Knowing your market-key to practice growth

Marketing is highly effective when done right, but many optometrists think they either must spend a fortune or spend very little. Developing an accurate profile of a practice's existing patient base is an important first step in creating a marketing campaign that delivers a strong return on investment.

Key Points

Since 2004, Samantha Toth, ABOC, has conducted a variety of marketing presentations for optometrists across the United States in which she typically asks, "Who is your target audience?" Within the past 5 years, only one optometrist knew the answer.

"For years, marketing was considered taboo in the health care industry," said Toth, president of Innereactive Media, a marketing consulting firm based in Ada, MI, that focuses on the optometry industry. "Optometrists are beginning to realize the importance of marketing their practice because patients aren't just going to walk through their door."

Toth said a profile consists of four types of information:

Understanding your patients' lifestyle can help you tailor your products and services to their needs.

"Some optometrists make the mistake of trying to be all things to all people, which never works," said Toth, adding that many are uncomfortable focusing their marketing on a specific niche for fear of alienating patients outside that group. "It is not about turning people off or away. It is about getting the best return on investment for your marketing dollars," she said.

Is anyone listening?

Toth said research shows that patients need to be touched at least 20 times with the same message before they make a change in their buying habits, so never spend all of your advertising or marketing dollars in one medium. While newspaper or Yellow Pages ads are fine, there are plenty of other avenues to consider, and an annual plan should include at least 30 marketing media.

Marketing plans should include an implementation calendar that identifies who does what each day, and a monthly calendar or grid that displays the marketing media that will be used throughout the year.

The key, she said, is "orchestrating the media so they strategically feed off one another to maximize your exposure in the community."

Still, the most creative marketing plan won't do any good unless it is correctly implemented. Toth pointed to a family care optometry practice that successfully sponsored a 3-hour style show in its rural store.

When patients arrived, they snacked on wine, soda, and cheese, received a back massage from a local massage therapist, were treated to a make-up makeover by a cosmetic representative, and then worked one-on-one with a frame stylist from the practice.

Toth said the practice's staff was well-trained, on cue, and knew exactly what to do.

The event built trust-based relationships and wasn't expensive, she said, explaining that the massage therapist and cosmetic representative donated their services in hopes of generating new customers. By the end of the show, the practice achieved its goal: 10 new patients scheduled eye exams and purchased frames.

Marketing is highly effective when done right. But some optometrists don't consider marketing a priority. They implement their plan half-heartedly or not at all.

"If you don't want to grow or sell your practice, and just plan on closing the door when you retire, then don't bother marketing," said Toth. "Otherwise, differentiate your practice from your competition, then target your marketing at the patient it is most going to appeal to."