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The 21st Century Optician

Marketing Strategies
for the Independent Eye Care Professional

The independent eye care professional, whether OD, Optician or even Ophthalmologist is being squeezed by large, corporate providers today and may be finding the "new world" of eye care difficult. Competitive forces are strongly challenging even the most robust independent practices, and have large budgets for marketing many independents will never have. 

This article will focus on a few methods by which the independent may be able to level the playing field a bit, and actually have a competitive advantage over big brother. The space allotted for this article will not allow for a thorough analysis of the methods we suggest, but we will be developing the topic in several articles to follow in the coming editions of ECP.

Marketing Defined
Marketing conjures up images of media advertising, which is a component of any successful marketing plan, but it is so much more. According to the American Marketing Association (2007), marketing is "an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating, and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders". Kotler and Bloom (1984) define marketing as "The analysis, planning, implementation, and control of carefully formulated programs designed to bring about voluntary exchanges of value with target markets for achieving the organization's goals. It relies heavily on the meeting the target markets needs and desires through the use of effective pricing, communication and distribution to inform, motivate and service the markets." Each describes far more than just advertising, but it is a major component in successfully marketing your practice, so we will evaluate it first.

Advertising
Advertising requires some research on your part. First, you must know who your target market is, and how best to reach them. The Super Bowl costs 2 million or so dollars for a 30-second spot, and would let the world know your message, but is that a good buy for the average independent? Of course not, unless you have a substantial national presence, so you must know the appropriate media for your message. You must know who your patients are and where they live. Market analysis and mining the gold in your own files can tell you this easily.

In my own practice, I enjoyed using a variety of media. I was located primarily in a military town and the Yellow Pages were a great media for me, because the troops in need of my services could find me there easily. This media may not be best for you, but was great for the transient nature of my community. 

I also used some radio that played the music most of my patients listen to regularly. As I expanded to several locations, I used a large FM station that provided coverage for all my satellite locations in surrounding communities as well as my main office. For a one-location practice, a cheaper, more localized station may be best for you.

Also important to the mix was Cable TV, targeted to the market. Again, the market was very young, with an average age of 27, so we used MTV and ESPN to reach them with appropriate messages in the ads. I found cable cost effective for my small practice. 

Over the years we also used some limited direct mail and regular small ads in the local newspaper to round out our message. I found this mix appropriate. It may not meet your needs, but I think you get the idea. You must find the mix that works best by knowing who you are trying to reach, the best time to reach them, and what to say in the ads to get their attention. One thing I will say that is important in all markets is to be consistent. Do not expect big things from your advertising program if you are not willing to invest in a planned program on a regular basis. There are folks to assist if you need guidance, but do not expect to see a large jump in sales if you place a small ad in the local paper. Plan a program to reach your patient base and then provide adequate coverage to stimulate their interest.

SCAP
In general marketing we refer to the 4 Ps; product, place, price and promotion. In health care of all sorts, I feel something more appropriate is the concept of SCAP; service, consideration, access and promotion. 

Services may also include product, but for this piece, think about the depth and breadth of services you provide. If you are an Optician, are you offering a sufficient selection to keep patients in the office? Many complain that they don't sell large numbers of sunglasses, but don't carry a large enough selection to meet the needs of their patients. If you are an OD, do you provide up-to-date equipment and techniques to stay on top of your market, or is the office down the street taking your patients away? 

Consideration has to do with pricing. Are you too expensive or too cheap? People who are seeking eye care do not necessarily want cheap, but do want value. Make sure you are pricing appropriately for your market. A discount store in Trump Tower won't work, but in my neighborhood it may. 

Access relates to location. Are you located in a place convenient for patients? Are your hours appropriate for the marketplace, or should you consider a change. In today's world of work, the traditional 9 - 5 office may not meet the needs of your patients. Do you serve special needs populations, and if so, is the office accessible?

Promotion is a bit different that advertising. You want to develop a loyal patient base that has trust and confidence in you. Promotion is all about letting folks know who you are and what you stand for. While advertising is broad-based, promotion is different and more personal. Do you have attractive, professional business cards and stationary? Do you send notes to people in the community who do good things for you and the practice? If not, you should. Thank folks who refer patients to you. Do you speak at community service clubs letting them know about the latest and greatest in eye care? If not, please consider it.
Someone who attended a recent lecture I presented on this subject told me that they felt this was not appropriate. He felt that church attendance should not be about business, but worship. I agree, and if that is the only reason to go, then don't. But the folks I go to church with wear glasses, and have regular (I hope) eye exams, and someone is going to see them. I want them to know what I do, and that I will take excellent care of them, their families and friends. The same goes for community volunteer activities. 

Conclusion
Marketing can be a complex task. If not done correctly, you may as well take the money spent and flush it. But...done correctly it can be a great benefit to your practice. In this article we addressed advertising and the concept of SCAP. There are other things to consider. The way you and your staff dress says a lot about you. The way the phone is answered can be inviting�..or not! Make sure the message you send to patients and potential patients is the one you want sent. 

We will address marketing further next month.

References on request

Warren G. McDonald, PhD
Professor of Health Administration
Reeves School of Business / Methodist University

Warren G. McDonald, PhD

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