Recently, a friend posted on Facebook: “Has anyone tried shopping on Amazon? How does it work?”
This was from a person who is tech savvy. He uses a computer at work daily to design digital networks for schools and businesses, and then dispatches crews to install them. He obviously has a computer at home to keep up with friends and family. He’s wired. So how in the world had he never used a ubiquitous service such as Amazon to buy something online?
Perhaps more interesting were the comments that followed his post. About half welcomed him and described how they loved using Amazon to avoid crowds, score the occasional special offer, get speedy delivery, and easily return things that did not work out.
Most of the remaining comments expressed surprise and condolences. Some less-kind responders suggested that he check out other modern wonders, such as deodorant, dental floss, and indoor plumbing. And perhaps a few just quietly unfriended him.
This person had unwittingly exposed that, in at least one area of his life, he was on the wrong side of the “digital divide.”
Digital haves and have nots
The digital divide is real, and if you are trying to grow your chiropractic practice without awareness of it, you may experience frustration. That’s because only part of your marketing efforts are spent on reaching people The other parts are going unheard. Or perhaps more accurately, are unhearable.
Information today is everywhere. Hundreds of outlets blast information and news—fake or otherwise—onto desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Sometimes it seems that where once the challenge was to find information, today the challenge is to filter out what you want from an avalanche of data.
But, ultimately, plugged-in people can access knowledge with their fingertips. This gives them much more opportunity for success than people who are not fully participating in the digital revolution.
The government takes this problem seriously. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission places a special tax on phone calls to help level the playing field between the digital haves and the have nots.
- Called the Universal Services Fund, this tax helps pay for a program called “E-Rate” that helps provide computers, networks, and internet access to schools and public libraries in underprivileged areas.
- To facilitate connectivity at home or out in public, programs exist to provide free cellular
This would imply that the ability to access information is related to economic status. This may not be the whole story, however.
We can see that the digital divide may have causes besides poverty by looking again at my friend who was unfamiliar with Amazon. He grew up comfortably. He learned electronics in the Army, and served in Germany for years installing microwave communications systems.
On his return to the U.S., he got a good job with a major oil company, tending pretty much the same equipment that he did while in the service. Eventually, he traveled the country, troubleshooting those pizza-sized satellite receivers that gas stations use to connect to the home office, and to pipe in music to fuel by.
Mind the (other) gap
Arguably, this fellow is smart, engaged, technologically savvy, well-traveled, and possesses adequate resources to shop online; how is it he had never purchased something from the world’s largest online shopping network?
Consider this factor: Age
Hypothesis: People tend to cling through life to the same communications tools they used in their formative years.
Implication: Doctors who advertise only in channels they are personally familiar with may inadvertently isolate themselves from potential clients— people who could be interested in the doctor’s services but never hear the message.
Generational theory, developed by William Strauss and Neil Howe, describes demographic age groups, and generally indicates the tools people of a given generation prefer to use to communicate.
The table to the right shows that older generations enjoy seeing the people they are talking to, while progressively younger generations accept increasingly remote communications. Also, older generations prefer tangible and durable communications (e.g., physical letters), while younger generations prefer portable electronic devices.
It is worth pondering why this is the case. One suggestion is that older adults enjoy close and personal communication in order to accommodate for deteriorating hearing and vision.
It happens that the catalyst that led my friend to ask on Facebook how to shop on Amazon was his switching to a new communications tool—he had obtained a smartphone. He is of an age where he would have been happy continuing with a standard cellphone, but his company directed all supervisors to buy smartphones, so that they could more quickly respond to problems in the field.
His generation talks. But the people who work for him are a generation that texts. Talking on the phone to anyone, let alone to a supervisor, may be uncomfortable for them. Moving the supervisors to the communication medium preferred by the field staff is an example of crossing the digital divide. And once my friend adopted a smartphone, he discovered the world of Amazon and publicly asked about what he had been missing.
Know the territory
If you want to cross the digital divide and reach new customers by using chronologically appropriate channels, what would be the steps?
First, conduct a market survey. Your patients usually come to your office for services, and most people will generally travel only a limited distance.
Draw a circle on a map that centers on your location, and reaches out from there. You can nudge it further out over areas with good freeway access or convenient public transportation.
Obtain demographic data (try government agencies or realty sources) and find the age profile of people in your circle and compare it to the generations table. Now do the same for your practice’s advertising and marketing expenditures. Are there big differences?
You may have a problem regarding the digital divide, and you could be missing out on customers from an important demographic. Do they line up? If so, you are probably in a good place regarding your communications strategies.
Not long ago, it was typical for chiropractors to seek opportunities to promote the virtues of chiropractic care through lectures and speeches. Many developed informative presentations, often accompanying their lectures with props such as models and skeletons.
Other chiropractors focused on public service, providing physicals for school sports, scoliosis exams for youth at schools and church groups, and giving the occasional speech at civic clubs such as Kiwanis or Rotary.
Effective as these activities can be, they are costly to provide in terms of time, effort, and return on investment. Also, public speaking isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But don’t make the mistake of thinking stand-and-deliver marketing is no longer effective. For the older demographic, it may be just the ticket.
High-touch, eye-to-eye communication may work for another market segment as well: A practitioner who has expertise in treating athletes can sometimes develop an opportunity to reach people through their favorite activity.
But how do you reach out to other demographics? As it turns out, the barrier to entry varies depending on their area of interest. What opens the door to one group may shut it to another.
One thing is certain, however: Once you gain an understanding of your clinic’s area of service and the prospective patients available, and begin to align your media mix and advertising spend on these targets, waste is reduced and progress can be gained. A good web presence that includes social media in the mix is a key to this success.
Waking up the web
There is no reason computer-savvy doctors can’t maximize their own web presence. And there are definite advantages to it:
- It is cost-effective (if you subtract the opportunity cost of the time spent to do it).
- Getting your hands dirty helps you to understand this part of your business. If you later choose to employ professional help, you will be better able to judge whether fees are fair or exorbitant.
- When you know what you like and know how to tell your story, you will be better positioned to explain what you want to consultants.
That said, consider whether developing your own web presence is the best use of your time. If you are already a web wizard, it may be a great idea.
If you are just wading in to save some money, think twice. You have a practice to run and grow, so separate the things only you can do from those that can be done by others. You don’t need to study sign painting if you want your name on your building.
With your practice growth in the balance, this may not be the best time to learn on the job.
But don’t jump into outsourcing the job of building your web presence unless you have deep pockets. There are service providers who will help you increase your business, and there are “those other guys” who may charge a lot and deliver little. How can you differentiate between the two?
Fortunately, just as there are review and rating sites for doctors, there are also review sites for web consultants. Consider these, but maintain a healthy dose of skepticism.
An angry reviewer may be acting out of frustration, or may not have understood the terms of the contract, or may have had unrealistic expectations. There are many good web consultants, but even the best of them can’t change the course of a practice immediately.
Doctors who hand over their web duties to others should put away their rose-colored glasses, keep their eyes wide open, interview candidates carefully, and ask for references from the candidates’ other customers. It never hurts to start small and build slowly from there.
Ultimately, success in marketing hinges on your ability to tailor your message and type of communication to that of your target demographic. Talk to your ideal patients in the way and in the places they most strongly prefer.
Rick Lehtinen has written about chiropractic issues for fifteen years and was a content author at ChiroCode Institute in Spanish Fork, Utah. Lehtinen has written books, articles, and newsletters about HIPAA, ICD-10 coding, data centers, computer security, broadcast engineering, and organic gardening. He resides with his wife in Mesa, Arizona.