Old habits are hard to break, especially for experienced physicians who have been trained to do things in a certain way. However, consumers have very specific perceptions of how they want to be handled, especially by cosmetic surgeons.
Consumers are people first, and patients second. In the realm of elective surgical procedures, they actually only become “patients” if they choose. They have families, friends, jobs, and responsibilities, all of which compete for their attention.
You are dealing with a want rather than a need—as opposed to a general surgeon, whose patients may need to have a malignant lesion removed to prolong their lives. Aesthetic patients want to look better, younger, or thinner, and they have a lot of options.
Consumer behavior is in a constant state of flux. In general, it is affected by trends, economic highs and lows, media attention and representation, celebrity behavior, seasons, and holidays; as well as each individual’s personal set of circumstances.
Thinking of your patients, customers, or clients as people or consumers in the context of their day-to-day lives fosters a new kind of relationship building that is more personal and individualized. It helps to approach each segment of your patient base where they look, live, go, work, play, and communicate.
In every practice, there are many segments of patients (ie, consumers). For example, teens, women over 40, men, skin of color, etc. Consider what media outlets they read most frequently, and the Web sites and forums they visit most often. How do they engage socially online with friends, colleagues, and like-minded consumers? Where and how do they spend their leisure time? In whom do they trust? After you determine the answers to these questions, you will be better prepared to find them, engage with them, and communicate effectively with them.
ENGAGING WITH PATIENTS
This new spirit of openness and information sharing comes with some potential pitfalls.
Social media outlets allow practitioners as well as brands to engage with consumers, but first and foremost these platforms allow consumers to engage with other consumers. They meet online and converse, compare notes, and share their experiences—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The bariatric community is a good example of where this kind of mutual cooperation takes place. Sites such as obesityhelp.com offers members topic-specific forums to interact based on the procedure they are considering or have had performed. By using on-site tools, they can also track their experiences, treatments, and results. The site makemeheal.com allows visitors to post questions for physicians to answer, and use message forums to reach others with similar experiences.
These new open lines of communication may encourage consumers to believe they, not the physicians, are the experts. Many physicians lament that consumers come to them thinking that they know exactly what surgery they need or do not need, based solely on information gathered online or in dialogs with other consumers.
When they run through a roster of highly complex questions about techniques, instrumentation, and methodology that they cannot possibly understand fully, the physician must deal with “deprogramming” and re-educating the misinformed patient. Many doctors will ask potential patients where they have done their research. If the answer is they found out by participating in online forums and bulletin boards, you can predict the kinds of questions they will ask.
THE FUTURE IS HERE
There is no such thing as business as usual anymore. Our world has changed irreparably, which has necessitated a fresh, new mind-set in order to be successful.
Along with physicians, brands also need to join the online conversations and discussions that are taking place by formulating a strategy that follows internal compliance guidelines and supports the brand’s position in the marketplace.
The role of a communications strategy requires a broad range of capabilities, including an in-depth knowledge and understanding of how to reach consumers based on how they think today—not how they thought a decade ago. The realm of consumer marketing is constantly evolving, with new channels emerging frequently that present more tempting opportunities. Marketing programs should be continually updated to reflect this changing consumer landscape.
Wendy Lewis is president of Wendy Lewis & Co Ltd, Global Aesthetics Consultancy, and author of 11 books. She is founder and editor-in-chief of www.beautyinthebag.com and can be reached at .