Marketing 101 for your practice


It’s an important element to building a successful business and Svetlana Bogomolova, an associate professor of health marketing, provides some expert tips.

When physiotherapy students study at a university, marketing is not a subject they usually come across, or even consider as relevant to their careers, but good marketing can guide health-promoting businesses to success by helping them to better understand their clients and their needs.

Marketing, put simply, is the science of consumers. It can uncover many aspects of consumer behaviour, including what consumers need and want, what is guiding their choices, how to communicate with consumers, and what they are prepared to trade in return for what they want. From this perspective, it is hard to think of any health services that would not want marketing skills and knowledge in their arsenal.

Let’s look at a few key marketing principles. Starting with basics, what does a physio sell? That is, what is the core ‘product’ that clients are buying? The answer to this question seems trivial, yet how a business communicates this can make all the difference between consumers coming through the door or not. In the world of physiotherapy (like in most allied health services), professional training, experience and correct use of medical terminology is the sign of professionalism (ie, among the peers), but for an average client, many of whom might be first-timers or infrequent visitors, a lot of professional jargon might just be confusing. Put yourself in your clients’ shoes.

‘Marketing, put simply, is the science of consumers. It can uncover many aspects of consumer behaviour, including what consumers need and want, what is guiding their choices, how to communicate with consumers, and what do they prepare to trade in return for what they want.’

Imagine a middle-aged man who has hurt his back on a golf course. What would he do when he wakes up with a sore back the next morning? Where would he seek advice? What words might he (or his spouse) enter into a Google search? It will not be professional slang or Latin, it will be a simple ‘back pain’, ‘sore back’, or even ‘back pain from golf’. Now, look at your own webpage and promotion strategies; which Google search words did you select? How well do they match what an average client might type into Google? Using consumer language is paramount, otherwise potential clients will never find you. And remember, these words could describe the problems clients are experiencing (eg, pain, extra weight, poor sleep), and/or the benefits they are seeking (more energy and active life).

Let us consider: who are the clients of a physiotherapy clinic? You might have heard of the marketing words segmentation and targeting. Segmentation refers to dividing one’s customers into some sort of groups in order to make it easier to identify and meet common needs. Targeting is a process of approaching and communicating with those segments. While in the medical practice it is very easy to categorise clients by their demographic and medical/diagnoses profiles, it is important to remember that these classifications are only temporary (the same client with a knee injury could appear next week with neck pain). Therefore, caution is needed when using these marketing tools. Ask yourself whether there are meaningful differences between clients in different segments (otherwise what’s the point?), and if you can actually do something different for each segment (otherwise, again, why bother if you can’t reach one segment with one message without a spill over to the other?).

A more useful consideration when talking about understanding clients is to understand that it is a ‘leaky bucket’, which means the pool of people who you consider as your clients is constantly reducing, and often for reasons that have little to do with your business. For starters, clients should get better, and consequently need less of your services. Then they could use competing services, and not just another physiotherapist (more on this below). All this means is for a physiotherapy clinic to run a sustainable business, it needs to constantly attract new clients, which means a stronger focus on advertising and communication.

Earlier we touched on competition, which is another fundamental marketing element. What are the other services my business competes with? How can I do better than them? Competition is inevitable. Even if you identify a unique gap or proposition, you cannot enjoy it for long. So how does one go about identifying competitors? It is useful to think of competition as an onion. An onion has layers and some layers are closer to the core, and hence are more similar in form and function to your own business, while the outer layers are further away and offering something different, fundamentally satisfying the very same consumer need that your business does. For example, for clients who have back pain, the immediate competition to your physiotherapy clinic would be other physiotherapy clinics, most likely in the same geographical area.

The next layer might include businesses that also target back pain, yet in a slightly different way (a swimming pool, a dedicated yoga studio, or an acupuncture specialist). The furthest outer layer may include a pharmacy (that sells pain killers) or a change of a hobby to something that does not put a strain on one’s back.

This onion analysis is helpful for identifying competition and their strengths and weaknesses. From there, a business can clearly identify and articulate the common characteristics that makes it a consideration for the type of services it offers (marketing calls them category entry points), and some meaningful differences where a physiotherapist does better than the competition.

So far we have covered the three most fundamental marketing elements: the product, the customers and the competition. This is just scratching the surface of the marketing toolbox, yet everything else is building on these decisions, so it is important to get them right.

Click here to find out more about marketing for health and wellbeing.

Svetlana Bogomolova is an associate professor of health marketing at the University of South Australia’s Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science. She has initiated and continues to lead a cross-disciplinary research stream called health marketing. Her work applies the latest evidence-based findings in the field of marketing science to a wide range of health challenges.

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