Time to Get Personal

Marketing Strategies – The Personal Connection
Written by Jennifer Bahr, VP of Legislation, NMSA
When it comes to business, even the healthcare business, it is not just about what you know; it is also about who you know. Or perhaps I should say who knows about you. This is where marketing comes into play. This is where I give my disclaimer.  I am still a student, so I have not yet had the opportunity to put any medical practice marketing tactics into play. However, before you click away from this blog entry I encourage you to consider that perhaps this is an advantage. After all, I can only talk about principles and theories, rather than provide you with a template based on the things that worked for me. Furthermore, you don't know me, or the area I live in, so how could you possibly know that the same things will work for you? What I hope to offer are things that will help spark your creativity and help jumpstart or reignite your marketing plan. 
There are, of course, very basic things that any small business owner should do when building their marketing plan.   Things like market research and analysis, developing products and services, promoting said products and services, establishing competitive but sustainable pricing, and determining how to distribute these products and services. More specific to healthcare marketing, there are components such as professional referral, internet, branding, internal (i.e. current patients), external (i.e. future patients), and public relations marketing. Most of these aspects are dry, and less than inspiring, but necessary for a functional and effective marketing plan. Rather than discuss them here, I will simply refer you to the Small Business Administration and encourage you to look for a local Small Business Development Center.  These will give you general direction for any small business, some of which may not directly apply to a medical practice, but may still be useful with a bit of tweaking to the language used. 
Instead I am going to talk about personal connections. As I hinted at in the first few lines, I believe that it is these connections that will help with your marketing because when it comes right down to it, every decision we make is about what matters to us. Getting to know what matters to the people you are trying to work with is like getting a homeopathic case that is nothing but keynotes for a single remedy. Knowing what matters to people can basically tell you exactly what to do to get their attention.  
In my humble opinion, the first place to start making these connections is through community involvement. Find a group or organization that you feel passionate about and would be happy being a part of even if you get no patients directly from participating. Doing this kind of work will help connect you to the community and get to know the people you will be caring for.  If you do something that meets frequently, you will end up chatting with the people you work with. You may discuss what they do in their free time, what types of media they most consume, what are their biggest health concerns, and the times of year they have these concerns. They may not tell you directly, but you certainly be given hints and insights into what matters to them.
The other advantage of working in the community is that it will actually give people the chance to get to know you, and hopefully to like you. People who like you as a person are more adapt to like you as a doctor and to refer you to a friend or family member looking for a doctor. That being said, it is important to keep in mind that you are always a doctor, and therefore always talking to possible patients. People will make assumptions about your bedside manner by the way they see you in public. 
You can increase your presence in a community by engaging in activities more in line with healthy living. For example, make your office a delivery location for an organic CSA (community supported agriculture) or co-op. Make sure a sign related to a special class you are offering is located within easy viewing of the pickup table. Do you love making herbal remedies? Offer to do home parties where you make lotions and salves.  These activities are inspiring and leave people wanting actual health care. Use this time to talk about the things you specialize in that they have been indirectly telling you that they need. Talk about how effective herbs are at treating the seasonal ailment everyone is suffering from. 
Once you have greater connectivity to the community and an idea of an area of need, you can decide how you will fill it. Once you have decided what your role is, you will know the media forms that are most effective for your target market because they will have already informed you. Finally, you will know what message to get across in your marketing because you will know the reasons people have for needing your services and the driving forces behind most of their decisions. 
In the end, getting to know people will help you figure out the WHAT, the WHY, the HOW, and the WHEN for your marketing. The idea is to get most (or ideally all) of your business from referrals. Spend a greater percentage of your marketing internally on patient retention and let them sing your praises to those in the community you have yet to meet. A happy patient will do more for the growth of your practice than any ad in the phonebook.