Google and social media have changed the ways we look for information, discover area service providers and research options for health care, and as a result, many Optometrists who own a practice now question which tactics are the most effective to increase brand awareness, number of appointments and overall revenue.
- Should I retain my ad in the print Yellow Pages for the elderly in my community?
- Should I still send out jumbo-sized postcards, or should I invest in a Google AdWords campaign instead?
- Are Facebook ads more effective than ads placed within the community magazine?
Corporate brands aren’t faced with the same dilemma because they can afford to do both digital and print advertising to move the needle for all their locations, whereas independent Optometrists must be highly selective with their paid marketing tactics because of much smaller budgets – on average, an independent Optometric practice will set aside between 1% - 5% of annual gross collected revenue for marketing expenses, so choices must be made.
While there isn’t a one size fits all marketing plan for independent Optometry, certain things are true for all practices regardless of location within the United States which should be considered while constructing a marketing plan.
The website for your practice is a fundamental part of your marketing plan and should be the first element on which to spend marketing dollars. Your website is your 24/7 brand ambassador and is ultimately where most prospective patients and customers will convert into appointments, so its aesthetics, branding elements, and SEO is critical. When someone is searching for an area Optometrist, it’s crucial that your site appears high in search results and that it offers prospective patients and customers the key information needed to influence their decision. Photos and videos of the practice, the phone number and online appointment scheduler, hours of operation, areas of specialty, vision plans and medical insurances accepted, and brands available in the optical must all be well communicated on the practice website.
Claiming and updating your Google listing with current photos (and now, video!) is also a critical piece in your marketing plan, as is acquiring reviews from your happy patients. Claiming and updating a Google listing is free but does require a time investment on your part, and acquiring reviews involves strategy – sometimes, simply asking people to review you is sufficient, while for other practices, investing in an automated text for reviews is more impactful. Either way, acquiring reviews on your Google listing is a crucial element of your overall marketing plan.
Other paid digital tactics include Google AdWords and Facebook and Instagram ads, and one advantage these ads have over print advertising is the ability to create highly targeted ads and track the number of times the ads are seen, number of clicks through to the website, and much more – often for less money than traditional print advertising. The drawback for many independent Optometrists, though, is that they lack the time and internal resources to create their own ads and track the results, so they must employ an outside agency to facilitate digital advertising, which drives up the cost of the tactic.
Print is still influential in consumer marketing, but the website and online reviews need to be in tip-top shape prior to employing print media as a paid tactic because any interest generated will drive people to your website prior to booking appointments or visiting your optical.
One tactical advantage postcards have over digital ads is that we interact with a tangible, physical printed piece much differently than a digital ad. There is a tremendous amount of competition in social media for our attention – and much less competition for attention within our mail boxes, so your postcard may be more impactful for brand awareness or a promotion than a digital ad, particularly if there’s a strong call to action and a deadline to leverage the fear of missing out.
The USPS has the Every Door Direct Mail program which enables you to select targets in your area and create your own mailing list and postage for a direct mail campaign, and even partner with a service provider to design a promotional piece to market your practice. You can also partner with an outside agency to conduct your direct mail campaigns for you – they assist with design and offer ideas for specific promotions. The response rate to direct mail is fairly impressive at 3% - 5% (https://www.inkit.io/2017/11/direct-mail-statistics-2018-average-response-rates/) and because the volume of overall mail is declining, there’s less competition in the mailbox.
Newspaper advertising is one of the oldest and most traditional forms of advertising in the United States, but their revenue from print advertising has been in decline since 2000. (http://snpa.org/stories/can-small-community-newspapers-successfully-launch-digital-ad-agencies,4124865) Many local newspapers now offer both digital and print publications and can be a powerful way to identify your practice as an embedded part of your local area as your ad is displayed amid community news and events. Use of this tactic depends on the level of engagement with the newspaper in your specific community.
Local Community Support through Print Ads
Many independent Optometric practices are approached by school sports teams, churches, realtors and other local businesses to advertise in their print publications or on banners, jerseys and the like – and assuming the website and acquiring online reviews from patients have adequate funding for the year, choosing to align with a local school, church or real estate magazine can help you create brand awareness with select groups of people in your area.
In summary, the website and an online review acquisition strategy are mandatory elements in your marketing plan, and while it’s easier to track conversions from digital advertising, it’s also more competitive so don’t be too quick to dismiss print media to grow your practice.