7 Principles of a Successful Marketing Campaign


How to tap your inner Don Draper.

By Tom Nagle*

As owners, proprietors, and leaders of practices, you are well aware of the marketing challenges that face most companies—from creating an image or brand, to driving leads and referrals, to building a long-term customer/client base cost-efficiently.

What can you as a practice owner learn from looking at some of the most effective marketing campaigns in American history? And what can a small physical therapy practice learn from the millions of dollars and vast resources applied to those campaigns? Plenty, if you work from first principles that apply to marketing at every level. From the iconic “Got Milk?” campaign to “Cotton: The Fabric of Our Lives,” and the more recent “Cans Get You Cooking,” these seven principles are essential to any successful marketing program.

1. Plan First – Buy Second. Too many small companies and practices start their marketing plan with a sales call from a media rep. Start first with an internal discussion among your team about the following principles—and talk to sales reps only after you have addressed each principle.

2. Clarity of Purpose always seems self-evident and yet often is not. We have had repeated engagements wherein existing campaigns are funded by companies when members of the management team, no matter how small, have wildly different expectations and definitions of success—or none at all. It’s not enough to be better known, or to “get our brand out there.” Are you trying to generate client leads? Is referral source development your primary goal? Not setting clear goals is often a consequence of moving too quickly to ads and social media communications without a business “theory of the case.” (See Principle 4.)

3. Research-based decision making makes sense, especially for small businesses! A wealth of research and data is available from multiple sources. One great source is a member association such as the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). If you are talking to media companies, ask them, “What can you tell me about profiling my clients?” You may be surprised at the data they can make available as part of the selling process.

4. “Theory of the case” sounds like a mystery, but marketing doesn’t have to be a mystery. Simply put, there has to be a clear theory about how the application of your marketing dollars will be used across multiple marketing and communications activities to get to the desired business outcome—clients and revenue. It is a theory of business and marketing that sequential actions and reactions applied to the present situation will lead to the desired and specific outcomes. No large corporate CEO would ever go to her board and suggest that “new ads” were the entire plan for growth. Nor should you think that all it takes is new ads or press releases. Real and quantifiable business outcomes require a full palette of coordinated marketing, communications, sales and distribution strategies operating under a cogent and clear business strategy (or “theory of the case”).

5. “Critical mass” is the honest assessment of necessary spending that is often difficult for typical small business marketers—there is in fact a minimal spending level required to be heard in a given marketplace, or to expect discernible results. If you cannot commit the minimal resources, you need to rethink your strategy. A small budget should mean smaller target definition and fewer specific goals. Reduce your goals and scope to fit the budget and to get “critical mass” against a smaller universe of targets. It is a harsh truth that is too seldom discussed, or worse yet ignored in favor of clever messages that seem too true not to work. The minimums vary by market, goals, and target, but they are always there.

6. Message about what customers think, not what you think. It is a common error to think that marketing is about changing people’s minds. It’s not. It is about putting your services and your goals in the context of what they already think—match your message to the culture. Your messages should be about the consumer/client and what they think. Demonstrate to them how your services fit in their existing mindset of how they understand their problems and needs. Any message strategy that starts with what you think has a very good chance of not working. You’ll have plenty of time when they are in your practice to explain what you and the staff think. Good marketing is about the customer, and speaks in terms they understand and identify with, about their needs, their wants, and their beliefs.

7. Metrics-driven accountability & ROI. It is the rare marketing campaign indeed that has a credible return-on-investment (ROI) foundation for its definition of success, or the tools and metrics to measure whether the ROI is being achieved. But at the level of a small practice or even group of practices it is a bit easier. Simply put, how does your marketing spend compare to the revenue that the campaign creates? Don’t just count the initial visit or series of visits, but consider the average number of visits or revenue you get from a new client and then use that average as the value of a new client.

This list of 7 principles consists of brief snippets on subjects that could each be their own column or article. Also, keep in mind that all of these principles are “pre-campaign,” meaning before you even think about agencies and creative ideas, communications strategies, social media and all the rest.

Tom Nagle

Tom Nagle is an author, marketing consultant, and managing partner at Statler Nagle, LLC. He can be reached at tom@statlernagle.com.

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