One of the first -- and perhaps most important -- steps in developing a marketing communications strategy for your practice is to clearly define your target audiences. Who are the people and groups that you need to reach and influence in order to achieve your marketing objectives? What do they want from you, and you from them? How do you reach and motivate them?
Your practice, and every business, depends on people and communications. A solid marketing strategy has to be built around the audiences that impact your business. The more you know about your audiences, the more focused or targeted your strategy can be. Audience intelligence is critical to developing effective messages, an effective media mix, and choosing the right tactical tools to reach your audiences.
Your target audiences may include current and prospective patients; referring healthcare providers and key staff members; your employees; and the news media. Each of these groups, and individuals within these groups, can be very important and influential to your practice’s success. Generally, we speak about audiences as either a “primary” or “secondary” audience. The primary target audience is usually the end-user of a service or product; and the secondary audience might be influencers, individuals who would refer the primary target (e.g., the media and employees).
The reason you might group individuals together into an audience segment is because these individuals share the same or similar relationship with or to you and your practice; their motives and reasons for buying from or referring to you may be shared as well. Grouping audiences together will enable you to talk to a larger group at once and thus be more efficient and targeted with messaging and strategies to reach and influence them. The dissecting or “segmenting” of audiences can get rather complex, especially for larger organizations.
For most practices, looking at a few segments and dividing them into primary and secondary audiences is all that’s needed. Later, you can segment further…looking at, for example, demographics, psychographics, even health profiles or diagnoses for patients to better target these audiences.
You already know that your primary target audience is patients. Without them, you wouldn’t be in business, right? Important to the lifeblood of your practice are your existing patients and also new patients. This is an obvious segment because the patients that you have -- and the ones that you want -- should share similar characteristics, wants, needs, even demographic and psychographic profiles, and they buy a similar service from you. In developing your marketing strategy, think of them as a group with similar messages and tactical products developed for communication. You will reach them by using similar tactics.
In fact, to determine your prospective patient target profile, the best place to start is by taking a very close look at the patients that you have. It’s amazing what you can learn by just doing targeted searches of your patient databases, especially if you have a user-friendly EHR, to analyze your existing patients and draw some conclusions relative to new prospects. You can apply this same analogy to your secondary audiences as well.
Referring healthcare providers, including their key staff members and prospective referring physicians, are an important secondary audience for virtually all practices. Without referrals you might not be in business either. While these healthcare providers don’t buy your services directly, they can strongly influence your primary audience. We consider them to be “influencers” and very important to your business. Your messages and outreach strategy would be different for physicians than for your patients, however. Consider what you might want to communicate to a referring physician’s practice manager versus what you might say to a new patient. While the overall messages might be the same for all audiences, there will obviously be different communications strategies and tactical tools developed for the secondary audiences.
As you can see, it will be much easier to develop a marketing communications strategy, and even a tactical plan, once you have identified and segmented your audiences. Building your plan around your audiences will help you to stay focused on the people that matter the most. Given how critical patient satisfaction and customer service is both now and moving forward, I urge you to not overlook your own employees as an important secondary target audience segment as well.
Keep in mind that once you have defined the audiences by using the intelligence that you have from your practice databases, it will be important to think about what additional information you might need and how to build in ongoing surveys, important questions into your new patient records so that you can continue to collect important audience intelligence, track your strategies’ effectiveness, and make changes as necessary. Exploring the built-in capabilities that you already have, say in your EHR, or how you might use surveys to develop an open dialogue with patients while getting important information from them are all options to consider. And a great topic we can explore in a future blog post.
Cindy Thomas Wright has practiced marketing and communications for more than 25 years. She owns a strategic marketing and communications firm, Thomas Wright Partners, that works with leaders in healthcare, industry and government to develop brands and programs that build consensus, grow business and effect change.