Almost every practice has felt the economic downturn this year. You can’t help but notice the empty slots in your surgery schedule, right? You can’t help but notice the increase in no-shows and the dwindling revenues that were so easy to come by just 1 year ago.
Not all is lost, though. There is much you can do to help your practice stay afloat—and even succeed—during this tumultuous time.
Although the current “down” economy is not the end of the world, it has signaled the end of an era that saw many practices simply open their doors and watch patients file in, ready with fistfuls of dollars to pay for those high-priced procedures.
Success without marketing effort is becoming an anomaly and, even then, it probably isn’t effortless. Today’s world is much busier, faster, and crowded with limitless information and choices available to your aesthetic patients and prospective patients. They need more guidance than ever to choose you over all the other choices available.
Which aesthetic practitioners are likely to find the most success in 2009? Here’s a hint: Those who maintain a great attitude will prosper. Those who stay open to the possibilities and opportunities will fare much better than those who do nothing and wait for things to get better.
The mantra in the coming months will be “Do something.” Action is always rewarded over inaction. Just when the economy seems to be at its lowest and hopes are bottoming out is the time to regroup, strategize, and then execute.
However, before we jump into exactly what you should do in 2009, let’s first discuss the fundamentals that must be in place.
WHAT DIFFERENTIATES YOUR PRACTICE?
What is your message to the world? Why should aesthetic patients choose you over all the other physicians? This is the most important question you can answer this year. Developing a really clear, strong, compelling answer isn’t easy or instant. It will most likely evolve over time, but coming up with the best answer can be worth huge revenues to you.
Have a meeting with your staff and brainstorm the question, “Why and how am I different from my competitors?” The responses will add clarity and give you and your staff a mission statement to follow. Striving to be your best will be a priority in your practice.
Think of your practice as an evolution of continual improvement. Day after day, month after month, your goal should be to continually hone your skills, your staff’s skills, and your processes all for the ultimate “wow” patient experience.
Every patient who telephones and walks through your door must be happy to be there, treated like they are special, and thoroughly enjoy their time spent with you—every single time. Your staff should make them feel cared for and comfortable. They should be relaxed during their visit with you and thoroughly at ease so that they are open to you and your suggestions. And they must be able to expect the same experience consistently, no matter how many times they visit.
Make sure they get a good result. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it must be consistent—especially for the minimally invasive procedures you offer.
WHO IS YOUR PREFERRED PATIENT?
Most advertising is unfocused, unclear, and just plain boring. That equals a huge waste of money. If you are going to spend your hard-earned money on advertising and marketing efforts, please think your message through before spending a dime.
Today’s aesthetic patient is a fickle consumer—they want what they want when they want it. They seem to respond to clearly spelled-out messages full of benefits. You must think carefully about which patients are most likely to care and respond.
Once you have the clear message spelled out and you have determined the type of patients you want to target, you can then choose the appropriate media to reach that specific patient target market.
What media should you use to get your message into the hands and minds of your targeted audience?
The answer is there isn’t one choice—it’s a mix of several different mediums that give you good, even great, results. The more diverse your marketing efforts, the more you can test results and get more bang for your buck. Your patients can be found at many diverse locations—for example, they may be at home, at work, on the road, surfing the Internet, attending events, etc.
YOUR SALES IQ
You are in a service business, meaning that prospective patients can freely come to you to determine if the service you have to offer is worth their time, money, and trouble. They are also determining if you are the perfect physician for them, and they repeatedly make the choice to stay with you or to move to a competitor.
Therefore, you must proactively engage the patient in understanding the procedure, its risks, and expected outcome. You must confidently and enthusiastically educate them on the benefits of the procedure and why they would choose you over all the others.
By the way, the more you embrace the art of selling, the more successful you will be. Even though you are not trained in professional selling, it isn’t as daunting as you may think. It is not necessary to browbeat or aggressively push patients to do something you want them to do.
Selling has more to do with listening than with talking. It could be called “empathy in action.” It should be a win-win for both the patient buying your services and your practice. The most successful physicians uncover, clarify, and fulfill their patients’ strongest needs and desires.
There’s an old saying from Hilary Hinton “Zig” Ziglar: “You can get anything in life you want by helping enough other people get what they want.”
Your decision is not whether to sell, it is whether or not to do it masterfully and enjoy the process.
AS WE ENTER 2009
To help you weather an increasingly challenging economic environment, here are my tips and strategies to consider in the coming year:
Fully Embrace Internet Marketing
Fully equals 100%. Not only do you need a presence on the Internet so your current patients can find you and refer their friends, you also want to be found by new prospective patients.
This medium is not the only channel in which you should invest; however, it is a major channel you will want to embrace—a powerful medium that can expose you to potentially millions of Internet surfers who could be interested in your aesthetic services.
Identify a professional company that can oversee all aspects of your Web site, from design to copy to search engine optimization. The goal is to drive traffic to your Web site and then convert it to new paying patients.
The Secret to Mass Advertising
Currently, Americans see more than 3,000 advertising messages per day. How in the world can you rise above the clutter and be heard?
The answer is not “image marketing” or “name recognition” ads that you’ve been talked into using. The answer is not a laundry list advertising your credentials and services. It is worth repeating: Advertising your products and services is much more about your audience and prospective clients—and not about you.
All the readers, viewers, or listeners care about is how your products and services would benefit them, so be sure that you address as many of those concerns as you can in your messages.
Here’s an example: Prospective patients are not buying liposuction, they are buying a flatter stomach so they feel sexy in jeans.
Market Your Practice Via Education
Your patients don’t like to be sold anymore than you do. However, they do want to be kept abreast on what’s new in the world of aesthetic enhancement. They are interested in knowing what new technologies, procedures, and treatments could address their specific concerns.
Educating your patients using fun, comfortable, and relaxing strategies will draw them to you and your services naturally.
Today’s aesthetic consumer is flooded with information on the latest and greatest cosmetic procedures available.
To help your patients parse all of the latest news, articulating what’s hot and what’s not can help you to build your credibility.
An e-mail-based newsletter can go a long way toward keeping your practice foremost in the minds of your patients.
Newsletters give your patients and interested folks information and a reason to call you. Explain what’s new in your practice. Introduce a new staff member, a new procedure, etc. Attach a time-limited special offer so they call now rather than wait.
Alongside a newsletter, e-mail-based marketing is the least expensive form of advertising today—and it’s faster and easier than other forms. Be sure that you collect your patients’ e-mail addresses, and don’t forget to obtain their permission to receive e-mail messages from your practice.
Follow e-mail marketing best practices, including giving patients a way to opt out of receiving e-mail from your practice. Your e-mail message should be brief, newsy, and contain an exclusive or otherwise special offer. You also want to include a “send to a friend” link to help spread your message via word-of-mouth referrals.
The Aesthetic Patient Ambassador
Once you have attracted an aesthetic patient to your practice, nothing is more important and cost-effective than keeping them loyal and valuable to you for years to come.
The fastest, cheapest, and most effortless way for you to grow your revenues this year are to do the following:
Keep your current patients loyal to you and returning often;
Cross-promote your services and products to increase your revenues per patient; and,
Motivate your current patients to refer their friends, family, and colleagues
These are key to sustaining and growing your aesthetic practice in 2009. Patients are fickle, emotional consumers, so do whatever you can to stay connected to them and them with you.
You want them to feel like they know you better now that they have seen you in a more relaxed setting. Be sure to invite the neighborhood salons and spas, and encourage them to invite their own customers.
Developing a program for your patients to refer their friends and family is a worthwhile endeavor. If they like you and get a good cosmetic result, they will tell friends and relatives, but you have to ask and encourage them to spread the word about your practice.
Tips: Give them their before-and-after photos to show their friends, send a thank you note when they refer someone, give them a personal call, and invite them in for complimentary services when they refer often.
Your clients are your advocates and should be shown appreciation and encouragement for continuing to refer new patients to you.
The world of cosmetic enhancement is very competitive, and even though your patients may love you they may be enticed to try another practice that offers an attractive discount price on the same minimally invasive procedures they get from you.
You can avoid much of this “straying” if your patient feels like they are treated like royalty. Develop an exclusive VIP program that has exclusive patient perks, such as allowing them to make last-minute appointments, discounts, and free shipping off retail products, and a complimentary peel each month. Make them feel so special they wouldn’t dream of considering going elsewhere.
Specially Themed Mailings
There are specific times of the year when aesthetic patients want to look especially good—birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, holidays, summer, Mother’s Day, and Valentine’s Day.
See also “It’s a Marketing Jungle Out There” by Angela O’Mara in the April 2008 issue of PSP.
Develop a year’s worth of promotional activities centered on these special times, and be sure to include themed-oriented offerings with tight expiration dates so your patients respond.
To be as successful as you can be in 2009, it’s imperative to consistently communicate with your patients and treat them well. They should be made to feel like family and continue to see you for all of their cosmetic enhancement needs. If you don’t, I assure you that your competitors will.
Once you have the patient in your office, keep them there. It’s so much cheaper than constantly pooling for new patients.
Catherine Maley, MBA, is president of Sausalito, Calif-based Cosmetic Image Marketing, which specializes in creative marketing strategies to attract cosmetic patients to practices. You can reach her at www.cosmeticimagemarketing.com or (877) 339-8833.