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October 22, 2007
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Marketing made simple: let the 4 P’s drive your program
By Dawn Bibbs-Morrissey

Hollywood makes conducting business look easy. With the exception of a few renegade television shows (think The Office) and movies (consider Glengarry Glen Ross), life as a business person is one long escapade interrupted by golf outings.

Of these lucky stiffs, there’s none more fortunate than the marketing manager. All this gifted individual needs to do is miraculously dream up the next big product that is going to set the world on fire and develop the next monumental campaign that will make that coveted 18-to 49-year-old male put down the remote control and gape at the commercial promoting the hot new product.

Hollywood would have you believe that hitting these home runs is a ho-hum affair devoid of any need for real skill or planning. As a 17-year marketing veteran, I can assure you that the act of "marketing" and/or "selling," strange as it may seem, does require discipline and planning.

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A patient walks into your practice. What is it you do first? Conduct an intake assessment. You don’t jump to the diagnosis. Whether you are new or experienced, it’s best to start with the fundamentals. In marketing, these fundamentals are known as the "marketing mix" or, the "four P’s": product, price, place, and promotion.

People’s interpretation of the "P’s" has varied slightly over the years. Still, considering what they mean for you and your practice is a good place to start. They will help you formulate your identity and ultimately develop a promotional strategy to support it.

Product (service). Think creatively. What do you want people to think of when they think of your product — chiropractic services? And, more specifically, what do you want people to think of when they think of your chiropractic services?

In marketing, there is one fundamental truth: Perception is reality. How do you want chiropractic care and your practice of care to be perceived?

The most obvious examples of how important this is are in the automotive market. To this day, American manufacturers are fighting the perception that Japanese cars are built better and built to last. Consumers concerned with safety gravitate to Volvos; and, the surest way to insure your status will be recognized by all is to drive a German car.

Look around your community and ask yourself the questions, "Do people appreciate the value of chiropractic care? Do people understand the outcome chiropractic facilitates? As a practitioner of a highly personal, yet commoditized service, how do I set myself apart? Do I want to set myself apart? What do I currently offer, or can I offer, that will differentiate me from my competitors?"

These answers can be simple or complex, based on both your own needs and those of your current and potential patient load. In fact, the need may exist to create complementary identities for both patient types — one identity that draws in the patient who is unfamiliar with you and one that speaks to the current patient.

For example: Nurturing an identity that says you are "accommodating" may be appropriate for both your current and potential patients. In this instance, you might determine that offering late or Saturday office-hours is enough.

Or, being viewed by your current patients as a "resource" may be most desired. Possibly, revamping your business plan to put forth a practice comprised of providers in divergent disciplines would best meet this need for establishing a referral network of other chiropractors.

Don’t be myopic in your answers to these questions. Competition comes in many forms. A yoga or pilates class is less expensive and may be far more accessible to the average patient and acupuncture may be more appealing. Consider all of your competition and your ability to compete with each.

Develop your identity(ies) and live it (them). Be careful and be realistic. Be honest when you assess your skills and the sustainability of your desired niche. And remember, you can’t be all things to all people. You won’t be able to carry it off and you will dilute the desired affect.

Price. The temptation exists to independently assign value to our work. "Independently" means not considering outside forces, but rather only what you intrinsically think your work is worth. Don’t do it!

Think about your identity. How, if at all, does the identity you’re nurturing influence your pricing? Your pricing model should be defensible and consistent with it.

Consider practitioners who want to be viewed as accommodating. As a result, they have chosen a business model based on the system that offers preferred status to patients amenable to paying a convenience fee. "Price" all but drives this model.

Does the identity you’ve chosen for yourself require you to be competitive with your pricing? Or, does your identity give you license to "name your price"?

Does your identity require you to establish contractual agreements with insurance providers? Or, does your identity lend itself better to a pay-as-you-go model?

And finally, does your identity say that you promote with price (or its equivalent) or does it remain unknown?

Place. "Place" refers to "distribution." Understand the impact your service and how its price influences "place."

Ideally, you want to be accessible to the patients who will most identify with your service. If the identity you’ve chosen for yourself is "accommodating," locating yourself at the outreaches of town may not be most appropriate.

Likewise, higher prices might lead to increased expectations for comfortable surroundings and easy-to-access service.

Sam’s Club warehouse stores across the United States are located away from town centers, are housed in concrete buildings, and do not offer bagging assistance — elements that are consistent with the discount retail identity the chain has created for itself. To keep prices for bulk items of name brand products low, consumers are asked to drive a little farther and do without the frills offered in the local grocery store.

Promotion. "Promotion" is the final step of the marketing mix.

Your promotion is the element that ties it all together by communicating who you are, how much monetary value you assign to your service, and how you deliver your service.

Depending on the identity you’ve created for yourself, the benefits of one element may be more salient than another.

A "promotion" can take many shapes that include one, or all, of these elements: print advertising, Web advertising, direct mail, telemarketing, word-of-mouth, etc. How you proceed will be driven by your promotion budget and the perception you want to create in the marketplace.

To summarize these marketing essentials:

• Groundwork is necessary before arriving at the promotion stage. Consider all of the elements of the marketing mix to develop a consistent and compelling story to deliver to your current and future patients;

• Be thorough in your understanding of the market and its needs and develop an identity that capitalizes on marketplace cues;

• Build a pricing structure that supports your identity;

• Practice in an environment and locale consistent with your identity and pricing structure; and

• Deliver a message that communicates the benefits of your product, price, and place to your patients.

Dawn Bibbs-Morrissey has both an MBA and BS in marketing and strategic planning. Her 17 years in the workplace have been spent in marketing and business development. She is currently the marketing and sales director of a healthcare association located in Chicago, Ill.

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