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How does an inferior product succeed in the marketplace while a superior product falters or fails? Why are consumers willing to spend 50% more for a product that is essentially the same as its competitor or buy services that are inferior to others?

The answer lies in…

…the power of branding and marketing. Marketing and branding affect every industry, including healthcare and medicine. But the easiest way to understand the true power of branding and marketing is to look at another industry you are familiar with – consumer electronics.

Inferior product wins through superior marketing

In the 1980’s, there was a battle between VHS and Beta videotapes. Though most video experts claimed that Beta (Sony Corp.) was the superior format (with the added advantage of having more compact, space-saving tapes), VHS captured the lion’s share of sales and a sizable lead in market share. VHS won the battle for consumer dollars. Ultimately, Beta format, which held the advantage in the professional videography market, disappeared completely from the consumer market. Marketing helped VHS, an inferior product, win out over its superior rival.

The point is that less qualified healthcare practitioners can beat more qualified practitioners by doing a better job of marketing. Quality does not automatically guarantee results.
Higher-priced product knocks off low-priced rivals with marketing
Two more recent examples are Apple’s iPod and iPhone. Both products have numerous competitors. Both cost substantially more than most of their competition, yet both sell more, too.
iPods cost, on average, 50% more than other hand-held MP3 players. Yet, iPod is, far and away, the most dominant player in the hand-held MP3 sector, with a whopping 76% market share. The next closest competitor is Sony, with an 8% market share.

So why are consumers willing to cough up 50% more for essentially the same product?

Apple’s brilliantly hip marketing machine has created a perception of quality and lifestyle enhancement that’s hard for consumers to resist. In 2008, iPhone sales rose 245% worldwide, despite its much higher cost than competitor smart phones from Nokia (the world’s current #1 cell phone brand) and RIM Technologies (maker of #2 Blackberry).

The point is that marketing can make a huge difference in the success of any organization, regardless of pricing or quality. As a healthcare practitioner, you likely have many competitors within your specialty or subspecialty. What are you doing to grab market share (expressed in terms of new patients, referral sources and revenues) from them? If you do nothing, you will lose in the end. If, on the other hand, you market smartly and strategically, you can still grow your practice and enjoy long-term success regardless of pricing or similarities to competitors.

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Even if you have partnered with America’s leading healthcare marketing company, there may be times when you have to write a letter or a promotional piece without professional assistance. To help you get through that process, here are five things you can do to make your own communication more effective and more likely to be accepted by your target audience:

1. “YOU” is always better than “ME” – Instead of placing too much emphasis on your practice or yourself (ME, ME, ME), focus your message on your patient or referrer (YOU, YOU, YOU). Instead of starting your message with a phrase such as, “Here at XYZ Healthcare, we…”, focus on the recipient of your message with a phrase such as, “When you need faster pain relief, you’ll find it at…”. Readers need to know that you care more about them than yourself.

2. What’s in it for the reader? – The American consumer only cares about “What’s in it for me?” Your words, therefore, should include all the benefits to the reader. Benefits such as fewer appointments, less waiting, faster pain relief, friendlier service, greater convenience and more compassion are more important than features.

3. Clinical language vs. plain language – Clinicians tend to write most healthcare materials (including instructions to patients!) at a 12th grade level. Unfortunately, most American consumers read at a 5th or 6th-grade level. Avoid medical terminology and clinical language in favor of plain English to ensure that your message is received and understood. Medical terminology, jargon and statistics may be perfectly suitable – and desirable – when communicating with other health professionals. But, when communicating with patients, plain conversational language always works best.

4. Write for your target audience (Hint: That’s not you!) – Think about the patients you want in your practice. How old are they? Are they primarily white-collar professionals or blue-collar laborers? What do they want and need from your practice? Are they well-educated or not so much? It might help to jot down a list of their characteristics before crafting your marketing message. (Also, see #3 above.)

5. Always include a call to action – Perhaps the most common mistake in marketing writing, this is one area where you can be prescriptive. Tell your potential new patient what to do next. Visit your website. Call for a complimentary consultation. Ask about your free offer.

For more advice about communicating effectively with your patients, talk to one of the marketing communications experts at Practice Builders (800.679.1262). Better still, ask us to help you with your message, even if it’s on short notice.

For the professional beginning to promote his or her practice, mistakes are a way of life. For some, they’re a costly way. But no one can afford many mistakes in a tough economy, and now it needn’t be so; Practice Builders will share some of the biggest mistakes in practice marketing with you so you can avoid them.

Even though judgments of taste and creativity are often called for in promotion, there are some absolutes — especially absolute mistakes. So to assist you in your learning curve — and to save you time and money — here are the 12 biggest mistakes in marketing and advertising your practice. Now you’ll know how to spot them and how to avoid them.

1. Promoting at the wrong time.
On a limited budget, start your promotion just prior to your busy season and end it just prior to a seasonal fall-off. Don’t spend your money promoting during dead times unless you’ve spent sufficient money promoting during the up times. It’s always less productive and costs more money.

2. Choosing the wrong office location.
The right one is in an area with an advantageous professional to population (or company) ratio. The wrong one is selected solely on the basis of where you want to live.

2b. Choosing the wrong office location (part II).
A freestanding building almost always offers better outdoor signage opportunities than a professional building does. And signage is so crucial in attracting the public that, if done well, it can produce a third of your new patients or clients.

3. Not knowing how to handle objections.
If some professionals could hear their staff members handle an objection from a caller, they might well be distraught. Then they’d surely know they’re losing big dollars because their front desk often shoots answers from the hip. Instead: Script out sample answers for each common objection — no money, no time, no interest, no need and I’ll think it over. Results: optimal answers and many more appointments.

4. Not answering price queries correctly.
When people call to ask how much, don’t just mention the price. First, explain the unique benefits of receiving the service or product from you. Then quote the price. Without explanation, your services are just like everyone else’s, so price can be the only determinant. With it, you can charge even more.

5. Not preparing a marketing plan.
Without analyzing your competition, your objection, your budget and to whom you’re directing your promotion, you’re susceptible to two potential disasters. One — being swayed by salespeople into buying poorly designed and incorrectly targeted promotions. Two — failing to consider all important variables. Both lead you to big losses and dead ends. Instead: Construct a marketing plan first.

6. Sponsoring clubs or sports teams.
If it’s not mandatory that the players come in (or are brought in by parents) for a free service so you can meet them, then recognize your sponsorship as altruism, not practice building.

7. Promoting in school yearbooks or church bulletins.
These expenditures should come out of your charitable contributions account, not your promotional budget.

8. Putting your name in your ad’s headline.
Melvin Belli and Dr. DeBakey can put their names at the top of an ad to get it read. But rarely does a practitioner have enough public recognition to have his/her name entice a browser to read. Instead: Head the ad with strong benefits for coming to you, and keep your name and logo at the bottom.

9. Writing direct mail yourself.
Direct mail is the most difficult type of promotion to create. Why? Because it requires that specific techniques be built into a piece to stimulate immediate response. Practitioners rarely have the knowledge — or the talent. Unfortunately, most copywriters aren’t familiar with them. Instead: In direct mail, it almost always pays to hire direct mail specialists. Your response rates can jump 20 times.

10. Cutting prices first.
Prices should be the last element in your marketing formula to fiddle with. Before cutting prices, promote other aspects of your practice — experience, new services, selection, hours, convenience, etc. If all else is ineffective, then play the price game.

11. Not knowing your bottom line.
If it’s to attract new patients or clients or to retain old ones, that’s the goal. If it’s to please your colleagues (or competitors), that’s a different goal. And each one produces a different kind of promotion. If a promotion is well-done, your competitors will feel threatened, as they should. If they don’t, it’s probably not well-conceived. Knowing which goal is your true bottom line from the beginning saves you money and anguish.

12. Not coding and tracking your advertising.
Without effective tracking of which ads are producing how much in what media, you can’t stop the losers and pump up the winners. So to greatly improve ad results, insert keys into your ads — false phone extensions or individual telephone lines for each specific medium. That way, you know the source as soon as they call. Asking them where they heard about you yields 30% to 50% incorrect responses.

And a bonus tip:
13. Practice brochures that don’t sell you.
Most don’t because they contain extraneous or even negative selling points, like what to do in an emergency, a warning not to miss appointments, a requirement that you pay at once, etc. Instead: Put all the rules in an inexpensive brochure to be given to existing clients or patients. Put only convincing copy in your practice brochure.

Results from Practice Builders’ June 2009 Economic Survey are now available, and you will find some revealing information on how you and your fellow practitioners are weathering the current economy. Plus, you’ll find comparisons to our March 2009 and December, August and April 2008 surveys that show how the landscape has changed.
Among the results you’ll find are:
• Continued decrease in practitioners reporting “No change” in their practice during the recession
• What your colleagues and competitors are doing to handle the recession
• What percentage are increasing their marketing to compete
• How many of your colleagues and competitors are closing their practices
• And more…
See the results of Practice Builders New Economic Survey now at:

http://www.practicebuilders.com/news/reports/

Suppose you decide to sit and think about marketing for a while. Guess what happens?

Nothing.

It’s an interesting phenomenon.

Many practitioners read marketing information. But they won’t commit. The search alone seems to fulfill their emotional need to be proactive. They won’t make a decision. They don’t realize that procrastination has a HUGE financial and emotional impact for themselves, their families and their staff… this year… next year…and for the rest of their lives.

We understand that you may be uncertain about what constitutes a good investment right now. After all, real estate, the Dow Jones, banks and big automakers are all in trouble. The only thing that really makes sense in this climate is to invest in yourself and your practice. The returns will be higher, and you’ll be positioned for greater success when the economy rebounds.

You need to market now—to survive and flourish when things turn around.
If you want to take your practice to that next level, please don’t hesitate to contact me a http://www.practicebuilders.com We are, by far, the largest and most successful company of our kind and North America’s leader in healthcare practice marketing for 30 years. (In fact, if you search “leader in healthcare marketing” in Google, guess who comes up first?)