Your Next Project Is Not Going To Be Easy

Possibilities usually come disguised as hard work. Don’t expect your next project to be easy.

Things fall apart

Anyone who tries to make something or do something finds that there is resistance. It’s an accepted fact of life that things tend toward disorder–cars break down, paint peels, joints begin to ache as we age. We expect that things left to themselves will fall into disorder. But it is also the nature of things to resist being brought into order in the first place. The world around us not only tends toward chaos, it also drags its feet when we try to make something out of that chaos.

There will always be problems–something will break, or blow up, or you’ll have to scrap the whole thing and start over. The problems only reveal themselves as you dig into the work.

Go looking for trouble

The reality is that most projects have inherent obstacles, stubborn sticking points, intractable awkward aspects that only reveal themselves as you dig into the work. If you begin your project expecting to not run into obstacles, you’re setting yourself up for unnecessary discouragement. If on the other hand, you start the work with the expectation that some things will probably go awry, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when they immediately do. You’ll be able to tell your friends how clever you were to see it coming.

Include extra grit in your budget

It’s normal to build in extra time and money in your estimates on a given project, to cover unforeseen contingencies. The trick is to also mentally set aside a store of patience and perseverance so that when problems do arise, you’ll be resilient enough to follow the work through whatever obstacles come up. Because there will always be problems–something will break, or blow up, or you’ll have to scrap the whole thing and start over. That can sound pessimistic but it’s really not. We’re not looking for problems so that we can be defeated. Without knowing what they will be, we can anticipate that there will be problems and mentally prepare ourselves for the task of figuring out how to solve them.

Honest Marketing

When people in college told me they were studying marketing, they might as well have told me they studying to make fur hats out of kittens. I thought it was universally acknowledged that marketers were in the same camp as payday loan peddlers, Ponzi schemers and email spammers. I remember wondering if you had to sell your soul in the second or third year, or if that was more of a capstone, a Faustian final project in exchange for your diploma.

Marketing as a zero-sum game

“Marketing” doesn’t have to be dirty business where one side manipulates the other into acting a certain way. What I was reacting against at the time, and I what I still reject, is the kind of marketing that appeals to the lowest desires in a person and causes them to act in a way that is not actually in their best interest. Marketing that flatters, belittles or bullies its audience into a response that only serves the organization’s interest is mere manipulation and a waste of creative energy.

Marketing, and marketers, should not:

  1. Create a false ”need“
  2. Appeal to the worst in people (our vanity, our pride, our hatred)
  3. Prey on people’s vulnerabilities (our insecurities, our fear, our ignorance)

I’m not interested in spending my time to do any of those things. Marketing or advertising that pits itself against the audience creates an adversarial sort of relationship, as in a zero-sum game. (In games like basketball there is no limit to how many times each side can score, and one side’s points don’t alter the number of points their opponent has. In zero-sum games like poker, the winner gains only as much as the other players lose.) But there is a way to “market” that is collaborative — one where both sides win.

So what should marketing do?

Honest marketing should tell the truth about the product, and it should also keep people from believing things that are not true about themselves. Companies have products to sell, and organizations have messages to promote. At the same time, if those products or messages are legitimate, valid and useful, their customers or audiences have a real need to buy those products or hear those messages. In this case, both sides benefit from marketing done well.

Marketing that is legitimate:

  1. Communicates what a brand is clearly and accurately
  2. Connects people with products and messages that help them live their lives
  3. Helps companies or organizations meet their goals

Tell your story well

A few years ago we developed some materials for a cabinet maker and carpenter to help him showcase his work. He’s a craftsman, and his work is beautiful, and in some ways his work speaks for itself. But the fact was that his work couldn’t speak for itself unless his audience and potential customers saw it. We took photographs that showed off his work. We developed a logo and a visual style for his printed material that matched the style of his work and his personality. We helped him create a web presence that was easy to find and to navigate. We “marketed” him and his work, but I think a more accurate way to describe it is that we told his story well. We didn’t try to show him as something he was not, or create false need for his products. We represented him well and people that were looking for products like his began to find him. Everybody wins.

Nonprofit Marketing: Branding Is Part of Your Mission

I recently had a conversation with the leader of a nascent nonprofit regarding his agency’s branding efforts. As is the case with many in charity related work, this man is interested in creating positive change in the world by diving into problems and “fixing” them. Unfortunately, as is also the case with many in the nonprofit field, this leader perceived branding as a superfluous afterthought to the “real work,” the content, of his mission. His misperception of branding as a “necessary evil” isn’t just erroneous; it’s fatal.

A few years back, the Stanford Social Innovation Review reported that over 200,000 nonprofits had been founded in the United States since 1970. Many of these organizations ended up closing their doors, in spite of their worthwhile goals. While there are a bevy of reasons that lead to a nonprofit’s demise, a primary cause is often poor branding.

Many philanthropically minded leaders perceive branding as an attempt to create a perception of their organization in the mind of the audience. For these leaders, “perception creation” is synonymous with advertising, and sometimes with manipulation. Branding, per this misperception, is beneath the dignity of their cause.

This grave misunderstanding is more than unfortunate; it’s deadly. Nonprofits must learn to understand that branding is a holistic concept that incorporates all the ways an organization lives out and communicates its identity. Branding ranges from the way we interact with the recipients of services, to the visuals, vocabulary and syntax we use to tell about those interactions and their value to the common good. Simply put, branding is both who you are, and how you share your story.

When done well, branding becomes a clear, concise, and intentional experience that draws the audience into the stories of your work and your constituent’s lives. It creates a dialogical interaction with donors and participants that can lead to mutual transformation. Good branding doesn’t just proclaim a cognitive understanding of positive change, it allows people to participate and “feel” the process. Authentic transformation, after all, is a very real and invigorating experience.

Personally, I don’t often contribute to an organization that doesn’t draw me into an experiential encounter with their story. That doesn’t mean they aren’t doing good work, it just means I don’t have the time or energy to figure out who they are, what they do, and why it’s important.

I want to experience changing the world, and I would love to do it through your organization. The question remains, will you learn how to use branding holistically so I can fully participate in your work? If not, don’t count on my gift. It appears there are thousands of other worthwhile organizations in this country ready to help me experience civic responsibility and the intangible benefits of philanthropy.

You Want to Advertise? You Need a Marketer

Although, nationwide, refractive surgery volumes are still relatively flat, many practices are finding strategic advertising efforts have a positive impact on their clinical and surgical caseloads. Some ophthalmologists believe that achieving higher volumes should be as simple as calling the cable station and asking for a bundled advertising package. This approach is dangerous, as it may not be a strategy for sustained growth. Why? There is a vital difference between advertising and marketing.

No matter what business you are in, the purpose of an advertisement is to make a logical prospect try your offering… once. Your team’s ability to capitalize on that single opportunity, in my opinion, is what separates those who believe in advertising from those who say it never works. Marketing, on the other hand, should be defined as the work your team does with every patient, every day, to deliver value to patients, build a positive brand identity, and spread the referral net for the practice. Marketing is operational.

Advertising makes a promise. Operational marketing ensures that this promise is kept for every patient, every time. Strong marketing is the foundation of effective advertising.

Operational Marketing

Implementing operational marketing is not easy. Prior to placing any advertisement, the savvy practice will have harmonized and optimized its phone team’s skills, its communication standards for each patient’s visit, its education of patients, financing (including payment options), and the consultation. A practice harmonizes these encounters by planning what is performed at each stage of the process and ensuring that all is in line with what the patient/customer should experience and feel. Optimization entails enhancing each individual staff member’s performance at every one of these opportunities throughout the customer’s experience. Because every stage of the customer’s experience is important to the definition of marketing, those who are developing the advertising should understand these components as well.

Advertising is often the responsibility of one person or group, whereas marketing is the responsibility of the entire staff. Every individual in the practice organization must assist in the development of the customer’s experience at the point of service. If everyone is acting in harmony, external advertising efforts can be kept to a minimum.

After building a proper operational marketing program, your practice may be prepared to advertise your offering to the external market. You may be targeting a market segment, referring group, a certain area in the community, or simply the people who are already walking through the doors. The kind of advertising you want to implement will determine the type of person you hire to handle the task.

With these strategic notes in mind, here are the key areas you should consider when hiring someone to handle your marketing and advertising.

Key Areas to Consider When Hiring a Marketer

According to Cindy Haskell, the former administrator, now marketing consultant to Gordon, Weiss, and Schanzlin Vision Institute in La Jolla, California, the following are required of any internal personnel in the role of marketing director/coordinator.

  1. Build your brand. The individual is responsible for overseeing the brand and message in all areas of delivery. Your brand is defined as what your customers say about you. To grow your brand, it is crucial to have consistent messaging throughout the organization.
  2. Coordinate advertising and marketing. The individual is responsible for coordinating the day-to-day advertising and marketing activities. The marketing director is also directly involved in the development, implementation, and tracking of the strategic marketing plan.
  3. Prepare a budget and conduct an analysis. The individual must be able both to plan and place advertising across modern media and to analyze the reach and effectiveness of advertising efforts. It is impossible to change tactics if you do not know what is working … or not.
  4. Perform research. The individual must be able to gather and analyze data on competitors, the community, and the marketing industry to properly position the practice.
  5. Use current patients. The individual will create and maintain a robust database of former and prospective patients, gather video and narrative testimonies, and use these local stories to build the brand of the surgeon and the practice.
  6. Run internal campaigns. The individual will use operational marketing principles to create positive internal campaigns targeting specific patient demographics.
  7. Gain referrals. The individual will develop a strategy to maintain and increase referrals from current patients.
  8. Create the website. The individual will manage and update the practice’s website to ensure effective and current promotion of the practice and the fulfillment of appointment and information requests. Increasingly for all surgical specialties, the Web will be the most vital portal for information and engagement with prospective patients.
  9. Develop patients’ education. The individual will design, produce, and distribute educational materials for patients customized for the local practice. Great education for patients delivers on the advertised promise to give them the best possible treatment and experience.

By paying attention to the center’s day-to-day operations as an extension of the marketing plan, your center can be sure that your paid external efforts will be maximized. Creating a role internally ensures that what is said in the advertisement actually matches the experience. Collectively, this combined marketing-operations effort will create new leads whose experiences match your promise in your advertisement.


This article originally appeared in Cataract & Refractive Surgery Today. Click here to download a PDF version.

Written Communication: Avoid Mixed Signals

People evaluate you, and your message, not only by the words that you say but also by how you say them. Before you’ve said ten words, your audience will have formed opinions about your intelligence, your level of education, and your credibility. Whether they ought to form those opinions so quickly and on the basis of so little information is a matter of some debate, but that they form opinions quickly is an established fact.

There is almost universal agreement about what I’ve said thus far when the concept is applied to speaking. There does not seem to be the same degree of awareness when it comes to written communication. The same dynamics come into play when someone picks up your brochure, reads a sign in your office, or uses your website. Professionals who would never answer their business phone with a casual, “What’s up?” have no qualms about putting a sign like this in front of their receptionist:

The typeface used here is called “Papyrus” and has its uses—summer camp, amusement parks, or Roman ruins. But it is out of place in a professional office, where it unintentionally communicates “we are not very concerned about this sign, about confidentiality, or about typography.”

The lettering in this second image, on the other hand, presents important matters in a credible way.

The wording is the same, but the meaning is different.

Your printed material sets the tone for the rest of your interactions with your client or customer.  Take the time to craft the presentation of your message as well its content. You will communicate effectively with your audience and avoid sending mixed signals.

How To Market Your Refractive Practice

Are your marketing efforts producing healthy call volumes and a strong conversion rate? If the quantity of incoming, positive telephone calls could improve, then read on for suggestions on how to increase your refractive volumes with strategic marketing maneuvers starting at the practice level.

Start with What You Have

In terms of marketing dollars, it is far less expensive to attempt to convert a current caller into a potential patient rather than to motivate a new person to pick up the phone and contact your practice. It is also more cost effective to market additional procedures or continuing eye care to your existing patient database than to try to lure new patients to make an appointment at your facility. You can start, simply, by focusing your marketing efforts on enhancing your practice’s image and by establishing clear and memorable communications.

Identify Targets

Implement your marketing strategy, which should be based upon current research, such as market factors approximating consumers’ spending patterns and levels of discretionary income. Invest in the collection and evaluation of professional data and conduct training sessions to educate your staff about the minds of consumers.

Stay in touch with your patients by consistently requesting their feedback in order to be knowledgeable about their needs and to recognize areas in which your practice or team can improve. By understanding what your patients want, you not only can better meet their expectations for vision correction, but you can stimulate them to call in the first place.

Stage Memorable Experiences

Focus on exceptional experiences for your patients. Come up with ways to improve a patient’s experience before concentrating on expensive media advertising. Involve staff members in the strategic brainstorming process as characters in the production. Your employees who are truly invested in new ideas are more likely to contribute their thoughts and opinions for implementing and maintaining important protocols.

Start Marketing from First Contact

Take the “inside-out” approach by putting yourself in your patient’s shoes. Make sure, first, that phone calls correspond with your marketing messages. Imagine your disappointment if you received an impressive, high-quality brochure advertising a positive personalized experience, in addition to a knowledgeable, friendly staff, but instead you were greeted by a grumpy intake person who was reluctant to answer your questions.

The staffers in charge of initial, potential patients’ phone calls should have a warm and friendly personality, and they should be informative, persuasive, and confident. The training, support, and evaluation of these types of personnel are crucial to your practice’s growth. Consider using scripted material when training intake workers. Information that these employees should communicate includes countering cost barriers, promoting the surgeon’s experience, and discussing the values and benefits of surgery. Compensate these staff members well as they strive to grow your conversion rates.

Market During Head-to-Head Consultations

Face-to-face consultations should be a continuation of your marketing efforts. Think of the encounter with a potential patient as an interview or audition: prospective patients are looking to you for important information on a procedure and deciding whether to choose your practice instead of your local competitors.’ This visit is a golden opportunity for you to listen to and address specific obstacles to the patient’s committing to surgery and to provide highly personalized feedback and recommendations.

Address a Patient’s Fear Early

During calls and consultations, your staff must be able to anticipate and address patients’ fears before discussing prices or procedures and treatment. Your staff should emphasize your surgical skill level and bedside manner. They should get patients excited about the possibility of clear vision by asking them what they hope to accomplish with the procedure. Staffers should ask them to share specific concerns and then address each with positive answers that are well thought out.

It is an excellent time to elicit and address each candidate’s apprehensiveness and to discuss long-term benefits. Emphasize value; a procedure takes little time, but improved vision lasts for years.

Counter Cost with Financing

In our experience, the earlier we address patients’ concerns about cost, the less likely they are to sever the relationship during the consultation stage. Use patient financing as a marketing tool. Regularly evaluate your fees and financing plans. Talk to patients and record their feedback. If you are not currently offering a wide variety of payment plans with true benefits, search for different financing options that will assist patients with comfortably fitting vision correction into their budgets.

Marketing as a Collaboration

Your internal marketing plan must reflect a cohesive image for your practice. The philosophy behind your practice should be apparent in all aspects of your marketing and advertising efforts. Never underestimate the power of first impressions.


This article originally appeared in Cataract & Refractive Surgery Today. Click here to download a PDF version.