Vol. 12 • Issue 4 • Page 10
Clinical audiologists thinking about leveraging their knowledge of the vestibular system in order to expand into balance and dizziness testing or to grow an existing practice will have no shortage of decisions to make, from the type of services and patient care to offer to the mechanics of operating an expanded business.
There may be great opportunity to establish a vestibular presence in your region because of two important trends: an increasing number of balance and dizziness complaints due to the aging population, accompanied by the growing sophistication of vestibular, neuro-otologic and ocular-reflex testing-all offering the promise of improved detection of vestibular disorders and a wider array of diseases and conditions.
One particularly important area of decision making is in how you will market your balance clinic. In its broadest (and perhaps most simplistic) sense, marketing is the process of establishing an equilibrium between what you are capable of producing or offering and what others will pay for it. In other words, marketing is about matching (your) supply and (their) demand. In this article, we're concentrating on marketing communications (known as "marcom" in the business), which involves creating and then delivering the right message to the right audience so that they respond and act to your benefit.
A written communications game plan is always a required first step. My preference is to organize a plan along these lines:
• Audience: Who you are trying to reach, such as referral sources, patients and intermediaries (local medical professional groups, media and so forth who can connect you to your targets or your targets to you);
• Objectives: What you want to achieve with your communications, from generating inquiries and referrals to fostering word-of-mouth endorsements;
• Strategy: How you will you take advantage of your key attributes and resources at hand to fulfill those objectives;
• Tactics: What specific initiatives you will undertake to implement your strategy, from an e-newsletter to events for your local referral sources;
• Budget: How much you will spend for marcom activities. One rule of thumb, as you start out, is to budget 4 to 6 percent of desired gross income. As the business expands, so too will your marcom budget;
• Measurements of Success: What specific goals you wish to reach at steps along the way (for example, size of database of your local referral sources or number of mailings completed) and one or more outcomes (number of patients seen per quarter, perhaps).
OK, that's the condensed big picture of preparing a plan. To successfully implement it, you should be aware of and employ some best-practice strategies. I recently was involved in a survey of audiologists and others who offer balance and dizziness care. While space here prohibits a full report, here are some common characteristics of marcom-adept audiologists. They understand:
Marcom is an ongoing process-Too many businesses, especially small ones, look at marcom as a series of projects to be devised, executed and completed. That's wrong-the best of the marcom practitioners, in any field, understand that it is an ongoing process that must be addressed day in and day out.
It's critical to know your targets-ENTs, primary care physicians (PCPs), family practitioners and, to a lesser extent, neurologists are the local referral sources of interest to a balance practice. Consider creating and maintaining a database of those potential referrers. Find direct marketing list providers that can tell you who and where they are. One clinic we interviewed targets nurses working for local PCPs and not the doctors themselves, on the assumption that it is the nurse who actually directs a patient to a specific balance clinic. Also, for clinics that are part of a larger healthcare system, referral sources may or may not be limited to those medical professionals within the organization. In all cases, stay on top of your database and make updates frequently.
It's imperative to nurture relationships-Once you know your targets, commit to ongoing relationship-building, perhaps through a regularly scheduled newsletter, educational luncheons/seminars, participation in professional events, and more. If the budget allows, consider hiring a part-time business development person to make the rounds in your area-armed, of course, with a professionally-produced capability brochure.
It's important to create a buzz-This area may include a number of initiatives. Of course you need a Web site with an opt-in feature and success stories. You also should get on one or two of the social networking sites, such as LinkedIn. Become your own PR agent; write news releases and invite the media to write about you. Read up on the topic of "guerrilla marketing," an approach centered on low-cost tactics that can produce big results.
A good marcom plan takes some time to prepare and implement, but it is one of the best ways to position a new balance practice for success.
John L. Buckman is a marketing consultant serving the medical device industry. Contact him at email@example.com.