Tips for marketing in an ever-changing world
By Peter Decoteau
If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that plans and strategies are only as solid as the circumstances in which they’re created, and the only certainty in business, as in life, is uncertainty.
Still, there are ways to mitigate the impact of uncertainty in your marketing—to plan ahead for the unpredictable—in a way that creates solid footing when the rest of the land is shifting around you.
HAVE A CLEAR VISION AND IDENTITY
While the world may be changing, the core messages, driving philosophies, and key differentiators that comprise your brand identity should remain consistent. This is because if you’ve committed to consistency and clarity in these areas, your audience should by now have a strong sense of what you stand for and what makes you stand out—even in uncertain times.
This is not to say that specific language or messages you use in ad copy or on your website can’t change; on the contrary, it is essential that you speak to circumstances that directly impact how your audience will interact with you. However, these changes should fit into your identity, not the other way around.
To use the ever-changing landscape of the pandemic as an example: if your brand is built on being a forward-thinking clinic that uses cutting-edge techniques, with your key differentiators being the breadth of innovative services you offer, then your messaging can shift slightly to speak to how some of these techniques translate to telemedicine, or how they can be done in the clinic safely. In the end, it’s vital and comforting for your audience to know that, throughout all of this uncertainty, who you are will not change, only how you are.
BUILD A SOLID FOUNDATION
There are practical elements that should serve as the backbone of your marketing efforts, offering structure and stability to your strategy. These can range from the utilitarian to the operational, but provide the solid, largely static foundation upon which everything else sits, including:
- Your Website: Should be easy to maintain and quickly update, especially as news rapidly changes and the information visitors are looking for changes with it. Additionally, having the ability to update not only featured messages but content (webpages, graphics, photos, videos, articles, links and other resources) can help make sure you’re providing the most valuable, relevant information to users, which can be the difference between a new patient and a one-time visitor. While not every business has direct control over their site, having a responsive and flexible website support team is crucial.
- Your Scheduling Process: As circumstances change, your team’s ability to adapt the process of moving a potential patient (in marketing terms, a “lead”) into an initial evaluation (a “conversion”) is essential to keeping the new patient flow quick and easy for both you and the patient. This means creating a streamlined bridge between the marketing efforts that are generating leads and the operations team that is completing the conversion; making it as easy as possible for a potential patient to go from choosing your clinic as their preferred physical therapy provider to getting onto the schedule. While this may sound obvious, interruptions to any part of that process—say, implementing telemedicine or having your patient services team working from home—can introduce major logistical complications. Make sure to have a very clear workflow, perhaps even a graphic chart, of how each of your marketing activities and platforms funnel new patients onto the schedule as quickly and seamlessly as possible.
- Your Social Presence: It’s a given, at this point, that being active on social media is an absolutely essential part of marketing. Your strategy will dictate which audiences you want to reach on which platforms, but building a strong social presence with a significant base of followers is one of the best ways to prepare for uncertainty. This is because it’s one of the only ways to keep your constituents up to date on the latest clinic news and updates in real time as you navigate crises. In addition to sharing valuable, engaging content, build out your following by promoting your social media in the clinic and on materials, and most importantly, make sure to ask your patients to follow you! Reminding patients in your emails, or even asking in person, is a surefire way to beef up your social media numbers to build an active and informed community.
HAVE A FLEXIBLE, ADAPTABLE CONTENT STRATEGY
As the driver of your marketing efforts, your overarching strategy must be concrete enough in concept to provide a clear blueprint for your content strategy, while being flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances. A few tactics within your content strategy that can make the process a bit easier include:
- Use Templates: A good template provides branding and direction for content but can be adapted to different topics and messages. Graphically, that means creating the bones of the content—something that is visually and structurally consistent—while leaving room to input a wide variety of copy and media assets. An example of this might be a graphic with your logo and tagline at the top, your website and phone number at the bottom, and designated space in the middle for both photos and text. If your messaging needs to shift, the only thing that needs to change is what you place in the designated areas of the template. Likewise, templates can be used for written articles and videos as well—simply create the structure and general guidelines for the content and fill in the “meat” with the most relevant content.
- Schedule Your Topics and Themes: Monthly and/or quarterly “topic calendars” can help keep your team on the same page, reinforce key messages, get ahead of trends and be more strategic about your content. Broader than a content calendar, a topic calendar aligns the majority of your content and messaging around specific themes, such as low back pain, return to sport for high school athletes, or insurance coverage. While you may be sharing other pieces and messages throughout the same period, your featured content, shared on social media, included in email blasts, highlighted on the website, featured in advertising and used in your community/physician development communications, can emphasize the relationship between physical therapy and your chosen theme. By having such a clear, cohesive focus in the majority of your materials, you’re able to both reinforce physical therapy’s broad and diverse scope while positioning your clinic as the primary expert on that topic. When the ground once again shifts underneath your feet, you can tailor the topic to fit the need. For instance, if the high school sports season is cancelled, your content can focus on other ways for young athletes to stay active or prevent injuries.
So, uncertainty is certain, whether due to internal issues or external factors, and it can often be tempting in these circumstances to chase trends or make drastic decisions to keep pace. Still, being adaptive does not mean changing who you are or how you operate. Having a strong, consistent identity, a solid foundation of inter and intra-communications, and a flexible, adaptable content strategy are a few ways you can weather change and maintain momentum in your marketing efforts.
Peter Decoteau is the Director of Marketing at Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Centers (PTSMC), Connecticut’s largest private practice physical therapy company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.