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Widex: 3 Reasons Why
 

Marketing is Essential

Marketing is Essential

Steve Adams

September 18, 2000

Many audiologists consider marketing to be a necessary evil. Some resist the temptation to advertise based upon the moral standards of the past. However, much like attorneys and physicians, healthcare facilities have realized marketing is as an essential element of any successful audiology practice's business plan.

After reviewing marketing strategies and messages from numerous audiology practices and hearing aid manufacturers, I have noticed a great deal of attention is given towards reaching current users of amplification. In most cases, these promotional campaigns have proven effective in maintaining the existing patient base as well as brand preference. But, such efforts do little to bring new patients through the door.

It is important to understand the mental state of most first-time patients. As you know, almost without question -- they do not have a hearing problem! They are in your waiting room under personal protest and they are there only to appease a spouse, relative or friend. To them, a hearing test is a waste of time and money. The reluctance of the first time patient is legendary. Often it takes 5 to 7 years from the time the hearing loss is documented until the first hearing aid is purchased.

Therefore, it is essential to identify and target new patient marketing efforts towards the person, hereafter referred to as the influencer. The influencer is the friend, relative or spouse who decides to take charge of the situation and make arrangements to escort the potential hearing aid user, a.k.a. the end-user, to the audiologist's office.

A sound marketing strategy will include the use of media vehicles (cable TV, radio, newspaper, direct mail, etc.) which are capable of reaching a high number of influencers as integral pieces of the promotional puzzle. Although sometimes thought of as being too costly for many practices, the use of such mediums during specific periods of the year and times of the day can yield surprising results.

Many practices schedule advertising to occur the week after a major holiday or family-oriented community event. The basic marketing message is written to remind influencers of how a potential end-user's enjoyment of a recent festive occasion was diminished due to the presence of a hearing problem. The influencer is encouraged to call the audiology practice to start the process of improving the life of the end-user, as well as the lives of their friends and family, with an appointment for a professionally administered audiometric evaluation.

Yellow page advertising is another marketing tool. In many cases, practices get involved in what I refer to as ''Yellow Page Races''. In other words -- Who has the largest and most colorful ad under the appropriate heading? Each year, every audiology practice gets a visit from one or more Yellow Page Directory advertising salespeople. They encourage each advertiser to increase the size of their ad to ''get more exposure and increase the number of calls generated by the local directory''. This is usually followed by ''And you know, your competitor is going to have a big presence in this year's book''. Before giving in to such a paranoia-based sales pitch, here are some thoughts on the Yellow Pages which might be useful.

Year after year, usage studies by publishers of Yellow Page directories (GTE Directories, Ameritech, Alltell Directories) list type of product/service, location and telephone number as the top three reasons people refer to this section of the phone book. Brand name preference is listed as a close fourth. Think about your own practice. How many calls for directions to you office does the receptionist field each week? Instead of increasing the size of your ad in an attempt to have the biggest ad in the category, consider adding a simple map detailing your proximity to well-known local landmarks (a park, post office, department store, etc.). List the brands you dispense most often. Some manufacturers will help pay for part of the ad placement cost if you include their company's logo or name.

Above all, keep the layout of the Yellow Pages ad simple and easy to read. The most essential elements are 1) name of the practice, 2) primary staff and certification(s), 3) address, 4) and telephone number. Directions to, or a map showing the location of the practice should be included. Do not ''crowd'' the ad. If the practice has more than one location within the geographic area served by a particular directory, the use of multiple maps will be more effective than written directions due to the ability to graphically depict the location of each office.

The use of color can have a significant influence on attracting a person's attention to a given ad (red remains as the most popular choice). In most cases, the use of four-color ads does not raise directory-generated inquiries to a level commonly considered necessary to substantiate the disproportionate increase in cost. Several practices situated in highly competitive markets have switched to using one or two colors in their Yellow Pages advertising and reduced their ad size from one-fourth of a page to one-sixth of a page without experiencing a decrease in inquiries or market presence. Efficient sizing of the ad can prove worthwhile.
In a highly competitive market, an efficient ad may attract more attention than simple bold listings with boxes around. In a less competitive environment, a bold listing can prove quite adequate.

In all cases, two things increase when a practice chooses to place a four-color, large space ad in the Yellow Pages: 1) the marketing expense and, 2) the salesperson's commission.

The manner in which any given practice chooses to promote itself will depends upon a myriad of factors; number of competitors and their level of promotional activity, the appropriate advertising message, market media costs, scope of practice, availability of manufacturer co-op advertising funds, etc.

The first step in developing an effective, cohesive marketing campaign is establishing an annual marketing budget. How much is enough? Is it a set percentage (5-7%) or a specific dollar amount ($20-$100) of each sale? Should there be a separate checking account used solely for marketing expenses? Only the owner(s) of each practice can determine the best way to create such a fund. To many business owners, these are some of the most difficult decisions to make each year. But, just like any other essential operational area of a successful business, such decisions must be made if growth is to be realized.

The most dangerous marketing action for any audiology practice to take is no action.

Competitive pressure for new patients will continue to increase. The rise in the number of ENT practices dispensing hearing aids is rapidly eroding the previously lucrative local market referral base. Health plan based audiologic and hearing aid benefits are under constant review and targets for possible further reduction. Without a strategic marketing plan, the future of any audiology practice is in jeopardy. Take a proactive stance today. Sit down with an accountant and a marketing consultant and begin to build a plan for the future that will have your practice reaching all new heights of success.


steve adams

Steve Adams



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