the following elements, which individually and collectively are the mission-critical components.
A custom-built plan for your circumstances might give greater or lesser weight to one element, or your approach might consider these elements in a different order than listed here. But the end product—a roadmap for success—will consider all of the following:
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES: “If you don’t know where you are going,” advises Lewis Carroll (and others), “any road will get you there.” The primary purpose of any plan is to achieve specific objectives. But goals can’t be vague or a general wish for the best. If you have not used SMART GOALS previously, build your goals and goal-setting decisions around the S-M-A-R-T acronym. To be of greatest value, goals will be:
- S = specific, significant, systematic, synergistic
- M = measurable, meaningful, motivational
- A = achievable, agreed-upon, action-based, accountable
- R = relevant, realistic, responsible, results-oriented, rewarding
- T = tangible, time-based, thoughtful
BUDGET FOR SUCCESS: Achieving goals requires an allocation of sufficient resources, and there are easily a dozen methods to establish a budget (not all of them good, by the way.) Our recommendations, and the four basic “how to budget” steps are include in this article. In addition to any dollars and cents—and what many planners overlook—is the need to allow sufficient time (for preparation and execution), and to assign people to be responsible.
SWOT ANALYSIS: Another useful and familiar abbreviation: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats—a powerful, but often underutilized, strategic planning tool. At least twice each year, use this high-level self-exam to determine, review and/or refresh the strategies and tactics of your plan.
TARGET AUDIENCE(s): The axiom to consider here is: “Don’t find customers for your products; find products for your customers.” In other words, audience definition is not so much about targeting the patients/customers that you want, it is first about identifying and understanding the needs of people and delivering solutions that they want. Knowing your audience reveals how to reach them.
COMPETITION: It’s tempting to believe that you know what “the other guys” (competitors) are doing. But only diligent research can clearly identify precisely what you’re up against, and devise a proactive plan to take the leadership position. This can be a time-intensive exercise, but it’s critical information to know (a) what the competition is doing, and (b) what the competition is not doing. You may be surprised how much is revealed about known and newly-identified competition using:
- Internet competitive research – online resources are pervasive, available, and perhaps most importantly, the Internet is where prospective patients are most likely to search for healthcare provider information.
- Media competitive research – It is also relatively easy to scan and collect “other guy” advertising that appears in local newspapers, magazines, and other media formats. You may not find everything, but it’s all publicly available and insightful.
- Ear-to-the-ground competitive research – Beyond what can be found online and in the media, a bit of “in the field” sleuthing can add to the competitive picture by what you hear from pharma reps, vendors, patients, medical staff, friends, relatives…and perhaps a “secret shopper” report.
BRAND AND POSITIONING: Not knowing better, the general public is tempted to see all health service providers as being equal and interchangeable. A doctor is a doctor is a doctor…right? Wrong. It’s brand distinction (not bland) that differentiates and quickly identifies the practice as head and shoulders above “everyone else.” Creating a powerful and unique branding message, consistently delivered, is what empowers professional reputation, and wins awareness in the mind of the public, prospective patients and referral sources.
STRATEGIES AND TACTICS: Distilling all the prior research into a marketing plan for a doctor’s practice can seem like the ultimate challenge. What strategies and tactics are going to be the best tools for achieving the defined goals, using available resources, and within the allotted time? This is the step that most often requires outside assistance to implement. But it’s enlightening realize that there are basic building blocks for every plan, and that there are only six proven ways to market any healthcare organization:
Professional Referral Marketing: A reliable and continuing stream of inbound patient referrals is vital to many practices. Success requires defined system to preserve and grow the flow of professional referrals.
Internet Marketing: Online marketing is a mainstream channel for healthcare patients and providers alike.
Branding: A powerful, differentiating brand is part of your reputation. Meaningful and effective branding results from a deliberate effort to shape and express the right message at the right time.
Internal Marketing: Depending on the situation, existing patients represent an influential resource for referrals, additional services, testimonials and/or word-of-mouth advertising.
External Marketing: This is about reaching, informing and attracting people who don’t know you or are not aware of the benefits of your services.
Public Relations: This includes planning and generating healthcare publicity and free press exposure, such as newspaper articles or broadcast interviews.
ONGOING TRACKING AND ASSESSMENT: The proof-positive of success in a doctor-marketing plan are quantifiable, Return-on-Investment results. Having and using an infallible tracking and reporting system is vital to continuously gauge progress. Note that this is done in near real-time with the ability to make course corrections for greater success, and not just at the end of a campaign or planning period.
About creating and following a plan…
“It’s not the plan that’s important, it’s the planning,” advises Dr. Gramme Edwards. Having and following a plan is indispensable to achieving marketing goals for any doctor practice. And the added bonus is what’s learned about success in business as part of the planning process.