Feature | Mar/Apr '17

Patient Communication: From Boring to Brilliant

How to create messaging that sparks action for all generations.

The modern ophthalmic practice offers an array of services and, in doing so, must cater to patients of all generations. To remain successful, it is imperative to understand the characteristics of each age group, how they interact, how they react to messaging, and where they go to get their news. Do not assume that patients will pour in simply because you are a skilled physician with a successful practice; patients need to be reached and engaged in a way that resonates with them. This article details how to ensure your messaging can spark action across all generations.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

When crafting a patient communication strategy, it is important to understand what is unique about each generation and how they stack up against one another. For starters, the millennials are the largest generation in the United States, standing 75 million strong. Although they comprise 33% of the US population, millennials also spend the least, at 12% of the national spend.1 In contrast, baby boomers comprise 30% of the US population but 43% of the national spend.1

Despite fundamental differences like these, there are certain facts that hold true for patients of all generations, as discussed below.

1. They Are Social

One thing that is consistent among people of all age groups is how they interact with one another, and that is socially. They like to talk, and this influences their purchasing decisions. Fifty percent of millennials have purchased a product after seeing it on a social media site. Seventy-five percent of all individuals feel it is important to do business with a socially active or socially conscious company. Find ways for you and your practice to get involved in your community.

2. Money Matters

Regardless of age, there are obstacles to overcome in order to turn a prospective patient into a current patient. The first obstacle is price. Do not be afraid to talk about pricing. Every person within your practice is a sales person, whether you like it or not. You must confront pricing. Offer financing. Just be sure to have that conversation.

3. Fear Plays A Role

Another obstacle for patients is fear. You may think it is no big deal for a patient to come in for a consultation, as it is free and there is no obligation. However, that is a big step for most patients, so be sure to take that into account and bring down the barriers.

4. Experience Reigns Supreme

The patient experience should be top notch for every patient who comes into your practice. This requires you to always keep your eye on the ball, survey your patients, and ensure that they receive the best care possible. Sixty-eight percent of people are willing to spend more money based on the experience they receive. Many ophthalmic procedures are elective; people don’t have to spend their money with you, but they will—if you give them that personalized, high-quality experience.

5. Products Find Consumers

We no longer need to actively search for products; instead, they now find us via social media. Younger generations are consumed by social media, so businesses must be on those platforms and actively trying to reach these individuals through those channels.

BECOME THE EDUCATOR

In their messaging, many practices simply try to sell their services or tote their accolades. It is far more effective, however, to tell people what they need to know to make an informed decision on that life-changing procedure you offer. People receive education in a variety of ways, including your website, social media, radio and TV advertising, email marketing, your competitors, third-party websites, and friends and family. You must make sure to provide education through a variety of forums and strive to serve as a valuable educational resource on each.

There are three types of messaging avenues that should heavily dictate your content. These include push marketing, pull marketing, and patient education.

1. Push Marketing

With push marketing, content is presented to a prospective patient without his or her request. Examples of this include radio, TV, pay-per-click campaigns, and pushed email lists. With push messaging, a business needs to engage potential customers with its content and generate interest in what it is selling. For example, rather than telling patients to come see you for LASIK, you should emphasize why someone would want to have LASIK in the first place.

2. Pull Marketing

With pull marketing, the consumer, or patient, is asking for education that the business then delivers. This type of messaging is provided only upon request. With pull marketing, you need to sell patients on why having that procedure or why having that procedure with you is in their best interest. Strategies include search engine optimization, patient referrals, inbound phone calls, and social media.

3. Patient Education

Patient education encompasses all educational efforts made by your office for patients who are going through the buying cycle. Mediums include pamphlets and brochures, educational books, existing patient marketing, interior signage, and financing tools.

When using a new technology, it can be tempting to educate your current patients by simply handing them the manufacturer’s brochure. However, nine times out of 10, if you look in house, that is where you will find your lack of profitability in elective procedures. Patient education efforts must be well-rounded and well-conceived.

Practices often shy away from money matters, especially in the internal education process. We have heard that patient counselors fear positioning credit and financing. However, financing tools can help drive traffic by 19% to 27%. Patient coordinators should be able to communicate with patients about their financing options and what is truly affordable for them.

DIFFERENTIATE YOUR PRACTICE

Figure out the heart of your practice—what truly makes it great—from the prospective view of each generation. What sets one ad or one website apart from the others for the millennials? For the Gen Xers? For the baby boomers? And for the seniors? You must not only differentiate your practice but also your messaging.

Millennials. The millennials make up 33% of the US population but account for only 12% of the national spending power. As we know, millennials love their digital devices. The best way to reach them is online, often through social media. They cannot be reached by traditional mediums such as TV or radio. In-office promotions are also effective, as millennials are spurred into action by those types of campaigns.

Gen Xers. Gen Xers make up 25% of the US population but have 30% of the spending power, so they cannot be discounted. Seventy-eight percent of Gen Xers like to treat themselves occasionally, and 79% will spend more to make their lives easier, which factors into elective procedures such as presbyopia correction.

Gen Xers prioritize value, convenience, and trust. When they find a business or a practice they like, they trust them. They will bring in that routine business as the people who, at every step of the way, think of your practice for that next procedure down the road.

You can reach Gen Xers online and via social media. They cannot be easily reached through traditional channels such as TV, radio, or print. They have busy lives, so reach them online.

Baby boomers. Baby boomers make up 30% of the US population and 43% of the national spend. They have affluent lifestyles, which again, factors into elective procedures. Often, we hear practices say they don’t want to push premium technologies or procedures because their patients are on fixed incomes. But, if you set the stage and provide value for the services you offer, patients will pay the money for it, especially the baby boomers. These people have the money for the most part and take an active role in their health and longevity.

The baby boomers are the only generation for whom digital and traditional marketing are effective. You can reach these individuals online, on social media, and via email, but you can also still reach them on some traditional channels such as radio. These individuals also like having something to hold, so be sure to provide print materials that they can take home and read.

Seniors. The seniors, likely your cataract patients, should not be discounted. Known as the silent generation, these individuals comprise 12% of the US population, but they still spend money.

Interestingly, 76% of seniors use a social media platform, primarily Facebook, to keep up with their grandkids and other family members. These individuals are likely not following any medical practices, but this is where ads come into play. There are a lot of tailored demographics and geographic locations that you can reach within those social channels.

You can also indirectly reach the seniors by bringing awareness to their children about their parents’ visual needs. When setting up a Facebook advertising campaign, target two demographics: (1) the 65-plus senior group, with soft, quality-of-life based ads and (2) the 45-to-65-year-olds, who are their children, with messaging that promote efforts to take an active role in their parents’ health.

UNDERSTAND THE MESSAGING PRINCIPLES

Three aspects can be used to evaluate your ads, content, website, coordinator’s sales speech, and so on. First and foremost is messaging with a purpose, which means creating goal-driven content. Second is so-called servitude marketing, or emphasizing what can you do for the patient. Last, there is platitude avoidance, or standing out in the crowd.

1. Messaging with a purpose. When a patient calls the practice or when you make an outbound call from a web lead, what are you doing with that phone call? Are you trying to sell the patient on surgery or on the consultation? If you are trying to sell the patient on surgery, you will likely fall flat on your face. The patient doesn’t even know if he or she wants surgery yet. At this stage, he or she is simply trying to gather information.

Rather than telling the patient about a specific procedure or outcome, focus your efforts on encouraging him or her to come in for a consult. If you have the patient on the phone, you have a 20% chance of converting him or her to surgery; if the patient comes into your office, there is a 60% to 80% chance that the patient will book a surgery.

When it comes to messaging with a purpose, look at each piece of content and ask, what do I want that patient to do after he or she engages with this? What is the next step? If you think about that, you will be able to bring the patient along the full educational spectrum.

2. Servitude marketing. The primary drivers of purchasing decisions include necessity, financial capability, planned versus spontaneous status, and community impact. The millennials, for example, want a holistic value to their purchases. They don’t want to go to Walmart and save $10 on their purchase but leave feeling dirty about it.

Servitude messaging is 100% not about you, but about your patients. What ophthalmologists provide their patients is at the heart of servitude marketing. Rather than telling patients why you and your practice are so great, you should emphasize how can serve the patient. If, when looking at your ad, you can’t instantly derive what your practice will do specifically for the patient, you need to rethink your messaging.

Discount offers are losing their effectiveness and have fallen off the table in terms of engagement. People aren’t shopping based on a perceived discount but based on value. Fifty-three percent of customers will pay slightly more if they get the top three benefits for the business, so you must be able to properly communicate value.

Platitude avoidance. Platitudes are nonobjective and generic statements that cannot be quantified. As mentioned above, communicating your value is essential, especially in today’s market, as people will shop based on the perceived value of what you provide. In advertising, everyone says their practice is best, their technology is the most advanced, and their surgeons are the most qualified; to rise above the noise, you must find what sets your practice apart and emphasize that in your messaging.

SUMMARY

Your practice is multigenerational, so your messaging must be too. Become a trusted source of information so that when a patient is ready to take another step, he or she will think of your practice first. Don’t use platitudes; instead, find something that will make your practice stand out. Include a call to action to show patients the next step. Last, be sure to engage with your patients and monitor the success of your communication strategy.

Content from ME Live 2016, sponsored by CareCredit and Fast Track Marketing

author
Brandi Musgrave
author
Josh Talkington

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