This is an exciting time for chiropractic. For every obstacle we face in furthering our message of true health, there is a promising, newly opened door waiting for us to enter. For chiropractic to continue to strengthen and grow, it’s critical we recognize these opportunities and understand how to use them to our advantage. This mind set will benefit our practices, as well as our existing patients and potential new patients.
With limited third-party reimbursement, managed care, and our smaller numbers in comparison to traditional physicians, the roadblocks for chiropractic are widespread. However, if you have an opportunity to speak to people who are not yet chiropractic patients, it’s likely you’ll find encouraging news.
The more you talk to people, the more you may realize how few of them really understand what chiropractic is all about. Sounds unbelievable, but actually, this is a good thing – because it represents a challenge we can overcome. Our ability to conquer the ignorance of the masses is really based on the simplest forms of marketing, using ideas that incorporate the common sense of human behavior and a lifetime of conditioning.
We’ve all learned the great power and value of the word-of-mouth referral, and chances are about 60% of your new business comes from satisfied patients. Once you realize that, you may be tempted to minimize your external marketing costs and bask in the glory of a business based solely on referrals. However, with all the excitement in today’s wellness-related market, shouldn’t you be taking advantage of this incredible wave of awareness and speed up the growth of your practice by taking a hard look at the impact the “image” of chiropractic may have on your success?
What Image Do You Project?
If perception is, in essence, reality, what is the image you project from a patient or potential new patient point of view? Despite all the exposure you enjoy through referrals, how many other people pass by your practice as if you are invisible, simply because they don’t know what a chiropractor is – or worse yet, have a misconception about what you do. It’s quite possible these people have already ruled you out before ever meeting you or finding out what school you attended or which techniques you use. There has to be a solution to this mass form of misunderstanding.
Isn’t it true that many of us made the decision to become chiropractors based on a negative experience we had with traditional medicine, or because of a more positive experience we had with chiropractic? At some point, no matter how long ago, we’ve all been where many of our new patient prospects are today regarding our understanding of chiropractic. Nonetheless, we mistakenly market our businesses as though everyone already knows what chiropractic is all about.
What type of first impression does your marketing provide to potential new patients? Your signage would be one example. Your listing in the Yellow Pages would be another. Your clinic brochure or business cards would be yet another. Just what do those items say about who you are or what you do?
Does your signage simply state: “Chiropractor?” Are you listed in the Yellow Pages as a “Better Back Center?” Does your clinic brochure or business card show a picture or illustration of the spine? Is your business so centered and focused on the imagery of the spine or back, that there is no way people uneducated about the gifts of chiropractic would ever consider you as an option for their “non back-related” problems?
Many of you may be saying to yourselves: “…But the spine is the reason they need us; why shouldn’t we honor its importance?” No one is saying you need to change your belief system to sell your services. Quite the contrary. The only way for our expertise to be appreciated is for it to be fully understood, and thus accepted, for its undisputable truth.
To compete in a market where we are outnumbered, outspent and outmaneuvered, we are still our own worst enemies in the quest to spread the truth of chiropractic. It’s time we applied the most basic skills of marketing and realize that while we don’t necessarily consider ourselves business people, good intentions alone in a competitive market will not prevail.
Spreading the Word
Let’s review the thought process of a typical new patient prospect. A 33-year-old woman drives 10 miles to work each day. She has a husband and two young children, and in her travels each morning she drops her kids off at daycare. She passes four chiropractic offices on her way to and from the office each day. In generally good health, her only complaint is a sore hip, presumably aggravated from her pregnancies. She has never seen any type of doctor regarding the pain. Her children are also in good health, except her daughter struggles with constant ear infections.
At this point in her life, this prospective patient has more influence in the lives of others than she may ever have. She has living parents, grandparents and in-laws; has a large circle of friends a lot like her; speaks to several parents at her kids’ daycare every day who also fit her profile; and conducts business with 25 to 50 people each week. She is well-educated and has a fair amount of disposable income. She is the kind of prospect who, if she became a patient, would have the ability to have a profound impact on a chiropractor’s business through referrals. And yet, with as much exposure as she has to chiropractic clinics, she has yet to come in. Does this scenario sound painfully familiar?
If people like this didn’t exist, the story wouldn’t be so powerful; but in fact, this woman is real – and there are many others out there in similar situations. As you peer out your clinic window, don’t you wonder about the potential new patients you’re not connecting with and why? This particular woman told me she had no idea chiropractic could help her hip. “All I ever see are big pictures of spines, and I figured that chiropractors specialize in spines,” she said. “My back is okay. But I am having this problem with my hip. Can you help with that type of problem, too?”
Talk about not getting our message! And why do we assume people do understand? In what year of chiropractic college did many of us start assuming potential patients already knew what we had just learned? How could the majority of people out there possibly understand what we do, when they have been conditioned from birth to care for themselves and their kids as they were cared for, in an allopathic or “sickness care model” world?
So with this huge lack of understanding, how do we make a difference? Understand that very few people are looking for a “back doctor,” whereas the masses are looking either for relief from some form of pain or for a healthier lifestyle. Offer them what they want in terms they can relate to. Focus on getting these prospects in the door, so you can demonstrate your passion and knowledge through your levels of care.
Let your signage reflect the benefits of wellness care through chiropractic. Don’t allow yourself to just be lumped into a group called “chiropractors”; rather, assume a beneficial identity that communicates to potential patients all you have to offer. Better health, wellness, longevity and better athletic performance are all examples of the benefits of good chiropractic care.
If you would like to have a more personal identity, consider using your name or the name of the area where your practice is located. This helps people remember your name when referring to you, as well as your location. Maybe you would like to include “family” in the name, letting parents know you care for kids as well.
Begin to realize the significant message your marketing and patient education materials say about you. Be sure your image is congruent with the aspects of chiropractic you want to represent, and be sure to include what you want your prospects to learn first about you. We cannot share our philosophies and technical skills if we cannot communicate in a way that today’s prospects can easily hear and understand.
Your practice needs to succeed from a strict business standpoint, or your message is doomed to be absorbed by only a few die-hard chiropractic junkies who continue to frequent your office without referring. If you are only delivering your message to a limited audience, the potential impact from all your other marketing efforts will be minimized.
Start with basics that work and can make the most of the marketing dollars you are planning to spend. Building on that type of success provides momentum for your practice growth to occur faster and with less effort and cost. Go back and rethink your beginning. “First things first,” is what Dr. J. Clay Thompson used to say to me when he was trying to teach me technique. For some reason, I always wanted to know how to adjust the extremities first or some strange complication that I might not ever see in practice. Walk before you run, he constantly reminded me. With marketing, the principle is the same. Set your marketing priorities in the areas where you can make the most impact first, and then go to work. See you at the top!