By Brian Taylor
Not long ago it was possible for a hearing aid practice to thrive with a nominal investment in marketing. Through the late 1990s and well into the 2000s a practice could run a captivating promotional advertisement in the local newspaper or offer a “digital” consumer seminar with a technical expert and capture a significant amount of business with relatively little effort or expense. That era of low-hanging fruit is over.
Today, thanks to the Internet, the Web 2.0, social media, iPads, and other assorted gadgets, patients have access. They have access to more information, access to low-cost alternatives to hearing aids (e.g., the Bionic Hearing Aid), and access to the thoughts and outcomes of other patients (for example, Hearing Mojo).
As a consequence, hearing care professionals today must not only be more sophisticated about how they connect with patients, they must also wait for longer term marketing tactics to bear fruit.
October 2012 marked the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the Low-Hanging Fruit Era. It was in October 1982, that President Reagan obtained his first hearing aids. Many professionals noticed a sea change around this highly publicized event, which inspired a giant wave of people with unaided hearing loss to eagerly seek out the services of professionals for the first time.
The traditional forms of advertising, which were effective before the age of social media, digital television, and the Internet, succeeded in capturing a good share of what I am referring to as “low-hanging fruit.” This is the segment of the hard-of-hearing population that is poised, with just a nudge, to take the first step toward getting help for their hearing.
The advent of digital hearing aids in the late 1990s, which in the minds of the consumer was a monumental shift in technological improvement, managed to extend the era of low-hanging fruit for another 10 or 15 years. But now, with the commoditization of digital technology, the once-potent buzzword “digital” has lost much of its buzz, and it no longer has the cachet to attract new consumers in droves. Thus, it’s time to rethink our marketing strategies.
THE PROGRESSION OF ECONOMIC VALUE
I’m sure that most hearing care professionals would agree that the way patients interact with your practice has undergone a remarkable transition over the past few years. Gone are the days when you could post an occasional promotional offer in your local newspaper and generate immediate sales. Everything from mining your patient data base and using social media to conducting more memorable diagnostic tests and measuring patient satisfaction to generate more word-of-mouth referrals are part of the grind-it-out tactics needed to convert prospects into patients.
No matter what role you play in your practice, the process of rethinking your business in uncertain times starts with how patients interact with your practice. In their landmark thesis The Experience Economy, Joe Pine and James Gilmore introduced business managers to the concept of the progression of economic value. In essence, the more emotionally engaging and memorable a clinical experience you provide to your patients, the more value you create and the more patients are willing to pay for your services. Recently, Pine and Gilmore released the second edition of their influential book.
The concepts outlined in the Experience Economy play directly into the wheelhouse of hearing care professionals, because so much of their success depends on providing personalized care to their patients. This book contains a wealth of enduring information about how to take a data-driven, mundane clinical procedure and bring it to life by wrapping a memorable experience around it.
THE “LOYALTY LOOP”
Thanks to communications technology, people can now connect with your practice in fundamentally new ways. This means that traditional marketing strategies must be redesigned to account for how patients engage with your practice.
David Edelman of McKinsey Global Digital Marketing, Inc., has created a starting point for how to plan and execute your marketing strategy in an era when there is no longer any low-hanging fruit. Edelman has found that customers consider many alternatives prior to making a purchase. During this consideration phase, they often do a lot of homework comparing various options. Once they do make a decision to purchase something, customers often enter into an extended open-ended relationship with a business. Edelman calls that relationship the “Loyalty Loop.” Here’s a visual of that concept.
According to Edelman, businesses often overemphasize the “consider” and “buy” stages, allocating more resources than necessary to build awareness and to encourage purchase. With the rise in popularity of Facebook, Web 2.0, and other new social media, the “evaluate” and “advocate” stages become more relevant. Marketing investments that help consumers navigate the evaluation process and spread positive word of mouth about your practice can be as important to the productivity of a business as building awareness and driving purchases.
The Loyalty Loop has particular value in the hearing care marketplace, which relies heavily on influencers, such as physicians, caretakers and other members of the community who interact with hearing-impaired patients.
A recent webinar that I taught outlined specific marketing tactics that need to be part of your loyalty loop. In this webinar, I identified five “must-have” loyalty loop components of what I call the CORUS marketing strategy:
- Captivating Website with emotionally compelling video content
- Online reputation management of patient testimonials
- Relationship and physician marketing
- Upstanding member of your community through public relations
- Social media.
Since the Era of Low Hanging Fruit is over, I urge you to incorporate all five of these tactics into your CORUS marketing strategy in order to build extended relationships with your patients.
Brian Taylor, AuD, is Director of Practice Development and Clinical Affairs for Unitron. He is also Editor of Audiology Practices, the publication of the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, and the author of the book Consultative Selling Skills for Audiologists, published by Plural.