Inbound Marketing is the process of generating helpful, relevant content for very specific buyer personas that is meant to guide them along the Buyer’s Journey, positioning a brand for success well before the prospect is ready to buy. This philosophy first became popular in the 1990’s when Seth Godin began talking about “Permission Marketing”. It took the next evolutionary steps when Hubspot founder Brian Halligan created the Inbound Methodology: Attract –> Convert –> Close –> Delight. Today, even though the tactics change frequently, the same methodology is still effective for many businesses.
Inbound Marketing works well for businesses that have a long sales cycle, defined revenue goals with an appropriate marketing budget to hit those goals, and a defined sales process. In order to determine fit for medical practices, we often have to consider the specialty and the size of the practice. (For chiropractors, see our detailed approach to chiropractic marketing.)
Why is Specialty Important to Determine Fit for Inbound?
Inbound Marketing is designed to provide resources to prospects and help them find their way down the funnel to eventually become a customer. You can already see why this won’t work for many specialties. If you were to break your arm, you’re not likely going to search for a blog post to help you learn about your problem. It’s not a long sales cycle, you need a doctor now. There’s no sales process, you just schedule an appointment. The more urgent the need, the less effective inbound will be. However, inbound can be effective for more elective specialties like plastic surgery, cosmetic dentistry, and chiropractic.
When we create marketing plans for practices that aren’t a good fit for inbound, we typically focus on three areas: Creating Awareness, Dominating Search, and Elevating Brand/Reputation. This usually means that our tactics include relevant online ads for custom audiences, making sure that the website is optimized, managing consistent and accurate information across the web, monitoring online reviews, and… wait for it… creating content.
Why Create Content if Inbound Isn’t a Fit? Because there are 290 Million internet users and 80% of them are looking for health information online. Many physicians are frustrated when their patients arrive with their own medical opinions that they’ve formed by consulting “Dr. Google”. Wouldn’t it be nice if the article they read prior to coming in for a consult was your own? Content addresses the three areas of focus that we mentioned above: It results in more effective ads, it makes your website more visible on the search engines (Google loves fresh content), and it elevates your brand by showing that you have something to say and you are willing to engage with your patient base. Besides, without content, what are you going to say on social media?
Why is the Size of the Practice Important to Determine Fit for Inbound?
Larger practices, regardless of specialty, tend to have a couple of things going for them that make Inbound a more viable option.
First, they tend to already have the “ground level” stuff covered: there is already good brand awareness, they have good visibility on search, and they are doing a good job with reputation management. With the big boxes checked, they are free to pursue more robust marketing tactics like Inbound. In addition to having established some marketing practices, there is someone on staff who is thinking about how to handle contacts who have yet to become patients. They understand their pain points, challenges, goals, and know how to speak to them.
The second reason that larger practices can consider inbound marketing is that they are more likely to have the budget flexibility to invest in large amounts of content. Inbound is a long game that builds a long term digital presence, but if you can publish one or two pieces of content per week, you’ll get there faster.
Inbound Marketing is not for every business, and certainly not for every medical practice. There can be a major upside however if you meet the criteria: your specialty has a long sales cycle, you have defined revenue goals with a proportional marketing budget, and you have dedicated staff that can help speak to the needs of potential new patients. If this isn’t you, stick to the awareness, search, and branding tactics mentioned above.