Marketing is vastly underutilized in most independent optometric practices, which is ironic because most of them desperately need more patients. In this article, I’ll look at why most ODs do not do any serious marketing and how you can easily overcome that tendency. Next week, I’ll review some of my favorite marketing projects that will put more patients in your exam chair.
Reasons why ODs don’t use marketing
I think there are two main reasons why optometrists don’t often use marketing techniques to grow their practices:
It takes too much time. It is true that marketing projects can take a large amount of time in the planning stages and time is something most ODs don’t have enough of. Even if you have a dedicated administrative day, there are so many other tasks that need the OD / owner’s attention; there is no time for new projects. This is a cycle that you must change. The best solution I have found when I’m facing a time management problem is to delegate more of the tasks to others. As the practice owner, you must break away from the mindset of doing everything yourself. More on this below.
Uncertain results. As I look back on all the marketing projects I have tried in my practice, I must admit that some seemed to work, but many did not. I define a successful marketing effort as one that generates a profit after the marketing expenses and any promotional discounts are applied. Of course, there is value in improving your brand perception in the community, and that is not measured in profit dollars. It can be difficult to accurately measure the financial result of a specific marketing project because some of the good will created will result in a sale well into the future. I would not let the uncertainty of direct profitability stop you from trying various marketing projects. Just get in there and take your best shot and measure the results the best you can. Learn from these results and keep repeating the ones that work best.
Your marketing team I recommend that you begin to think of marketing in your practice as a team effort. Here are the players you should have:
The doctor. I recommend that the doctor / owner delegate a great deal of marketing, but I still think he or she needs to be involved in the decision making. The doctor, as CEO of the business, has valuable knowledge of the needs of the patient base. The doctor knows the philosophy and ideal image of the practice. There are budgetary decisions to be made and those will include unexpected options and changes along the way. I see the doctor’s role as meeting with the marketing director to give direction and to approve concepts. This role does not need to be very time consuming.
An employee as marketing director. I recommend that the practice appoint or hire an employee to serve as part time marketing director. This job assignment may take 5 or 10 hours per week (it will vary) and it can be handled as a side job for an optician or front desk associate. The role involves taking care of all the logistics and pricing of various marketing projects and working with local organizations to implement them. It is best if this person has a creative flair and I also look for someone who wants the job. It is also important that this person have some experience with technology and social media, since much of marketing today is in that area. If you want to give the marketing job to an existing employee, but you feel he or she will not be able to give it the time needed, then hire a new employee to cover this person’s previous job. Think big and trust that the marketing campaigns will bring in enough new profit to more than cover expenses like this. It is possible that the marketing director could work from home, but I prefer him or her to be in the office to allow closer collaboration and better monitoring of the work.
An advertising agency or marketing consultant. To give your practice the professional image it deserves, you should work with a real marketing professional. This could be a local agency or some optometric alliance groups and consulting companies provide a marketing expert for its members. A graphic artist is another professional you should have a connection with. These specialists will present you with new ideas and valuable guidance as you plan and implement your program. You should control the budget for this service. Ad agencies can be expensive so I would start small and build as you see results. Understand any contracts you are presented with: always ask how it can be ended.
Electronic communications firms. This may include companies like Solutionreach, Websystem3, Demandforce, 4PatientCare and others. It would also include a website design company and possibly other internet services.
Start by holding an initial planning meeting with these stakeholders. Review your past marketing efforts and plan for the future. You may want to create a marketing calendar for the next 12 months so projects can be spread out properly and to avoid the pressure of having to rush the details. This also helps your determine an annual budget. After that, meet with your marketing director as needed to provide the decisions and support needed to implement the plan. I’ll present some marketing ideas in the next issue.