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Ditch the Sales Pitch: Social Media as the Gallery Wall

One of my favorite experiences is walking into a new gallery opening to view a collection of art. Especially one in which a rich context is given for the work being viewed — one in which you can trace a little golden thread weaved throughout the conceptual space. Those ideas will follow you when you leave, provoking thought and conversation days and weeks afterwards. Recently some of my favorite gallery spaces have been online — on social media.

I subscribe to the model of social media as a platform for content curation — a gallery wall on which to hang relevant and related information to inspire curiosity and build connections. This certainly isn’t the only viable use for social media, but I think it is a powerful idea that is being underutilized. And I feel strongly that a sales pitch doesn’t belong on social media, so I’d love to suggest an alternative. The big trend right now is content creation, but content curation should be just as important to your business strategy. This is particularly true of platforms like Twitter and Pinterest. The limited character count and space isn’t particularly well suited to original content, but is most powerful when you offer short insight into what a reader will find on the other end of a link. In that sense, there is a little bit of creation involved in the process as well–you’ll have to create a framework for your audience to interpret the information you are sharing for it to be truly valuable. The idea of curation as authorship is worth exploring further — and for that I‘ll point you to Maria Popova’s thoughts on the matter.

Content curation is valuable to all parties involved. Your audience will be grateful that you’ve taken the time to wade through the massive amount of information available to find the most pertinent and intriguing content that meets their interests and needs. Do a good job of curating and you’ll build trust among your audience and develop credibility within your industry, all while developing a rich community. That should be a sufficient number of buzzwords to grab your attention. Remember, the key is to provide some context for why the information you are collecting and sharing is valuable. If you can’t draw any insight from it yourself, you‘re throwing it out there for everyone else will only contribute to the clutter.

Here are a few simple tactics to help jumpstart your curation career:

  1. Only share information that you find valuable yourself.
  2. Offer some brief but insightful context for the information.
  3. Be sure to attribute information properly.
  4. Don’t collect everything! Make sure the information is pertinent to your audience. Be focused and filter out the garbage.

Risky Business: A Social Media Warning Label

In a virtual world where social media puts customers on the same plane as CEOs, branding can get pretty interactive — which is helpful when there’s a whole community of supporters behind your cause and your brand. The approach can work one of two ways:

  1. Start a following and count on customer feedback to organically spread your brand or,
  2. Regulate feedback into positive (but predictable) channels.

Here’s how it looks:

A ridiculous request

One hotel hit the virtual jackpot when a story shared by one of its customers went viral. When a guest booked a room using an online form, he jokingly requested that the hotel staff place three red M&Ms on the counter and a photo of bacon on the bed. The hotel fulfilled his ridiculous request, much to his amusement and surprise. The photos he posted of their customer service went viral, giving the hotel national coverage.

Customer voices matter more with a social media megaphone

The gamble? Social networks have just as much volatile potential as they do a positive one (remember the national outcry when Twinkies went away?). Recently, a national coffee chain saw an outcry from customers about its rewards program policies. When certain members started seeing emails about losing points, they took to Twitter with 140-character complaints. Surrounded by immediate responses, these customers expected open communication from their favorite brand. When they began to distrust their store, unhappy customers sent up virtual warning flares for all of their followers to see.

Unhappy customers sent up virtual warning flares for all of their followers to see.

Instead of trying to let their winnings ride, some organizations have intentionally shaped their social connectivity to enhance positive feedback channels from users. Individual companies or collaborative apps give users the option to favorite or share what they see and like—and then make a purchase almost instantly. Shoppers happily spend their time and money without thinking about the virtual apparatus they use. As a result, shopping becomes social as shoppers interact and browse each others’ virtual closets.

A small worthwhile risk

Happy customers and bigger followers happen when high customer service standards work with a virtual experience that focuses on positive feedback. It’s a gamble worth testing out.

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.

Marketing Laser Cataract Surgery in Your Practice

When marketing femtosecond laser technology in conjunction with cataract surgery, it is helpful to reference past marketing principles that have proved effective in multiple industries. We look back to the 1980s when “the four Ps of marketing” ruled how one brings any product or service to the market. The four Ps — which stand for product, pricing, promotion, and placement — are a helpful way to look at this very complicated category.

What the Four Ps Represent

A product satisfies the consumer’s needs or wants. It is a tangible item or an intangible service. Every product follows a life cycle, and marketers must be aware of the life cycle of each product they are marketing. Attention must be given to the challenges that will arise as the product moves through the cycle (growth, maturity, and eventual decline). The product’s appearance, function, and method of support all contribute to the item or service that the customer actually purchases. The product bundle should meet the needs of the target market. Therefore, research is a key component of building an effective product that appeals to customers, or in this case, refractive cataract surgery patients, and avoids costly mistakes.

The price is the amount a customer pays for the product. Price determines a company’s profits. Marketers should be aware of how the product fits within its competitors as well as how the consumer perceives the overall value of the product. The pricing approach should reflect the appropriate placement of the product in the market. Price is the one “P” that generates revenue while the others incur costs. Effective pricing is important to success.

“Price is the one ‘P’ that generates revenue while the others incur costs. Effective pricing is important to success.”

Product promotion is any element that a marketer uses to dispense information about the product. This includes advertising, sales promotions, public relations packets, and word of mouth. The purpose of promotion is to bring people to an understanding of what the product is, what they can use it for, and why they want it. Customers need to know that the product will satisfy their needs, which in this case would be a final refractive outcome that maximizes accuracy and minimizes risk.

Place refers to guaranteeing that the product is located somewhere that consumers can conveniently access it. What the product is will greatly determine how it is distributed. Marketers must make sure that product distribution happens in such a way that it can be easily purchased by its target audience. If the product is sold to vendors, then they should also contribute to the overall view of how the final exchange of the product with the consumer should occur.

Let us look at how the four Ps relate specifically to the marketing of laser technology in cataract surgery.

Pricing

How exactly the surgical practice is going to charge for the advanced technology used in laser cataract surgery is an important step, perhaps the most important one, in discovering how the center might find success. Much angst has been spilled related to the ins and outs of proper pricing. Pricing is not only a cue for quality but also for the correct or incorrect pathway as to how to bill for laser-related services. Some practices use this advanced technology, albeit elective, to “clean house” on all of their refractive, non-covered, or elective services. A good rule of thumb here is that whatever the center might be charging electively for the offering should be similar to what it charges for a similar offering across the hall. Another way to say it is that the pricing needs to make sense and be justifiable.

Placement

Where the practice manager and/or surgeon decide to place the device is a critical component in how it is marketed. The way one communicates and thus markets to prospective patients changes based on if the practice remains an office-based procedural center and thus patients are transported after the laser treatment to the surgery center or if the center co-locates the device next to the surgery center. Much time, energy, and planning must be spent to determine the correct choreography for the placement of this new technology. Placement affects the other three Ps.

Product

What else might be included in a bundled package alongside the laser technology? This is an important question to consider when looking at implementing this new technology. Many surgeons agree that this laser technology works best when combined with other innovations that optimize the cataract surgical procedure. Those other technologies may include the use of wavefront aberrometry pre- and post-operatively, wavefront aberrometry for documentation of the implant’s power intra-operatively, or topography. These and many other non-covered services may be considered as part of the total elective or non-covered package. Practices may decide to rename the package related to its non-covered services.

Promotion

Promotion is an important consideration when thinking of laser cataract technology, however, it should always be handled last. Excellence in promotion cannot be achieved until there is excellence in execution. This statement has never been as true as it is in regard to this very complicated surgical space. When the technique is finally ready to be promoted, the best first step is to create demand by going first to the practice’s patient base and core of referring doctors. Newsletters, webinars, symposiums, live surgeries, and mailers are all effective ways to achieve this.

Conclusion

By following these basic structural elements, the center will be able to create a profitable laser cataract surgery program that satisfies customers’ needs while continuing to propel the business forward. Although the four Ps inform the way the current practice is shaped for marketing laser technology, they are not the end of the road. Once the right product at the right price is attained and offered in the right place and promoted in the right way, the practice must continue to stay on top of market changes and adapt as necessary. An experience for patients must be created that is as premium to patients’ care as laser technology is to refractive cataract surgery’s accuracy. Technology continues to move surgical procedures toward more precise and predictable outcomes. The femtosecond laser is just one example of the creative ways in which laser technology continues to help patients. Marketing and innovative technologies are part of the business venture that never ends.

 


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

Make Demos and Documentaries

Some recent advice from ad man Ben Malbon:

“Make demos and documentaries, not ads.”

This is vital advice for all companies to consider, including LASIK and cataract doctors and those in the vision industry. What does it mean to make demos and documentaries?

Demos

Don’t tell me about your product — show me your product. Show me how it works, how it makes my life better. Show me how clear vision will affect my daily life. Show me how you make surgery as safe as possible. Show me how you improve my outcomes. Show me how I can afford LASIK. Let me see the laser, the lens, the after-care shields. Show me, show me, show me. A demo allows me to become part of the decision-making process in a way that speeds up and increases my conversion.

Documentaries

Don‘t tell me about your product — tell me about your customers, your patients. Tell me why they chose you and how you made their life better. Tell me why you exist, what drives you to be the best. Testimonies. Narrative. Drama, climax, catharsis, meaning. I want LASIK or cataract surgery because of who I will be AFTER surgery, not what kind of ASC relationship you have. A good documentary changes the way we look at the world. Rather than creating an “ad,” tell stories about clearer vision and share those stories with the world.

Nobody trusts advertising. Demos and documentaries build trust and brands.

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.

Social Graces: 9 Keys to Using Social Media in a Practice Setting

Social media has changed the landscape of the Internet, and it has changed the way in which many industries conduct business. Health care is no different. Increased connectivity and peer-generated education have made it more important than ever for practices to expand their expertise into new mediums to help patients achieve their best possible outcomes. In the modern world, this means learning an entirely new approach to patients’ education, marketing, industry interactions, and management of the practice’s word-of-mouth messages. At the heart of this new challenge lies social media. This article is designed to help you get started using this tool effectively at the practice level.

Key No. 1: Understand What Social Media Really Means

When many people think of social media, they think of Facebook. Although it certainly is a great and important example, Facebook does not define the medium. A working definition of social media that helps create action at a practice level is as follows: social media is the ability of people to connect in ways that were never possible before and to share stories and content that create conversation and define their experiences. There are a couple key points here. First, social media enables people (your patients) who would never meet in real life to talk to each other about you. It connects people in meaningful ways, ways that were not possible just 10 years ago. This means that your patients may come into your practice with a knowledge of the industry—and you—that they could never have had without these new tools. Some of the information patients receive may be false and may make your job more difficult. Second, social media allows people to share stories and create a collective experience. In other words, Internet users are beginning to define businesses without the influence of traditional marketing. They are sharing stories that will define you. This obviously matters greatly to your practice.

Key No. 2: Be Authentic

Many people believe that, because they have created social media outlets, qualified leads will follow. Remember, most social networks were not created for conducting business. Simply having a Facebook fan page is akin to a guy in a suit and tie sitting in a corner at a fraternity party. He makes people uncomfortable. He is not there to party, and worse, everybody knows it. Make your postings relevant, real, and maybe even unpolished.

Key No. 3: Commit Time and Resources

As you jump into the work of implementing social media at the practice level, it is vital to remember that social media is social. It takes time and commitment to foster results in the social arena, just as it takes time in real life to create and nurture family relationships and friendships. There are no shortcuts, so plan on dedicating at a minimum 8 to 12 hours a week to your social media endeavors. Larger clinics may have staff members manage their social sites, but understand that a doctor’s presence within social media adds great value and will be crucial to your practice’s long-term success. For starters, commit one or two staff members to dedicate 2 to 3 hours each week to managing your social media and expand from there.

Key No. 4: Get a Plan

You have set aside the time to manage social media. What next? Many practitioners think to themselves, “I have a personal Facebook page. I will just create one for my practice and run it the same way.” This approach can produce very negative results. As in real life, social media relationships are not all the same, so you need to know why you are conducting specific activities online. For example, do you want to generate new leads? Run a promotional contest. Do you want to educate people? Write a blog, use Twitter to share interesting articles with your patients, or create a YouTube channel with educational videos.

What are you trying to accomplish by incorporating social media into your practice’s marketing plan? Make sure your social media plan clearly and succinctly answers this question.

Key No. 5: Understand the Tools

You have set aside the time, and you have a plan. What tools do you want to use? As discussed in Key No. 1, social media is much more than Facebook. If you want to blog, hundreds of tools are available, each offering different features and benefits. There are dozens of networking sites, hundreds of platforms for contests and promotions, and perhaps five or six good sites for sharing video; the list grows daily. Get to know the tools available and choose the ones that best fit your goals. (Because there are too many tools to explain here, jump to Key No. 8 if you are overwhelmed.)

Key No. 6: Implement Your Plan Across the Practice (Not Just on the Internet!)

At the practice that I manage, our Web sites exist as a static place on the Internet, where they function like an ad in cyberspace. People visit the sites, read some of the information, and then call (one hopes). Social media is vastly different. A major reason to invest time in social media is that you wish to be active in the conversations about you that are taking place on the Web. Right now, someone may be posting a review of you or your practice on Yelp or Google Reviews. Do you know what he or she is saying? You should. If someone says something negative, you want to be able to respond. If someone gives you a rave review, you want to thank him or her. If someone offers great feedback, you want to take it to your team and implement the change.

This is the point at which social media intersects with real life, and you and your team must approach every day knowing that each patient could be reviewing you right now. Social media presents an opportunity for you to ask your best patients to offer positive reviews about your practice across your social channels. Remember, your patients are telling your story; you no longer have control of the message. Getting your team to turn real-life interactions into social interactions is important.

Key No. 7: Learn to Measure

How do you know your social media efforts are working? I hope you are already asking this of your traditional marketing; social media is much trickier. Do numerous Facebook “fans” or individuals’ “liking” your practice mean you are a success? If your videos have been viewed 5,000 times, are your patients better educated? What do you do with bad reviews? What do you do with good reviews? Learning to measure your results and change course to achieve your goals is vital to any marketing effort but especially social media. A major reason is that, with social media, you are dealing with real people rather than print ads. You need to have a plan, commit the time, know what you want people to do, stay on message, and keep moving forward to be successful.

Key No. 8: Practice and Experiment

One of the best parts of social media is that you can practice your engagement with people and experiment with new tools relatively cheaply. Our practice decided to run a Facebook contest. We got it up and running, ran the contest, gathered results, measured our outcomes, and moved forward—all in 45 days. When you try new things, you learn. When you learn, you get better. You practice surgery, experiment with new lenses and tools, talk with colleagues, perform research, and gather new skills as a doctor. You will need that same innovative attitude for social media. One size does not fit all, so you will need to find the approach that works best for you.

Key No. 9: Get Help

You are not a social media expert. If you do not want to waste your time and resources, get some help. Find someone on your staff who can head up a social media initiative for your practice. Ask your marketing team’s members if they can create a robust plan, study the tools, and take action. Alternatively, partner with a new team to move forward with social media.

Conclusion

Across the Internet, conversations are taking place about LASIK, about cataracts, and about you. Many of these conversations do not include doctors, members of your staff, or anyone who will guide the discussants to your doorstep. If you follow the nine keys presented herein, you will be able to join the social media conversation with confidence and meet your goals: driving new patients to your practice, educating them, encouraging them, connecting them, and celebrating their stories.

 


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

Here Comes the Sun: Marketing Your Premium Practice

Summarizing the last 24 months in song would be quite the contest. BJ Thomas’ “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” would be vying for a spot with Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” as the most appropriate song for the industry’s economic blues. Beck’s “Loser” would easily win out over a similarly titled anthem from the Beatles (“I’m a Loser”). Certainly, the last 24 months have been challenging for the refractive surgery industry. Some folks are still apprehensive about “getting back in the game,” in terms of creating demand through new or traditional marketing tactics. Many others have decided that George Harrison was right: now is the time to plan for sunnier days.

Major Marketing Decisions: The Four Ps

In the years leading to the downturn, major marketing decisions in premium practices typically fell into one of the following four categories known as the Four Ps of Marketing: product, price, place (distribution), and promotion. These variables were altered to best satisfy the practice’s customers in the desired target market. In most cases, and in the field of refractive surgery generally, emphasis was placed on these four categories to encourage a prospective patient to inquire about a practice’s offerings. As you read these definitions, pay special attention not only to their descriptions but also to the typical cataract and refractive practice’s handling of each marketing component.

Category Description Old Marketing Approach
Product The product is the actual offering or service made to the patient/customer. In the case of physical products, it also refers to any services or conveniences that are part of the offering. Product decisions include aspects such as function, appearance, packaging, service, warranty, etc. The surgery is the product.
Price Pricing decisions should take into account profit margins and the competitive landscape. In the world of marketing, pricing includes not only the list price but also discounts, financing, and other options such as leasing. Prices are lowered to increase demand.
Placement Decisions regarding placement are those associated with channels of distribution that serve as the means for getting the product to the target customers. Placement is classically regarded as “media outlets.”
Promotion Promotional decisions are those related to communicating with and selling to potential consumers. Since these costs can be large in proportion to the product’s price, a break-even analysis should be performed when making promotional decisions. It is useful to know the value of a customer in order to determine whether additional customers are worth the cost of acquiring them. Promotional decisions involve advertising, public relations, media types, etc. Promotion looks like refractive surgery sales.

The Industry

From an industry standpoint, laser vision correction volumes have been steadily decreasing as society has moved from the early-adopters stage of a product’s or service’s life cycle to the early-adopters/early-majority/middle-majority stage. Today, more than ever, patients (customers) are concerned about safety, value, and long-term stability. According to Market Scope’s quarterly survey of refractive surgeons, U.S. laser vision correction procedures declined 26.6% in 2009 when compared to 2008 [D. Harmon, personal communication, April 2010]. Although this shortfall has been met with consistent growth in the areas of IOLs and therapeutics (particularly in cataract surgery), offsetting the loss of total procedural volume and the resulting loss in net revenue will be a major challenge for refractive surgery centers in the years ahead.

The technology adoption life cycle

Moreover, an operational risk exists if this mix of growth in implants and therapeutics continues alongside decreasing volumes in laser vision correction. Basically, similar procedural volumes could result in far lower net revenue with which to run your practice unless a “refractive-style” model can be adopted in the therapeutic category.

Supplementary and Replacement Revenues

Marketing’s function is to assess the pros and cons of potential offerings and determine their ability to add value to the core mission of the vision correction industry. I mention this because the future vitality of refractive surgery lies in the industry’s ability to focus on its mission of improving vision across constituencies.Innovation rules. Practices cannot become distracted by offering other “replacement” revenues as their core business. Everything a premium practice offers must revolve around or be supplementary to the core function of correcting vision. Otherwise, a meaningful system of distribution no longer exists.

Within the confines of the mission I describe, new sources of revenue do exist. Nutritional supplements, aesthetic services, myopic treatments (not procedures),and new options for presbyopic correction can bolster the practice’s bottom line without disrupting the mission. Be mindful, however, of how consumers perceive your practice’s role in vision care and make every effort to hold that spot in their minds.

Mass Communication Is for Mass Production

Descriptions of where products or services are in their technology-adoption lifecycle are relics of goods-based economies. Goods-based economies performed best during the industrial era when phrases such as “product lifecycle” were used to describe consumers‘ purchasing tendencies across a uniform and lateral product line. Each product was made to be as identical as possible and kept as inventory until the time of purchase. Firms were more successful when they could mass produce uniform products. Customers were relatively satisfied because they had access to more offerings than ever before. The fact that an item was not exactly what the customer desired was superseded by the value and number of options available to them in the economy based on mass production.

“The concept of mass production is problematic in an economy that is now defined by customers’ experiences.”

The concept of mass production is problematic in an economy that is now defined by customers’ experiences and even more so in an environment of elective medical health care, where the push is to increase offerings to offset decreased volumes. As Joseph Pine III and James Gilmore state in their groundbreaking book The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage, in elective health care, the intended aim is not mass production but mass customization, a strategy of uniquely serving each customer in an efficient way.1

Today, the elective health care industry is offering a transformational experience under the mass production model. I believe this is driving prices into the ground, expectations through the roof, and centers to their knees. Why? There is no reference, framework, or architecture to build from to make the experience of laser vision correction truly experiential in the mind of the customer. Even more difficult than staging a customer’s experience that is worth the price of admission is doing so in a consistent and efficient manner. I fear that our industry, manufacturers included, is still unsure of what truly motivates patients, resulting in the development of self-serving messages designed to increase marketshare, not grow the whole.

This is described by Pine and Gilmore:

We see many companies today floundering in how to market their offerings thanks to the demise of mass markets, the ineffectiveness (and unmeasurability) of advertising, and the seeming failure of using the WorldWide Web as an effective marketing vehicle. That’s why we also see a plethora of “adjective-based” marketing ideas; to name just a few, think of guerilla marketing, permission marketing, viral marketing, even emotion marketing and emotional marketing. Each type may have something valuable to say, but never really addresses the heart of the problem: People have become relatively immune to messages targeted at them. The way to reach your customers is to create an experience within them.2

Marketing Operations

Perhaps more important than your actual marketing message is the support you give it through marketing operations. The best advertisement can only make alogical prospect try your product or service once. If that consumer’s experience does not measure up to his or her expectations, the failure lies in the operations, not the advertisement. Special attention must be paid to the operational side of the practice to ensure that the experience is worth whatever was invested in the advertising budget.

Shareef Mahdavi, the president of SM2 Strategic in Pleasanton, California, said it best in a recent posting on the Premium Experience Network:

Unlike the traditional marketing or advertising budget, investing in the customer experience doesn’t require huge budgets…but does have two specific needs: your mind and your time. In fact, as the leader of your practice, it’s critical that you adopt a mindset of making the customer and their experience the key differentiator of your practice compared to other doctors of the same specialty in your area. Experience has shown that any attempts to improve the levels of service will generally fail if the physician is not wholeheartedly committed to the cause.

Time, not money, is the primary resource you will spend on the path to being world class in the eyes of your customer. With advertising, it’s the opposite. You spend significant amounts of money to generate awareness and interest in your practice and its services.But once that money is spent, it’s gone. With service, you will invest significant amounts of your time in your staff. But what you are building is a process to identify and address “service defects” and to enhance the overall experience. You are simultaneously building a culture among your staff that says “here is what’s important to our practice.” Realistically, you will spend money on training sessions, systems/hardware/software, and cosmetic improvements. But those investments are long lasting and do something advertising cannot: fulfill the hopes, desires and expectations of your customers above their role as your patients.3

In assessing your practice’s marketing operations, consider these questions:

  • Do you devote specific staff meetings (or separate sessions) to the topic of customer service?
  • Who is in charge of customer service in your practice?
  • How much are you spending each quarter on advertising/promotion versus improving levels of service?

Reserve time and energy to create your practice’s internal processes and structure, not just its external campaign. However, once the operations are in order, how should a practice go about creating its initial messages?

Creative Brief

The first and perhaps most important piece of your advertising communications is flagging your prospect.The best approach is to pay attention to the creative work plan, otherwise known as the creative brief in marketing circles. This document boils down the important details of an advertising message to be certain the message achieves the desired outcome. A creative brief is created by following these steps:

1. Why are you advertising?

It is critical to determine why the advertisement is being created. Otherwise, there is a tendency to throw everything but the kitchen sink into the message. If there are two reasons for creating the advertisement, develop two ads. Some reasons for an advertisement are:

  • The practice has a new technology that is safer and more accurate than a more traditional technology.
  • A new doctor is being added to the practice.
  • The practice has a new offering or is adding a new location.

2. To whom are you talking?

Here is where you define your target audience. For example, a practice might decide that its prime market for laser vision correction includes individuals aged 35 to 54 years, with 60% being women. Potential customers would be defined as those who would like to reduce their dependence on glasses or contact lenses but have not yet done so due to concerns about safety.

3. What do you want customers to think, feel, or do as a result of the advertisement?

Perhaps you want patients to understand how important laser vision correction can be to their quality of life. Maybe you want to appeal to their desire for spectacle independence during activities. Perhaps you simply want to position your center as the authority in vision correction. Here, this is all hashed out. However, keep in mind, the most effective use of your message is to communicate only one thing.

4. What one thing makes this offering different or better?

What is unique about this offering? Before youcommunicate with your prospective patients, be sure that you understand what the business world calls your unique selling proposition. This is what sets you apart from competitors in your category. It may be experience, technology, safety, accuracy, or exclusivity. Resist sales offerings here as they typically are not unique. The same promotion you run can be run by your competitor next week. Stick to what is unique.

5. The New Four Ps

After establishing the reasons for communicating and how these will increase reliance upon the practice’s marketing operations, the four Ps of marketing can be rearticulated in a way that instills a more customer-centric experience.

Category Description New Marketing Approach
Product The product is the actual offering or service made to the patient/customer. In the case of physical products, it also refers to any services or conveniences that are part of the offering. Product decisions include aspects such as function, appearance, packaging, service, warranty, etc. The patient is the product.
Price Pricing decisions should take into account profit margins and the competitive landscape. In the world of marketing, pricing includes not only the list price but also discounts, financing, and other options such as leasing. Prices are reviewed not only to understand profitability but to ensure an experience worth the price tag. Prices are increased as technology and offerings are increased.
Placement Decisions regarding placement are those associated with channels of distribution that serve as the means for getting the product to the target customers. “Media outlets” are replaced by networks. Rather than billboards, the patient/customer is the billboard, instantaneously sharing his or her positive or negative experience with his or her family and friends.
Promotion Promotional decisions are those related to communicating with and selling to potential consumers. Since these costs can be large in proportion to the product’s price, a break-even analysis should be performed when making promotional decisions. It is useful to know the value of a customer in order to determine whether additional customers are worth the cost of acquiring them. Promotional decisions involve advertising, public relations, media types, etc. Promotions are not sales based. They are seen as one of the last steps in increasing demand, after operational considerations have been taken into account.

Conclusion

Finally, remember to keep things in the proper order. When there is economic promise on the horizon, there is a rush to begin creating demand through marketing. This is a normal and natural business response. However, be certain your operational processes are in order before you begin to burden them with increased call volumes, visits from patients, and procedural volume. Otherwise, the demand created could manifest itself into an increase in substandard experiences. Now is the time to set the standards that will make your practice truly experiential in the future.This is because now, while volumes are rebounding, you and your team have time to choreograph what an optimal patient/customer experience should be like within your four walls. From there, determine what you want to say using processes like the creative work plan. This will ensure that what you say in your messages actually accomplishes what you set out to accomplish.

 


This article originally appeared in Premium Practice Today. Click here to download a PDF version.

1. Pine B J, Gilmore J H. The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage. Boston, MA; Harvard Business Press; 1999.
2. Pine B J, Gilmore J H. Special Report: Experience Economy. Accessed April 1, 2010.
3. Shareef Mahdavi’s Premium Experience Network. Accessed April 15, 2010.

Marketing Solutions for a New Economy

Traditional marketing is simple: create demand, make the phone ring, and close the sale. Demand is typically measured by new leads, consultations, and surgeries. The tools with which we have created demand have been print, radio, television, and the web. The current economic climate, however, has sent many centers into a tailspin, and physicians and their staffs are wondering if their external efforts are worth the results. People are not calling like they once did, and if they do, they are not scheduling surgery quite as easily. Future success is tied directly to a practice’s ability to create a fabulous experience for patients within its four walls. To that end, before spending dollars on external advertising, it is important to look inside your practice to see what your patients are seeing.

The Reluctant Customer

Consumers do not want to be targeted, and they are more skeptical than in the past. Satellite radio, digital video recording, and social media are being adopted, in part, in order to avoid the interruptive messages created by the advertiser. Additionally, in today‘s world where people are working harder for less money, when a consumer decides to make a purchase, his or her expectations for value tend to be higher.

This economy has created a vicious circle where patients’ heightened expectations are met with even lower than normal customer experiences.

Meanwhile, many practices have dealt with the current economy by reducing their support staff and amenities; both can be detrimental to the experience of patients and their overall perceptions of value. In such cases, word-of-mouth referrals drop in frequency. Some surgery centers may respond with a more desperate style of advertising that can turn off potential patients.

When desperate advertising measures meet the growing expectations and the new skepticism of the consumer, a vicious circle begins. This is why it is vital to create experiences at the practice level that are actually worth the price of the procedure: “People have become relatively immune to messages targeted at them. The way to reach your customers is to create an experience within them.”1

Track Your Effort and Results

The most effective way to position your practice for future growth and stability is by enhancing the patient’s experience at each stage of the process. Waiting times, educational explanations, and the inclusion of their family members and loved ones in the conversation are far more important than they were just a few months ago. There appears to be little effort, however, to track current customers’ information that is useful for creating growth. In Market Scope’s second quarter analysis2, nearly half of all respondents stated they are not tracking new inquiries, inquiries to consultations, and consultations to surgery within their center. Metrics tracking is a basic business function that ensures the processes in place are functional and successful. How bad must the economy become before ophthalmic practices begin performing this task?

Even under the constraints of today’s market, few centers are tracking basic indicators of their practice’s health.

Utilize Customer Relationships to Increase Revenue

Inquiries that have not become scheduled consultations, and consultations that have yet to become scheduled surgery, represent easy marks for re-engagement. Instead, many surgery centers focus solely on new leads from external advertising. By utilizing a robust CRM (customer relationship management) software, practices can become relevant to potential customers who have already expressed interest in vision correction.

CRM technology not only lets you track conversions, but it also forecasts potential revenue within the surgical pipeline.

One difficult component to using practice management software, however, is learning to deal efficiently with all of the data created throughout the customer’s experience. A unique advantage to most CRM software is its ability to synchronize with practice management software. The former allows data collected during the patient’s experience to be used to create customized messages afterward. Each patient’s interaction is synchronized. As the practice schedules a patient from a consultation to surgery, the CRM gets updated as well, removing that patient from the consultation “bucket.” When the time comes to send a message to all potential patients who have not yet scheduled surgery, the practice need not worry whether or not the database is pure. In addition, practices have the ability to see how many opportunities exist within each status group.

Conclusion

Many opportunities are being overlooked at the practice level that can only be capitalized upon if simple tracking methodologies are put in place. The best first step to creating engaging and profitable experiences for customers is to pay attention to the most basic of operational standards. Look inside your practice and take advantage of the opportunities that already exist there.

 


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

1. Gilmore J, Pine B J. The Experience Is the Marketing. Louisville, KY: Brown Heron Publishing; 2002.

2. Market Scope’s Second Quarter Survey Report: Q2-2009. Manchester, MO: Market Scope LLC; 2009.