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Marketing Your Medical Practice in an Economic Downturn

Your medical practice is really no different than any other type of business when it comes to the economy. marketing-chart.jpg Granted, perhaps medicine is a bit more insulated than the retail industry – people always get sick, but they don’t always need a new car or house. However, discussions we have had with physicians in a variety of specialties suggest that the economic downturn we are experiencing (recession, depression, or whatever you feel comfortable calling it) has had a detrimental effect on medical practices. So, when revenue is down, expenses should be trimmed. And what better area to cut than your marketing budget, right?

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Many educated people confuse marketing and advertising, so it is important to distinguish the two. We all know what advertising is: John Gibson Displays, OK! magazine ads, radio or tv commercials, etc. But this is just a part of marketing. According to the American Marketing Association, marketing is defined as “the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, services, organizations, and events to create and maintain relationships that will satisfy individual and organizational objectives. ” But what does that really mean?

Effective marketing should make the process of “selling” to a customer redundant. Effective marketing compels the customer to desire your product. Really effective marketing can sell a product without the “sales pitch.”

Marketing is everything that comprises the messages that your practice puts out: your advertising message, the local reputation of the practice, the training of the physicians, the practice slogan or tag-line, brochures or pamphlets, etc. These types of things, known as “external marketing” are obvious.

But what about the more subtle things known as internal marketing? The physical condition of your building, how friendly the staff answering the phones are, how clean the waiting room is, etc. These factors can have as much of an impact on your practice as advertising.

John Pinto, a leading ophthalmic practice management consultant, refers to this as the “coffee stain” syndrome. If you saw a coffee stain on the rug of your doctor’s office the first time you visited, you would probably give him a pass. But if it was still there on subsequent visits, you may think twice about letting him perform a procedure on you (“if he doesn’t keep his rugs clean, maybe he never washes his hands”).

So, now that we have established what marketing is, let’s turn our attention back to the original issue: should you cut back on marketing when the going gets tough, or ratchet things up a notch? Is there any evidence to support either case?

There are actually several studies, including some from Penn State’s College of Business and McGraw-Hill Research, that have shown that businesses that maintain or even increase their marketing efforts during a recession are rewarded with significantly more business when the economy improves compared to their cohorts. There is also a corresponding increase in market share.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that your medical practice should start running television commercials day and night. But there are many cost-effective ways to get the word out about your business, such as health fairs, direct-mail promotions, community lectures given by the physicians, or hand-delivering welcome packages to new physicians who may be referral sources, to name a few.

Now, stop feeling sorry for yourself and get out there!

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