A Pocket Guide to Pillar of Community Marketing
By Brian Taylor
In the age of smartphones and even smarter public relations and marketing agencies, it’s easy for audiologists to invest some significant quid to garner the services of one of many exceptionally keen and clever advertising agencies. Their feats are likely to generate ample office traffic, which will keep food on the table and an occasional pint in hand. Let me be the first to say whoever provides this sage marketing counsel to your practice ought to be lauded and they’re advice is to be ignored at your own risk for it is indeed vital to have a consistent marketing plan and advertising strategy. No one will dispute this claim. The challenge, gentle reader, is the lack of authenticity in your advertising campaign when it is created and executed by an outside firm, even when this firm has a proven track record of unbridled success. There’s a certain feeling of self-respect and enormous pride taken when you chase the brass ring of prosperity using your own authentic voice to spread the word about your noble work, rather than the contrived vicissitudes of a group of PR suits who have no skin in the game. Authenticity, which is your ability to maintain coherence between what you think and what you say and do, is a critical element in building a credible image within your community. The objective of this pocket guide is to provide a set of reality-based actions that will allow you to get out from your behind your audiometer and generate consistent referrals. Doing this will foster pride in your profession, success in your business and separation from the herd. It all starts with something interesting, unique and even a little different to say.
Have a story to tell
Referrals, the valued lifeblood of any practice come in a variety of forms, and the one commonality with any good referral source starts with a memorable story to tell. Although it might be tempting for someone else to create your story, resist their advances and devise your own story about your practice. Your story needs to tug at the heartstrings of your audience. Thus it must be personal, emotional and say something about how a 30 to 60 minute experience in your office makes an individual feel like he has been deeply and profoundly heard. For when you engage patients in this manner, they are a more likely to tell your story for you. Getting other people your story – on your terms – is the essence of all good marketing campaigns.
Crafting a good story has nothing to do with your training or years of experience, but what you’ve learned in the classroom or on-the-job may contribute in a big way to how you’ve delighted the limbic system of the person with a suspected problem with his hearing. Like a fingerprint or personality, no two stories are exactly alike and it is those differences that make for a persuasive, ear-grabbing story. Here are some questions to ponder that will help you craft your story:
- What is the quality of the relationship between members of your staff? Staffs that trust and respect each other are more likely to develop high trust relationships with patients.
- How good of a listener are you? Good listeners attract more patients and help foster trust.
- How well do you put patients at ease? Comfortable (physically and emotionally) patients beget referrals.
- What tests or procedures do you routinely conduct that get the patient involved in the process? Procedures and tests that allow patients to become actively involved in the pursuit of a thoughtful treatment plan or reflect real world challenges associated with hearing loss will separate your clinic offerings from others who are hanging a shingle outside their office door advertising hearing care services.
- What do you do or say that cause patients to open up and talk about their hearing loss and the havoc it may have caused them over the past 10-plus years? When you emotionally connect with your patients and genuinely put the needs of the patient ahead of any monetary incentives, the privileged bond of trust between a person in need and caregiver has been established. Respect this ancient tradition of the helping relationship and your business will prosper.
- What new and innovative products or therapeutic approaches are you using that don’t have the stigma of hearing loss that will generate excitement among younger patients beginning to struggle with the hearing?
Notice that your answers to these five questions are unlikely to have much of anything to do with hearing aid technology or sophisticated test equipment. Yes, technology is important to your patient’s success, but neither better technology nor fancy equipment contributes much to your story.
Any good play or movie has a plot line – a couple of key points that hold the story together. Your story is no different and you can use these five critical touch points to lay the foundation from which a memorable story is built. For each of these five interaction stations develop an improvisational script that builds trust between you and each patient. These are the pivotal scenes where the drama occurs in your practice. Like a skillful actor you need to find ways to turn in an Oscar-winning performance in these five scenes:
- Phone call (you’re the supporting actor here, your front office person plays the lead role)
- Greeting (another opportunity for your front office person to be the star of the show)
- Initial case history (you’re the lead actor for the final three scenes)
- Hearing Assessment
- Explanation of Results
Taken one step further, you can rely on a bit of research to create your story. Preminger et al (2015) suggest trust between the clinician and patient will be strengthened when the audiologist demonstrates the following set of skills. In other words, do these five things consistently in the five scenes listed above and you will have created a memorable story.
- Exhibit effective communication skills (Looks people in the eye, engages in conversation …skills you were taught when you were a mere lad)
- Displays empathy (Genuinely understands what it’s like to cope with hearing loss and all of the emotions and behaviors associated with it)
- Enables shared-decision making (Uses tests and procedures that allow the patient to actively participate in the entire process)
- Promotes self-management (Teaches patients how use hearing aids properly and become emotionally adjusted to improved hearing)
- Exhibits technical competence (Relies on validated tests and scientific decision making principles that engender trust)
Those public relations dandies in the Savile Row suits have a phrase for what all of the elements listed are intended create: a core brand message. Having the gumption to create your own brand message will enable your practice to stand apart as a pillar of your community. Of course, consistently doing these things, along with a few other technical procedures increase the chances of a successful patient, one who is benefitting from your treatment and satisfied with the results of your service.
Inspire others to repeat your story
Now that you’ve been exposed to the key drivers of creating a memorable story, let’s examine how your story gets told. Unlike other times in human history when the only way to hear a story was to gather around the hearth and listen to a village elder spin tales of intrigue, today we have numerous ways to broadcast a good story. Similar to ancient times, however, the best way to tell a story is still face-to-face. Body language and all the subtle non-verbal cues of communication bring life to any story, and the story others tell about their experience in your practice are no different.
There are three audiences that must be compelled to tell your story. They are patients that you have moved in such an emotionally compelling manner they willingly talk about their experience in your office, physicians as well as associated medical professionals who see a high percentage of older patients for assorted chronic conditions associated with age-related hearing loss, and, finally, other stakeholders in the community who are interested in the well-being of their aging brethren. Your job is to ensure that each of these groups are obliged to tell your story.
Use all forms of media from live, in-person seminars to Twitter and Facebook to tell your story. These are helpful tools for getting broadcasting your story, but at the core, your ability to oblige others to tell it will make the biggest difference to your standing within the community. This requires you take the time to build personal relationships with the three groups mentioned in the previous paragraph. Remember, you build these personal relationships by having something useful and interesting to say.
In reference to medical gatekeepers, a good place to start with the relationship building process is leading a discussion on the co-morbidities of hearing loss. These discussions can take place in a board room, a restaurant frequented by the well-heeled or face-to-face in the corridor of a busy medical clinic. Yes, the term ‘co-morbidity’ sounds dark & gloomy, but nothing will spur a group of key opinion leaders into action like educating them about the relationship between hearing loss and other bodily functions, using the scientific evidence. There is no reason to use hyperbole or innuendo when there is an abundance of data, most of it recently published in the peer reviewed literature within the past three years, unequivocally demonstrating an association between aging, hearing loss and several debilitating medical conditions. A summary of this research and how to talk about it in a scientifically-defensible manner can be found in a chapter entitled, Interventional Audiology and Disease State Marketing in my latest book Marketing in an Audiology Practice, published earlier this year by Plural. Suffice to say that you will need to spend some time learning the science behind age-related hearing loss and other chronic medical conditions like Type II diabetes and cognitive decline.
Once you’ve obtained some level of mastery of this material, you will need to devise a plan to disseminate this useful information. Perhaps the best course of action is to create a short PowerPoint presentation with a solid call to action. The core message of this call to action is, by the way, that all adults over the age of 55 should have a routine hearing screening and communication assessment. Given many individuals with normal audiograms report communication difficulties in certain listening situations, thus warranting periodic follow-up and possible intervention, it is imperative that this message is imbued within your community. This core message needs to be conveyed to all members of your community using social media, your database of existing patients and referral sources like physicians.
One final strategy to boost your professional credibility with physicians and other community opinion leaders: Follow, subscribe and read as many hearing science blogs and websites as possible. Google +, Zite and Feedly are sites (and apps) that allow you to compile press releases around key words. Once you start aggregating these press releases you can add a personalized message and Tweet them to your followers or post them on Facebook. Also, academic sites such as Evidence Updates from McMaster University in Canada or PubMed (www.pubmed.gov) are free sites that allow you to cull research from hearing science & audiology research and then Tweet & blog about it to your emerging followers. In short, content is king and in order to be the master of your domain, putting a creative, personalized spin on relevant research will help you gain pillar-of-community standing.
Expand Your Story
Once you’ve managed to generate a consistently memorable patient experience and taken the time to weave this story into the fabric of the stakeholders within your community, it’s time to expand your story. Hearing aids are likely to remain the treatment of choice for audiologists for a long time; however, traditional hearing aids continue to suffer from the taint of a medical device for the elderly and infirm. For example, data indicate the largest sub-group of hearing impaired patients using hearing aids are those over the age of 80. According to Chien & Lin, 2012 22% of individuals 80 years old and above possess hearing aids, while 17% of people with hearing loss between the ages of 70-79 and less than 10% for hearing impaired individuals between the ages of 69 to 50 have hearing aids. The morphing of consumer electronic devices and hearing aids, combined with a re-emphasis on aural rehabilitation can change the age stigma associated with hearing aids. Furthermore, if you are generating more referrals due to a call to action around hearing screening for all adults aged 55 and older, you will need alternative interventions that appeal to younger patients with milder losses.
Audiologists must expand their treatment options by offering alternative products and services that are of interest to younger clients. Your story ought not to revolve around dispensing progressing more sophisticated hearing aids. Examples of alternative products and services include Hypersound directed audio devices (www.hypersoundhearing .com) and Active Communication Enhancement (ACE) support groups. Including more products and services requires a different approach to the consultation process. Rather than simply explaining to patients the benefits of good-better-best technology tiers, hearing care professionals are encouraged to utilize a shared-decision making approach in which patients are educated on a broad array of treatment choices. Decision aids like the one shown in Figure 1, which helps a patient with a milder hearing loss navigate the pros and cons of traditional hearing aids compared to a directed audio television solution (e.g. Hypersound) may be effective. Expand yo
ur story with alternatives and your market will assuredly grow!
Figure 1. An infographic that compares directed audio to traditional hearing aids for television watching. Reprinted with permission of Jennifer Gilligan, CUNY Graduate Center, New York.
Make the necessary investments
After you have taken the necessary steps to establish yourself as a pillar of community, is it now time to hire that marketing expert or to manage your daily marketing affairs. The experts that you hire need to take your story and weave it into a consistent advertising campaign. In addition, the experts need to devise a long term advertising strategy that takes issues like seasonality of your business in consideration. Additionally, your chosen firm must measure results to provide you with a reasonable approximation on your return on your investment in them.
Many practices make the mistake of jumping on the proverbial bandwagon of price-driven, product-laden advertising. Although this type of marketing may drive some immediate results, it rarely reflects the core values of an audiologist’s practice. By taking the time to craft your story and then bringing that message to key stakeholders in your community you can deliver two things that all individuals crave: real world results from your treatment recommendation and a memorable experience when they interact with you. Using this pocket guide will help you enjoy the fruits of pillar-of-community status. You simply need the gumption to put these principles into action.
Chien, W. & Lin, F. (2012). Prevalence of hearing aid use among older adults in the United States. Archives of Internal Medicine. 172, 292-203.
Preminger J.E., Oxenbøll M., Barnett M.B., Jensen L.D. & Laplante-Levesque A. 2015. Perceptions of adults with hearing impairment regarding the promotion of trust in hearing healthcare service delivery. Int. J. Audiol., 54, 20-28.
Brian Taylor, AuD is the senior director of clinical affairs for Turtle Beach, San Diego, CA. He also serves as a clinical audiology advisor for the Fuel Medical Group. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org