Marketing Matters: Learn the Four Ps
Use a comprehensive approach to promote your specialty contact lens practice.
By Gary Gerber, OD
With so much being said lately about “specialty contact lens practices,” it’s time to take a closer look at how you can market yours. When considering “marketing,” many practitioners’ thoughts default to advertising or promotion. While both should be a part of a solid marketing program, taken as one, they are only one part of a comprehensive marketing plan. Traditionally, the four main areas to consider are the “Four Ps”—product, price, place, and promotion.
This may be the most difficult area of your marketing program because this “P” requires you to define exactly what you’re promoting. On the tangible side, we’re selling contact lenses. That seems obvious enough until we put the word “specialty” in front of “lenses.”
What exactly is a “specialty lens?” Is a daily disposable –2.00 –1.25 x 180 toric lens a specialty lens? What if that lens is axis 045? Experienced fitters recognize that oblique axes lenses are usually more challenging to fit compared to those that are either with- or against-the-rule. Yet, should a mere 45° geometric rotation change your marketing plan or your definition of a specialty lens?
Now consider a presbyopic patient who presents with a plano distance correction and a +2.00D add OD and OS who is highly motivated to wear lenses. After 14 visits and 19 different lens permutations, if that patient ultimately wears a +1.75D lens on one eye, is that lens a specialty lens?
The definitions are clear cut for obvious cases such as in keratoconus or post-penetrating keratoplasty. However, those same definitions become quite amorphous for other cases. Perhaps the reason that nearly all of us will agree that keratoconus patients are “specialty lens” patients becomes clear when we see that the “specialty” isn’t the lens—it’s the patient.
Unless you’re incredibly fortunate with your fits, you’ll become very friendly with your keratoconus patients because it’s rare for them to be successfully fit during one visit. Conversely, returning hyperopic astigmats whose current lenses are still a great choice for them are not terribly “special” and require very little of your time.
My advice in defining your specialty lens “P-product” is to define your specialty lens patient instead. From there, the three remaining “Ps” will make more sense. Think “specialty” in terms of the anticipated amount of time, expertise, and experience that it will take to fit a particular patient. This three-legged rubric, weighted however you personally think it should be, will guide you through the remainder of your marketing program. When the combination of your time, expertise, and experience is significant, you probably have “specialty” patients on your hands—regardless of the lenses with which they are fit.
Next, with “specialty” defined and centered on the patient versus the lens, consider what this group of patients is actually buying. While the lenses themselves may be far superior technologically to their habitual lenses, what they are really buying are results. Like all contact lens wearers, they are buying the ability to see with contact lenses (and, often, the perceived ability to see better compared to with their glasses) as well as the self-confidence and freedom that any contact lens provides. In addition, many of these patients realize their cases are complex and require an added level of expertise. While not all want to pay for that expertise, most understand that they are more challenging compared to more common, straightforward cases.
Until you have clearly defined your product, and the prospective customers’ drivers to buy that product, do not move on to the remaining three steps. To summarize: the product that you’re selling is your specialty clinical capabilities, and you’re selling it to people who want the benefits of freedom from glasses that your unique capabilities provide.
For the moment, let’s dream and pretend that there are no insurance or vision care plan influences affecting how you price your specialty lens services. With that in mind, patients’ perception of the value that you provide will determine how much you can charge. Those who see what you offer as “life changing” will pay a lot more compared to those who view it as “just a more expensive contact lens.”
Consider this definition: Value = Quality ÷ Price. With quality remaining constant, as price goes up, value drops. In this case, we need to ask “quality of what?” And as mentioned above, it’s the quality of the patients’ view of the life-changing benefits of your services. If you want to charge a high fee commensurate with the three-legged rubric of time, experience, and expertise, then you’d better really deliver the goods.
Historically, our experience as consultants shows that most fees are woefully low and inadequate for the patient benefits that a specialty lens practice provides. When you finally successfully fit a recalcitrant dry eye patient or a keratoconus patient who has been miserable and partially sighted for years, such patients are often more than willing to pay five to seven times what we typically see being charged by most practices.
I’m not advocating that you increase your fees because you can, rather because you should. You are providing a service that, for many patients, will totally redirect and amplify their quality of life in a positive and profound manner. Your years of training and experience are to be rewarded for doing so. Yes, there will always be patients who can’t afford your services; for those, you could have a discounted fee, offer a payment plan, or refer the patient elsewhere. But for the majority of patients who have been struggling for years to find great vision with comfortable lenses, a fee higher than what most eyecare practitioners currently charge is reasonable.
Now, let’s turn the dream off and deal with insurance. Some plans have a set fee for specialty lenses that, in some cases, barely covers the cost of the materials. Others are more forgiving and allow a small profit. One strategy here is to let patients know upfront that, due to the complexity of their case, you expect that additional visits will be necessary and that there will be a charge for each additional visit. This is opposite to the global fee that many of us charge now. However, with poorly reimbursing insurance plans, you might not have another choice.
The next alternative is the one that many of our clients have chosen. Once their specialty practice was up and running and they had worked through the previously mentioned insurance challenges, they decided to no longer participate with those plans that did not reimburse them at a level that they personally considered to be a reasonable rate. With an established practice that often works on referrals from other patients, this has proven to be a viable strategy; those patients who are referred know in advance that, “He’s really good. He doesn’t take your insurance, but is worth every penny you’ll pay him.” This isn’t unlike how elective plastic surgeons and refractive surgery practices operate.
If you don’t participate with most insurance plans, you have other pricing concerns—price competition and patient shopping. If your fees aren’t covered but those of other practitioners are, you have to revert back to the value equation and convince patients that the delta in the fees is enough of a qualitative difference to warrant that they visit your office. This isn’t easy, but just as when comparing a Hyundai to a Mercedes, it’s possible.
Don’t view pricing as static. If they like you at $100, they might just love (or hate) you at $150. You’ll never know until you try. Slowly adjust fees upward until patient acceptance starts to wane, then slightly back down. That should get you at about the best possible fee.
Finally, in the context of marketing, a higher fee by itself can help bolster your standing and credibility as a specialist. Who would you rather have performing your heart surgery: the doctor who charges $500, or the one who charges $50,000? I didn’t ask which you would rather pay. The question illustrates that in the absence of any other information, most of us equate higher fees with better care and perceived better outcomes. Use that to your marketing advantage. This means that should you decide to do any sort of price promotion or discounts, the discount itself can work against the credibility that you’re trying to establish.
There’s not too much to discuss here because the method by which the specialty services are distributed involves some sort of patient-to-practitioner or patient-to-staff contact. By design, that means that the services will take place in your practice (exceptions might be those who work in nursing homes, perform house calls, etc.). The “place” for the lenses, however, needs some discussion.
If you define specialty as above, in which it’s centered on the patient and not the lenses, then some lenses that you fit may be readily available for patients to buy online. In that case, make sure that you have a strategy to neutralize Internet dispensing of lenses. Much has been written about this before as it relates to non-specialty lenses, and much of the strategy depends upon increasing yearly supplies as well as your ability to inventory your “go-to” lenses. The point here: If “specialty” refers more to the patients and what they experience, you can use the same Internet competitive strategies for specialty lenses as you would for other lenses.
With the first three “Ps” in place, it’s time to discuss promoting your practice. There are two avenues for you to pursue—conventional and social media. And, as with most promotions, you should plot out your attack plan on a calendar to make sure that you can build “brand equity” and sustain the momentum of your promotions throughout the year. For example, one post on a Facebook page won’t usually accomplish much to help your practice. But a sequence of carefully thought-out posts, supplemented by a few “snail” mailings, can pay huge dividends (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Your practice’s marketing program should use both conventional and social media.
Once your calendar is loosely in place, come up with a budget. To determine the budget, go back to your second “P”—price. Forecast how many new fits you’d like to see as a result of your marketing efforts and what your gross profit will be for those fits. For example, if you will profit $1,000 for a corneal reshaping case and you hope to perform three such cases per month for the next three months, you’d have $9,000 in gross profit. Determine what percentage of that money you’re willing to use to make a strategic bet and apply those funds specifically to your marketing efforts (e.g., 10% or $900).
Once the budget and timeline are in place, refer back to your first “P” (product) and ensure that the product message you defined is in all of your promotional materials. Avoid the temptation to stray from that messaging. Remember to sell and promote the benefits of contact lenses to the patients, and avoid the trap of talking too much about the contact lenses themselves.
Conventional Marketing Snail mail, newspaper, television, and radio are still viable ways to advertise even in our current digital age. Content is still king, and these methods still work if you have a good story to tell. This sort of classic approach relies on marketing from one (you) to many (prospective patients). All of the principles of sound marketing apply here; great copy, clean graphics, consistency, and repetitiveness are all critically important.
Social Media Social media should maximize a many (current patients) to one (prospective patient looking for a particular solution) approach. In this case, you’re having happy patients discuss their experiences with your practice and how it has impacted their lives. These testimonials can become passive and credible billboards for your practice.
Don’t be shy about asking happy patients to write something for you to use on either your Facebook page (which should be solely dedicated to your specialty practice and not commingled with your general practice) or on any support group forums to which they may belong. For example, if they are members of a keratoconus or dry eye support group, ask them to write about what it was like to be a patient in your practice. You probably will have a very, very small audience in these groups, but it’s a perfectly targeted one. CLS
Dr. Gerber is the president of the Power Practice, a company offering proven and comprehensive practice and profit building systems. You can reach him at www.PowerPractice.com and follow him on Twitter @PowerYourDream.