Online marketing is changing the game for everyone and every business. With the availability of the internet, it’s one of the easiest and fastest ways for consumers to find the products and services they’re looking for. For years, medical practices have relied on referrals and traditional advertising to keep their practice relevant, but the internet has completely changed things. Below are some online marketing tips for doctors that must be implemented to keep the competition at bay.
Perception is everything
Social media allows you to manage your practices’ image and build a loyal base of contacts. An important thing to remember about marketing online is that internet users want to see that someone is “home.” That means having an updated website that’s easy to navigate, having an active social media presence, and regularly blogging. Patients want to see that you’re listed on Facebook, Twitter, and GooglePlus. But more than that, they want to see that you’re actively using these platforms by interacting with other users, regularly sharing content. It also helps to have large followings on these channels. If your practice has a lot of followers, that’s a signal to internet users who are looking for medical services that your practice is popular, and therefore trustable.
Another benefit of having a large number of followers is that it means building up a targeted, centralized audience that you can market to in the future.
Show what you know
Credibility is a large factor for patients trying to decide which doctor to choose. With traditional marketing tactics, this isn’t always easy to do. But this is easy to establish online, and when done correctly, it will set your practice apart–but it does take work. You should list your credentials on your website to start with, but above that you should be blogging regularly. Credentials only go so far. Building a relationship with your website visitors is what will really weigh on their decision. If you can prove to them that you’re an expert in your field AND they know they can trust you, you’ll win them over.
One way to do this is through blogging. Patients who go online searching their symptoms, looking for treatments, or trying to find a good local doctor will be looking for helpful answers to these queries. If you know what your target audience is searching for, you can answer their questions and concerns by building blog content around them. This content should be helpful, not salesy. If you can create helpful, educational content, your practice will be the first one that comes to mind the next time they need to see a doctor.
The great thing about inbound marketing is that it’s set up to attract customers to your practice, rather than having to track patients down and shout your marketing messages in their face. The popularity and availability of the internet has changed the marketing game for doctors and their practices, but inbound marketing is the solution, and the results of doing it correctly are astounding.
Literally dozens of pharmaceutical companies have disappeared over the last 20 years, not just small companies, but major ones like Upjohn, Pharmacia, Searle, Warner-Lambert and Schering-Plough. They have disappeared for excellent business reasons. But as a result, at a time when there is an explosion in the understanding of the cause of diseases, industry contraction has resulted in fewer scientists pursuing these new insights. In the long term, that doesn’t benefit the world’s health.
"Not all available market research is created equal," says Rich Meyer, author of DTC Marketing Blog. According to Meyer, "some research is a must have and provides insights, but there is also a lot of available research that doesn’t clarify findings and is written by journalists not people will real world pharma business experience." He goes on to rate various sources of pharma marketing research (here).
Meyer has two ratings:"A-Must Have" and "D-Pass," which means don't bother with it. Meyer doesn't have a "C-Meh!" rating -- that's my way of saying "lackluster, take it or leave it."
One study "written by journalists" is the MM&M/Ogilvy CommonHealth Healthcare Marketers Trend Report, the 2014 version of which was just published (here). Let me tell you why I give it a "C-Meh!" rating.
One surprising finding of this survey of 202 "qualified" senior executives -- "all director level and above" -- employed by pharmaceutical, biotechnology, devices and diagnostics companies, is that 22% of pharma marketing budgets of these individuals goes to some form of digital marketing (websites, digital ads, SEO marketing, and social media).
Here's the tabulated data:
I have no idea what "content" means in context of this survey; so I just left it a category of its own.
Aside from the surprising 22% allocated to "digital," these executives claim that only 8% of their budgets go to print, radio, and TV ads and only 27% is devoted to sales.
These numbers are surprising when you compare them to other sources of information about pharma marketing mix. Nielsen, for example estimates that the pharma industry as a whole spent $3.74 billion on TV, print, and radio advertising in 2013. That's about 22% of the estimated $17 billion overall marketing spend by the industry. For digital, I've seen estimates around 2-3% for display ads and websites and maybe the same for SEO marketing -- to be generous, let's say 10% devoted to these digital categories overall -- that's half of the 22% reported in this survey. Professional detailing (i.e.., Sales) estimates from other sources say this category accounts for 68% of the overall pharma marketing spend (see "Pharma Promotional Spending in 2013").
I have spent some time analyzing the marketing mix numbers because MM&M also spends a lot of time discussing this and making a case that digital spending is trending up, up and away (eg. greater than 30% increase year over year, 2012 to 2013).
From my analysis of other sources of information, digital spending by pharma as a whole may, in fact, be decreasing! See for example, this data trend from Nielsen (read "Is Online Pharma DTC Ad Spend Continuing Its Downward Slide?"):
One caveat: Nielsen data does not include SEO, Websites, and social media.
In any case, from my limited understanding of statistics, you cannot have meaningful quantitative results with less that 1,000 survey respondents. I think the authors of this survey realize this; a disclaimer says: "Results are not weighted and are statistically tested at confidence levels of 90% and 95%," which begs the question: Did the statistical tests fail?
Only 200 out of 9,241 invited executives responded to the survey, which was done online and offered a $25 gift card to each respondent. Right away that signals to me a self-selected group.
Another problem with this survey is the mix of respondents -- only 52% represented pharma, 43% were from "small companies," and only 37% claimed sole responsibility for marketing budgets. This makes it difficult to get any useful quantitative insights from this study regarding the marketing mix of pharma companies and it explains the discrepancies noted above.
Although I give this survey a "C-Meh!" rating as far as market mix research goes, the survey does include other, perhaps more insightful results regarding the opinions of these executives.