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Where Should I Spend My Marketing Dollars in the Medical Industry?

One of the most common questions I have been asked by my medical/healthcare clients is, “Where should I spend my marketing dollars?” Obviously, there is no cookie cutter answer to this question since the answer depends on so many things. However, there are some clear trends and facts that should be taken into account:

Let’s first look at some interesting trends we see in the medical industry.

  • Well over 80% of patients go first online to research doctors and practices, before they make a decision on a specialist healthcare provider.
  • Close to 40% of all traffic that comes to a practice website comes from mobile devices.
  • Younger generations read fewer daily newspapers.
  • Google made two very significant changes to their algorithm last year that impacted basically the entire online universe in terms of how websites should be marketed.

In addition to these trends, there are other very important factors that should play a role in your marketing (spending) plan:

  • A channel for new patient flow remains to be the referrals from other doctors.
  • A presence in community events and/or community organizations helps you to not only create brand awareness, but also increases overall engagement.

Taking all of these things into account, the following are some guidelines for your marketing spending plan:

Digital Marketing

Digital marketing is hugely underfunded in healthcare. From my experience it comes from mostly having senior executives that don’t understand the tangible benefits from your digital marketing and don’t believe the hard numbers that come out of your digital marketing analytics. In 2013, I met with the head of marketing of a large hospital system. The executive told me that currently, he spends only 5% of his marketing dollars on digital marketing, but that he realizes that his efforts have to almost go into the opposite. Over the next two years, his goal is to ramp up the 5% to close to 80%. Digital marketing is a broad area and can roughly be broken down as follows:

  • Search Engine Marketing (Pay-per-click): Specifically, Google ads are not an option. You HAVE TO DO IT if you are a medical/healthcare provider. Your ROI can be measured at a very granular level. In 8 years of medical SEM, we haven’t had a single case that didn’t generate an above average ROI. At a very low level, you can expect a 1:8 ROI, although much higher is possible. There are many tools that can help to size up the opportunity for you and what the potential may be.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): SEO has become increasingly a science. In short, it is very sophisticated content marketing in combination with correct website structuring and coding along with link-building and external engagement (read more on SEO in our blog). Depending on your size, this is also a MUST DO. Even small medical/healthcare practices should think twice if they should invest in a $2,000 ad in a monthly magazine or rather in meaningful blogging. SEO takes longer to take effect, but the benefits are long-term. SEO and SEM should go hand-in-hand.
  • Website: Make your website a “living thing”. Invest in ongoing website updates. Regardless of the size of your business, you should invest in ongoing updates and changes on your website.
  • Mobile Site: If your website is not mobile capable, this is not optional either. You have to invest in enabling the mobile usage of your website.
  • Social Media: The jury is still out on the impact of Social Media in medical marketing. For large companies it is not an option. You have to invest in a meaningful marketing strategy and execution. However, for small practices, it becomes less meaningful and is mostly used to generate positive signals for your SEO. Large companies should invest in a meaningful engagement with the community via social media and should just look at Social Media as another channel to push out the same information that you can also get on their website.

Your digital marketing budget should consume over 40-60% of your medical marketing budget.

Traditional Media Buy

Traditional media buy is still relevant, but just much less as a percentage of your total budget.

  • Print Marketing: Yes, print can still be effective, but be very careful and try to measure how much you get out of it.
  • Radio: Radio can be an effective way of promoting your medical practice, but make sure you negotiate more then just straight advertisement. Make sure you benefit from their online assets.
  • TV: Medical healthcare is becoming increasingly a retail business. The distance of your core catch basin is decreasing. Before you invest in a TV awareness campaign, make sure you truly understand your catch basin reach and ensure that the TV ads your are covering most of your catch basin. If your catch basin is much smaller then the TV ad reach, you end up wasting a lot of your advertisement dollars into markets that you will not be able to convert into patients.

While traditional media buy/marketing is still a valid method of promoting your business, it should not come at the expense of your digital marketing efforts. If your budget is tight, don’t cut the digital marketing and rather reduce your spend with the traditional marketing channels.

Referral Marketing

Referral marketing is unfortunately also still highly underutilized by many medical/healthcare providers. Many shy away since they associate it with pharma reps. However, if done right, referral marketing is one of the most effective ways of promoting your practice. Dedicate a good amount of your budget to this and it will return your investment with long-term benefit and profit.

Offline/Event Marketing

Although you can consider this also part of traditional marketing, I wanted to list it separately, since you should treat it as a higher priority then print, TV and radio. In particular, events and involvement in community organizations return a good number of patients. Make sure you insert a sizable amount of money in the budget for this. However, also make sure you develop a method of ensuring that you chose the events that are worth your time and money and that you utilize everything you can get back from the other organization that helps you with your long-term marketing goals. Especially the collection of data (names and emails) has to be a main objective aside from overall engagement and brand awareness.

In summary, while I am not able to give you concrete numbers or ratios for the various line items of your budget, I hope I was able to provide you with some directional guidance. Most importantly, digital marketing has to move to the forefront of everybody’s mindset and budgets. Falling short on this will put your competition in healthcare ahead of you.

If you need help with your budget or marketing planning, you can send me an email at thofstetter@pointsgroupllc.com or call us at 973-998-8008.

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