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What Happens Here, Stays Here

las_vegas.jpgI received this email from a chiropractor this morning:

“I plan to open an office in a town of 18,000 people January 8, 2007. I would like to advertise in the local paper and was wondering if you have any example formats or suggestions as to what should be included or avoided. I put together a little description of the spine relating to the nervous system and its effects on our health, without mentioning back pain or neck pain. Do you think that is wise? I didn’t want to be labeled a “pain” doctor, yet I don’t want people to think that I can’t treat those symptoms. I just want to communicate that the underlying problem is more than pain; it’s the nervous system. Thanks for any suggestions you may have.”

The fact is, whether you want to be labeled a “pain doctor” or not is largely outside your control. Because you already have that label. It was assigned about the time chiropractic care became a reimbursable expense under indemnity insurance policies. Decades later, the damage is done.

Virtually every marketing student knows you must reach the consumer where he or she is. While advertising critics suggest that advertising creates needs that aren’t there, in reality, it simply taps into a preexisting want. And the fact is, the vast majority of people don’t consult a health care provider unless they have a specific complaint. And only then when it gets bad enough to put a crimp in their lifestyle. While some would point to dentistry as an exception, that’s only because the dental profession invested in a major educational program targeting elementary school children in the 1960s.

So, the short answer is, without the momentum that an established practice enjoys, you’ll probably want to take the symptom angle. But rather than being thought of as a pain doctor, how about being seen as an innovator?

New Solution to Back Pain.
Drug-Free Headache Solution.
Innovative Answers to Chronic Pain.
Groundbreaking Relief!
Breakthrough Results: Naturally!
Natural Pain Relief That Works!
Relief Without Drugs or Surgery.
Scientific Discovery Offers Relief.

Those who have a vision for chiropractic to assume a prevention and wellness persona (which I applaud) will likely cringe at these suggestions. However, as a practical matter, there just aren’t enough people willing to show up in a doctor’s office (of any ilk) when they’re symptom-free.

“Well, advertising as your suggesting simply pushes further away the day they will,” observes the critics.

Maybe. But the public doesn’t link chiropractic with wellness. And imposing such a connection in your advertising will be seen as either unbelievable, irrelevant or both.

Remember when the city of Las Vegas unsuccessfully tried to advertise itself as a family destination? Spending millions, it couldn’t “buy” itself a new perception. Instead, it returned to, and amplified its perceived reputation as an “adult playground” with considerably greater success.

Give patients and prospective patients what they want. Then use your relationship to explain what they need. Some call this “bait and switch.” I call it “up-selling.” The former is based upon philosophical wishful thinking and the latter on down-to-earth pragmatism.

Comments (5)

Mark R Steed, DC:

Happy New Year Bill,
I couldn't agree more with your assessment. It seems obvious to me that our percetion by the public must be accepted as it is NOW, and then incorporated and built uon before we can move them to a broader understanding of health, particularly in the area of advertising for new patients. I've been trying to include some aspects of each in some print ads to attract peole according to their level of current understanding. Since most prosepective NEW chiropractic patients still continue to seek chiropractic care primarily due to symptomatic reasons, do we want them to go to chiropractors whose understanding of chiropractic and the underlying basis of care is no more profound than their own? It doesn't matter so much why they come initially, what does matter is our actions in alignment with our purpose in our practice after they get there. Some patients will get the message, some won't. Even the musculo-skeletal pain based patients can appreciate you're offering more, they're just not buying now. Some will return when the paradigm shifts more and more, or if they begin to see the short-sightedness folly of insurance-medical-pharmaceutical approaches. Keep up the good work you do for the chiropractic profession. You are greatly appreciated!

Dear Bill, Gandhi said 'be the change you want to see in the world.'
It seems to me, that advertising backaches does deeper damage then public perception. In having the mindset focused on pain, well, why not massage, acupuncture, homeopathic and physical therapy to also dull the pain away. New chiropractors now see the art as more about back pain then before. Now, they work, as all children do, to do it better then their parents. If the message is backaches, then the goal starts to become more about backaches and more about relief, which can take any from, and usually leads away from focus on an adjustment.
I believe that if every chiropractor took a stand and made their marketing about wellness, vitality and children under care, our whole profession would change direction overnight! I am working to be the change I want the profession to be, and I am willing to take my lumps to that end. It is short mindedness that has gotten our profession in to trouble. Being mindful of the future in investing in our own health as a profession.
I will however, strongly commit this new year to your words Bill, as I work to give the message in a language people will have a better chance of hearing, which I have not done so well at in the previous year. I have always shunned the use of symptoms until just recently, when I found that was a language that people use, not just a complaint of weakness.
I tell my patients, the Eskimo’s have 18 different words for snow, and maybe we should have 18 different words for pain. Pain is talking to use and can tell a story, if we listen.
I used to coach gymnastics in a former life. I taught my gymnasts that there is a difference between the pain of injury and the pain of getting stronger like push ups! Quickly the students caught on and while they where doing push ups one of them chanted "more pain!!" because he knew the difference.
In this place is where I will spend my time marketing in the next year.

Evan Hughes D.C.

I agree, and thanks for the useful title tags. I am going to use them for my local Google sponsored link ads.

Fred J. Blum, DC:

Whew, tough one Bill...

I surely understand your point of view. And I'm a veteran of trying to do wellness ads (full page display, advertorial, etc.) with basically no success. It took me about $1500 to discover that my ads, while basically well done from a marketing perspective, had very little audience. So on that count, I agree with you.

However...

I am committed to, and am buiding a wellness practice from the ground up. I practice Network Spinal Analysis and, frankly, it can be too weird for people that just want relief without any sense of connection to their lives. So my choice was to build my practice one member at a time. This is a little time consuming...screenings, talks, etc...but it HAS been effective. And nearly everyone that comes into my office these days (average 3-5 new members per week) are coming for wellness and signing up for extended pre-pay care plans. So I'm just telling you...it CAN be done, but it will take some work, a new communication model for most docs and a little patience.

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From December 29, 2006 8:23 AM

This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 29, 2006 8:23 AM.

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