Marketing: It’s Simply Messaging


Have a consistent message throughout your entire business.

By Michelle Collie, PT, DPT, MS

Lots of physical therapists get a queasy feeling in the pit of their stomach when marketing is mentioned. They picture a sleazy used car salesman or even a therapist making false claims of how amazing he or she is. Marketing is a broad subject, with one article giving 72 different definitions.1 In reality, marketing is simply about letting people know who you are and what you can help them with. A business dictionary definition states:“Marketing has less to do with getting customers to pay for your product as it does developing a demand for that product and fulfilling the customer’s needs.”2 Simply put, marketing is about messaging. Maybe changing the terminology from marketing to messaging will help you feel better about this essential component to your business.

Developing a Plan

Marketing needs to be integrated with a consistent message throughout your entire business. That means you need a marketing (or messaging) plan.

Start by figuring out who your ideal patient is. Are you a sports clinic targeting athletes? Do you specialize in balance and treating older adults? You have to know who you’re talking to before you can figure out what to say. Once you have your target audience in mind, it’s time to review what you’re already doing.

Make sure the way your clinic looks, the forms you use, the services you offer, and the skills of your staff align with the type of patient you’re trying to attract. A women’s health clinic should look different from one targeting powerlifters. Make your message, your esthetics, and your services match your audience.

When you know who you’re talking to and what you want to say, you can think about how to reach them. As you refine and develop your plan, you can divide your strategies into external and internal marketing.

External Marketing

External marketing is what most people think of when they hear the word “marketing.” This is anything you do outside your business to spread your message. Print ads, banners, speaking, and outreach to referral sources all fall into this category.

Develop relationships
Develop authentic relationships with potential referral sources. There are lots of people out there who could benefit from your expertise, but many of them probably don’t realize it.

Think of the family physician who sees patients with back pain but doesn’t know a clinic that can see them quickly. Streamline your referral process for them and see these patients the same day whenever possible. Maybe there is an athletic trainer who needs a physical therapist to treat his or her athletes after surgery, but none of the other clinics in town collaborate with trainers or communicate with them. Provide open communication with them, and you’ll build mutual respect while providing better treatment for the athletes.

Relationship building takes time and consistency. Don’t expect to see referrals show up immediately. It takes time to build trust and develop relationships that turn into consistent sources of referrals for the future.

Share your expertise
If you target a population that tends to be in the same place, find a way to get in front of them to share what you know. Lots of people will immediately think of classes, workshops, seminars, or screenings. These are all good and can work for some populations, but don’t stop there.

If your ideal patients congregate online in a Facebook group or online forum, get active there. Answer their questions, share helpful articles, or even create things for them. Develop a video on back pain, or exercises to prevent knee pain in runners. Be seen and known for being the expert, which builds your credibility.


Be online
Speaking of online content, review your website and make sure it reflects your practice and the patients you want to attract. This is one of the first places people will look to find information on you. They will judge the quality of the treatment you provide inside your clinic by the image you project outside of it. Learn how to use social media to connect with patients and referral sources. You don’t have to be on every platform, but choose the one or two that your target audience is most likely to be on. Facebook users are a different group of people than those on Snapchat.

Go traditional
Consider traditional avenues like print advertisements, sponsorships, etc. It may make sense for the audience you target. It can also help develop relationships and build your credibility as an expert. If you’re targeting youth athletes, running a newspaper ad may not make lots of sense, but sponsoring a tournament or local team might.

Internal Marketing
Internal marketing is often overlooked but is very important. Internal marketing is everything you do within your practice to create an impression on your patients. This includes the look of your practice, your logo, your forms, how you answer the phone, and the actual treatment you provide.

Be consistent
Everyone in your practice needs to understand the value you provide and be able to clearly communicate it. Consider developing a template or “elevator pitch” for your practice and distributing it to staff. They don’t have to follow it as a word-for-word script, but it does give everyone the same platform to work from so you all communicate the same message. Think of how many people can’t define what a physical therapist does. Make sure your staff can tell people exactly what your practice provides and why they should come there.

Design the journey
Along with consistency in message between staff members, think about maintaining consistency through the entire process for a patient. Imagine what a patient experiences from the time they find out about your practice, all the way through treatment, discharge, and after.

How can you reinforce your message of value at each step, and tailor the experience for your ideal patient? Would your patients value an extra phone call from the therapist the day after the evaluation to answer any questions? Would it make sense to offer them something like a running group sponsored by your clinic after discharge?

Stay in touch
Maintaining a relationship with your patients after discharge is important. They might never need your services again, but you can bet that someone they know will. Figure out what makes sense for your patients. Consider occasional phone calls, holiday or birthday cards, newsletters, and events as ways to keep in touch and maintain a relationship with former patients. During your follow-up communication, don’t forget to occasionally ask for referrals.

Marketing isn’t sales, and it doesn’t have to be sleazy or uncomfortable. It is essential to the success of your business, and it is simply messaging that is intertwined in everything you do.

If you step back and think about who you’re trying to attract, then tailor your messages to that person, you can improve the effectiveness of your marketing. By providing a consistent message and meeting the expectations of your patients and referral sources, you can build a long-term strategy to ensure a consistent flow of patients. By getting your messaging right, you can create a sustainable business and focus on treating your patients.

For more information, view Marketing 101, a series of educational videos produced by the Marketing and PR committee in the Learning Center. FREE for members!


1. Accessed November 2017.

2. Accessed November 2017.


Michelle Collie, PT, DPT, MS, is the chair of the PPS PR and Marketing Committee and chief executive officer of Performance Physical Therapy in Rhode Island. She can be reached at

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