Published 2/1/2014
Tony Edwards; Bill Champion

How NOT to Promote Your Practice

The 10 most common marketing mistakes practices make

The ability to attract new patients is vital to a practice’s success. To do so effectively and efficiently, partners in an orthopaedic practice need to have a shared vision and to align the practice’s objectives with that vision and the needs of the market.

Although each market is unique and each orthopaedic practice should have a customized strategy, most practices make the same mistakes in their marketing efforts, resulting in a significant waste of time and dollars, producing few results, and distracting the practice’s focus from proven strategies. The following are the 10 most common marketing mistakes made by orthopaedic practices.

Spending more money on advertising and sponsorships
On average, the number of people who have heard about an orthopaedic practice is 4.5 times greater than the number of people who would choose that practice for care. In short, it isn’t about generating more awareness; it’s about generating meaningful reasons why patients should choose a specific practice.

Most practices typically engage in and justify random advertising activities to “get their name out.” With few exceptions, these efforts rarely assess and align the right variables to achieve meaningful results, let alone produce a return-on-investment (ROI) that makes them worth continuing.

Treating all marketing activities alike
Doing a “lunch-and-learn” at a primary care office, sponsoring a local road race, participating in a call-in radio show, sending out a patient newsletter, serving as team physician for the local high school football team, and sending out press releases are all completely different tactics and should never be categorized together. At a minimum—and assuming that changes in patient volume are tracked—practices should segment efforts designed to attract new patients from those that don’t.

Random tactics don’t contribute to an effective marketing strategy. A strategy is comprised of integrated tactics that can be measured to produce either a positive ROI and/or a strategic return on objective.

Purchasing media packages
Usually, media packages aren’t tailored to the buyer’s need; they just reflect available media inventory. The same package can be sold to the local dry cleaner, restaurant, or auto garage.

The first rule of thumb in buying traditional media is not to buy a package, but a specific audience. Purchasing traditional media correctly is difficult and expensive; media packages make it easier, but don’t deliver value.

Equating sponsorships with business development
Most practices use sponsorships for two reasons. The first reason is to support a good cause or further a relationship. The second reason is for ease and convenience.

Although being a good corporate citizen is important, it’s not a marketing strategy. Doing something because it’s easy or convenient is liable to deliver a negative return because no reasonable patient would choose an orthopaedic surgeon based on a logo on a sign or t-shirt or an ad in the high school outfield.

Relying on patient satisfaction
Orthopaedic practices regularly use patient satisfaction as a way to measure the level of service being provided. Although a satisfaction rate of 85 percent to 95 percent is not uncommon, patient satisfaction has little correlation with practice growth.

Practice growth is derived from patient advocacy, which is the percentage of patients who would highly recommend the practice to their friends, family members, and co-workers. A recent national study showed that, on average, only about a third of orthopaedic patients would highly recommend the practice they visited.

Engaging in social media with no strategy
Social media can be a powerful tool for orthopaedic practices and many are engaged in social media to some level. Few, however, have a clear strategy or develop a social media platform large enough to leverage.

Establishing a Facebook page is free and easy, so many practices have one. The difficulty lies in gaining a following large enough to justify the time to manage the account and in creating content that is engaging enough to get patients and prospective patients to comment, which should all be part of the strategy. In most cases, practices set up a Facebook page and fail to manage it properly.

Measuring effectiveness by activity
Most orthopaedic practices measure their marketing and communication results by the amount of visual activity they generate. The more money they spend, the more advertising they see, the more they feel they are influencing patient volume. Yet few can provide tangible numbers, metrics, or documented patient volume.

Practices that advertise should have a strategy to measure the ROI. This will help avoid frustration and give the practice solid data to make better decisions on allocating resources.

Mirroring competitors
Often, several practices in a single market make the same mistakes because they promote themselves like mirror images. If one group advertises or increases sponsorship spending, others follow suit.

In many cases, it makes sense to be first and to be the leader in the market. However, being first is only an advantage if it generates value. For example, does it increase the right mix of patient volume? Does it truly differentiate the practice in a meaningful, important way to referral sources?

Instead of following competitors, practices should get a better understanding of why patients choose the orthopaedic practices they do. Talking with patients and primary care providers will provide a sense of what really matters. Following the market instead of competitors will produce greater results at less cost and better position the practice for long-term success.

Relying on the hospital
Current healthcare changes are bringing orthopaedists and hospitals closer together. In some instances, orthopaedists can partner with a hospital to promote the orthopaedic practice. The most important element of these partnerships is clearly identifying the orthopaedist and the practice name, rather than positioning the orthopaedist as a hospital employee.

Hospitals commonly view themselves as the entry point for providing orthopaedic care, disregarding that patients choose their orthopaedist, who admits them to the hospital. In some markets, practices have allowed the hospital to promote orthopaedics only to find themselves competing with the hospital for patients.

Hiring a marketing director
Most orthopaedic practices do not need a marketing director or coordinator, especially if they are coordinating the above activities. A practice that has more than 50 providers and is willing to trust a marketing professional to guide its strategy, communications, strategic partnerships, and research, should consider moving forward. But don’t throw good money after bad if the ROI doesn’t justify the position.

Most mistakes orthopaedists make in promoting their practices are due to the following three root causes: no clear direction, no specific budget, and no metrics for measuring success. Without a clear direction, all activities fall under the same strategy. Without a specific budget for the promotion and growth of new patients, efforts cannot be prioritized, and everything is deemed important. Without measures, practices cannot make good decisions or effectively allocate money and efforts moving forward.

Tony Edwards is senior vice president and Bill Champion is president of Venel, a marketing communications firm focused exclusively on orthopaedic providers. They can be reached at Tony@Venel.com and Bill@Venel.com