Three Tips for Marketing Your Practice During the Holidays

With the Holiday season fully upon us, gift purchasing and self-indulgence traditionally reaches an all time high.  In fact, with Black Friday happening just a day before writing this article, I decided to analyze some shopping tendencies of myself and society as a whole and see what parallels I could draw to patient spending trends in private practice.

When it comes to Holiday shopping I prefer to do everything online.  Nothing is less appealing to me than entering a crowded store, fighting through hordes of people to find the item I want, and waiting in line with a bunch of angry and tired shoppers to purchase that item.  Upon waking on Black Friday, I was greeted with 97 emails related to "Black Friday Deals" - all from different retailers, some of which I have purchased with and some I have not.

So what did I buy and where did I buy from?  Well, I bought from retailers I always buy from.  Transactions for gifts (and a couple items for myself) came from four retailers I frequently use: Target, Amazon, Lululemon and North Face.  I was drawn to make purchases not only because of my past history with these retailers, but also because their marketing was directed at me.  Colors, mildly sarcastic messages and ease of use got me from the automated newsletter to the "Check Out" (with free shipping, of course).  Sure, I could have just gotten cheap knock off leggings for my girlfriend or stopped by Lowe's for a comparable power drill.  But I didn't.

When conversing with others, I realized that my shopping tendencies were not unique.  Many other friends and family exhibited the same behaviors centering around brand loyalty and repetitive shopping experiences.  Now here's the kicker.  These shopping tendencies also occur in optometry.  Like it or not, optometry, just like all other medical fields, is a business.  Thus, the patient will have measurable and slightly pliable behaviors much like a consumer.

1) Existing Patients will always provide more value than New Patients

If you've read any business book or sat in a practice management class, you've undoubtedly heard this.  Existing patients will always provide more value than new patients.  The reasoning behind this stems from two major reason:

 a) There is no acquisition cost for an existing patient

To acquire a new patient you need to spend.  This spending takes multiple forms.  One form is time.  Patient recruiting can occur through participating in community groups/events or it can occur at events such as small business meetings or Chamber of Commerce mixers.  Another form is actually money spent through internet/social media advertising, mailings and TV/radio spots.  

Now take a look at your existing patients.  The most it probably costs to get them in your exam chair is a pre-appointment phone call or postcard.  Perhaps they were diligent enough to make the appointment on their own.   

b) Existing patients have measurable + predictable spending habits

With a new patient, you enter a complete different world.  With your initial visit you must gauge many factors in order to find out what products this patient will steer towards.  This can include extra time spent with both the doctor and optician.  Now take a look at your existing patients.  With the aid of EHR and note taking, as well as past experience, you can gauge exactly what an existing patient and subsequently what the patient will buy.  Obviously consumerism is not an exact science, but familiar patients will almost always have predictive behaviors where as new patients will not.

2) Be Niche Specific with your Marketing

"Ok, keeping existing patients is a better and more cost effective strategy, so I shouldn't put any resources into recruiting new patients?"  Absolutely not!  While new patients are harder to get into your office and are less predictable in behavior, they still provide an added level of value to your practice, especially in up-and-coming practices that are not quite "mature."

So how do you attract these patients?  You need to market to them by speaking their language.  Much like the Lululemon email blast got me to click through and make a purchase with its sleek graphics and semi-sarcastic message, so to must your marketing work on your target audience.  Take three factors into account when designing your marketing scheme:

 a) Age

What ages are you primarily seeing in your practice and what ages dominate your geographical area?  Age and generation are important factors that play into your marketing strategy.  While individuals in their 20s and 30s will respond great to trendy Instagram ads and emailed infographics, folks in their 50s or 60s may respond better to a traditional mailer or blog about ocular health. 

Use your EHR to find trends on ages in your practice and use Google to find trends on ages in the areas around you.  Use this data to hedge a marketing plan.

b) Socioeconomic Status (SES)

You might have the flashiest, most attention-getting Gucci frame advertisement.  But if those frames cost more than two weeks of wages of your average clientele, chances are, you'll waste a bunch of money marketing them.  This is where Socioeconomic status (SES) comes into play.  Marketing should focus on what your audience can afford and is willing to pay.  Your marketing also does not have to be limited to products.  Services, practitioner aptitude and staff attentiveness are all very marketable assets of a practice, just to name a few.

Marketing, especially at the SES level, will require a lot of trial and error.  The best advice is to look at spending trends both at an internal level (your practice and what your patients buy) as well as an external level (what is the price point that individuals are willing to spend in your community).  Also remember: although SES has a strong influence on what an individual can afford, that does not mean that there is not a market.

c) Demographic-Related Points of Focus

One last area is to look at what the demographic in your geographical area values and market to that.  Take for instance my practice.  We are located in the heart of Silicon Valley, CA.  Functionality and technicality of products are forefronts in what sells best.  In fact, our number one selling frame line is OVVO due to their bendable nature and strength of material (technicality) and our best selling lenses are Shamir Office Space lenses with a Blue Blocker and Anti-Reflective Coating.  

Study your audience.  Study their occupational needs and also their avocations.  This can help you shape your whole office so you can streamline niche-service.  Another important to remember: just because a certain product is popular or trending (ex: blue light blocking lenses), does not mean that they are necessarily popular in your geographic region or target demographic.

3) Remember that YOU create value

I remember looking at Yelp reviews for a corporate optometry office located in a mall.  Through the slew of heavily negative reviews, most reviewers complained that they felt like they were getting ripped off.  They would state the price they paid for either glasses or contacts then related it to the poor or general lack of service that they received.  I realized that many of these products were products that myself and other private practitioners offered, and at a similar price!  So why weren't we getting bombarded with disparaging reviews?

Because our offices create value.  Private practice and small business has the distinct pleasure of being able to cater directly to a consumer's individual needs.  It is able to provide services and products without answering to a continuously detached and ignorant corporate ladder. 

So remember that this holiday season.  You don't necessarily need to put items on sale to generate more revenue.  You don't need to have special deals.  Sometimes, discounting products places a decrease on consumer perception of your products.  Feel your audience out and rely on the values that helped you grow your practice in the first place.  Make it a goal to continuously and consistently learn about your patient base and their needs - because as time moves on, your niche grows, and often evolves. 

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About Dr. Aaron Neufeld

Dr. Aaron Neufeld is a Co-Founder and editor for ODs on Finance. He owns a group private practice in Los Altos, CA and values a debt-free lifestyle as well as serial investing in real estate and index funds. Contact him:

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