Thursday, April 3, 2008

Should Your "Practice Ethics" Be Used as a Marketing Tool?

Ethical Marketing. For some practices that phrase may seem like an oxymoron similar to “government intelligence.” For others however, it’s a core operating value.

What exactly is “Ethical marketing”? According to a recently released white paper on that subject, ethical marketing is a model of ethical interactivity between businesses and patients that includes seven practices – notice, choice, access, contact, security, horizon and intrusiveness.

Every day there are exciting new technologies being created that open up endless possibilities for Internet Marketers. As a small business owner, your email box is probably already flooded with offers every day, telling you about the “next big thing” that will help you sell more of your products or services to scores of hungry buyers.

Right now, when a patient visits your Website, you’ve got the potential to track what pages they visit, how long they stay, what links they follow. To help make buying from you even easier, your patients have the option of letting you “remember” their personal information – everything from physical address to preferences and previous purchases to their credit card information.

You can even get their personal information – such as IP and email addresses, without them having to type a single word, or lift a finger to click a mouse.

Technology, by itself, isn’t inherently good or bad. What makes the difference is your intent and how you use it.

Here are five issues when it comes to addressing privacy issues that you should be thinking about, to ensure that your practice is participating in “ethical marketing” practices.

Gathering Information – Addressing patient Privacy Issues

NOTICE: Do you tell patients what information you’re collecting, how it will be used, whether it will be disclosed to anyone else, and whether or not you’re using cookies?

CHOICE: Do you give visitors to your Website the choice to agree with how you gather information and use it?

ACCESS: Do visitors to your Website have access to the information you collect about them? Do they have the ability to review and make changes to that information?

SECURITY: Do you let your patients know that you understand their concerns about the protection of their private information, and use best practices when transferring or storing their information?

CONTACT: Do your visitors and know how to contact you, and have the name of someone in your practice to ask questions or register complaints about privacy concerns or complaints? And are those concerns or complaints handled in a professional manner immediately?

Being ethical and honest in all business dealings has always been considered good business practice. Doing business the way it has “always been done” just doesn’t work with savvy patients any longer. In the wake of scandals like Enron and Arthur Anderson and others, patients have become more cautious and skeptical and want to know more about the practices they’re doing business with. Because of their concerns over privacy and safety issues, many patients are still hesitant about making purchases on the Web.

So can your practice’s core operating values – its ethics – become an effective marketing tool?

Some experts say yes.

Here are some of the top ways small businesses can attract new patients and maintain strong support and loyalty from current ones:

1. Include words about your practice’s integrity, commitment to excellence and high standards in all your marketing, advertising and on your Webpages. When you’re thinking about what you want to say, think about these questions: How long has your practice been committed to excellence? Do you believe in integrity? How do you handle patient service?

2. Offer concrete examples of how you’re committed to excellence, integrity and honesty in all your dealings. Instead of just saying “Our service department is committed to excellence” explain why. What procedure do they follow? How are your employees involved in ensuring patient satisfaction? What guarantees do you offer your patients?

3. Get feedback from your patients. Even if you’re the only employee in your business, you can benefit from one of the secrets used by the Fortune 500 practices – it’s called “primary market research” but what it boils down to is asking your patients questions. Find out what they liked about doing business with you. But also ask what they DIDN’T like, and then take steps to solve any problems right away! Don’t make excuses, and don’t make it tough for your patients to fix something they consider to be a problem. Figure out a guarantee, and then stand behind it.

4. If you own a brick and mortar store, you can run quarterly promotions and in-house contests. For example, one inexpensive idea is to run a contest that rewards the employee who provides the best patient service during a specific time period. Or give your employees buttons that say “Ask about our 100 percent guarantee” etc. You can get really creative and make it fun for your patients and your employees, with the end result that everyone knows about your practices ethics and core operating values.

5. Add tag lines under your practice name that talk about your practice’s values. Include the same tag line on all marketing materials. Just remember to use statements that your practice will be able to stand behind for a long time, because once that’s what you become known for, the image will stick.

Just remember that if you're going to use your practice's ethics as a marketing tool, you need to adhere to them completely, with a "no tolerance" policy for any unethical practices. If you don't, this marketing tool could backfire, and you'll end up losing your credibility and your patients.

Using Niche Markets to Write Successful Sales Letters

Maybe you've written dozens of sales letters for your business, or maybe you are just starting to work on your very first sales letter. Whatever the case, keeping abreast of the information needed to craft a successful sales letter is the key to creating letters that make sales. If you already know that you need to introduce your product or service, outline the features and benefits, compare your product or service to your competitor's, and convince customers to make a purchase, you're doing well. But there is another technique that can be used to develop more successful sales letters. It's called niche marketing.

Niche marketing is a more focused form of marketing that concentrates on one specific segment of a larger market. When you select a niche, you are essentially looking at the potential customers in your field and narrowing your marketing efforts to target only a segment of these potential customers. There are many niche markets in the world, and with a little imagination, you can develop your own niche. Consider the following true-life examples of niche markets:

A CPA chooses to work exclusively with non-profit organizations

A furniture dealer focuses only on selling bedroom furniture

A book dealer focuses on selling only second hand books

A real estate agent works only with renters as opposed to buyers

As you can see from the examples above, there are many ways to narrow your focus into one specific niche. Once you find your new niche, you can think about what will appeal to these potential customers. What might appeal to the market as a whole may not appeal to your smaller niche market. Let's look at the example of a CPA who works exclusively with non-profit organizations. Because non-profit organizations deal with charitable contributions, the government requires these organizations to complete paperwork each tax year. This CPA can offer to complete this tax paperwork for potential clients. If he was dealing with the larger, overall market, not as many potential clients would be interested in this type of service.

When you start to write your sales letter, try to find ways to narrow your focus and introduce a product or service that has specific benefits. Instead of focusing on offering clarinet lessons to everyone, offer clarinet lessons for pensioners and list the benefits pensioners will get from taking lessons from you, and also offer a small discount if they present their pension card. Rather than introducing software that has many benefits for many potential customers, focus your sales letter on how the software will benefit medical professionals and outline all of the benefits that can be derived by these individuals. Once you develop a narrow market focus, you can develop a niche market-specific listing of features and benefits.

You may not like the idea of narrowing your focus when you first start out writing sales letters, however once you see the response rate of each individual sales letter compared to the response rate of one market-wide letter, you will be a true believer in the power of niche marketing. Use this technique wisely and you'll continue to reap the benefits.