2015 was an interesting year for fertility centers. We saw big mergers in both the United States and Canada to watch large practices become extremely large practices. Meanwhile, other practices sold equity to team up with larger management firms while some reproductive endocrinologists (RE) opened their own clinics. That's no surprise; infertility treatment remains a high-growth category. The Society for Advanced Reproductive Technology (SART) numbers show an increase in ART cycles every year from 2003 to 2013 and we expect the 2014 and 2015 reports to follow the trend. I see a few possible scenarios in this increasingly competitive market for IVF patients:
- You want to grow as an independent practice
- You are an independent practice who has to defend market share from growing competitors
- You can grow to have a higher valuation to sell equity to a management company
- You are an equity firm who needs to increase fertility patients to return your investment in a practice group
- You are a large practice group who would like to merge and acquire other fertility clinics
Whichever scenario best describes you, I generally believe that increasing market share is the best way to sustain your practice. The focus doesn't belong on converting consultations to IVF cycles, does it? From my research, patients are more likely to negatively review their practice when they feel rushed into a particular treatment option. Isn't it better if we can increase the number of consultations and let the number of IVF cycles increase by proxy? That way, according to patient feedback, you can properly manage patient expectations to provide the best possible care experience. That appears to be a virtuous cycle from which you will increase market share.
Additionally, increasing market share is a hedge against a recession. Personally, I like to be prepared for a recession, even when the economy is strong. I don't know if the next economic downturn will come in twenty weeks or twenty years, but if we're in business for long enough, we will experience one. Increasing market share from competitors helps blunt the sting of the decline in the economy. Whatever your own reasons for growing your fertility center, these are the top 7 ways to market your fertility clinic in 2016.
- Invest in patient experience. Nothing exposes a faulty patient experience better than good fertility marketing. When patient delight is at its best, marketing is far more effective (and often cheaper). You may choose to hire someone like Reconceived to help you install a patient-centered culture or you might create your own system. Research shows us that patients increasingly choose their medical practices from online reviews. We can't delete online reviews from sites like Google, Yelp, Facebook, Ratemds, or Healthgrades, so minimizing negative experiences and getting the most from positive ones is paramount to growth.
- Respond to online reviews. The patient experience extends to the online world. Patient delight is part of the conversion cycle and delight requires interaction after treatment has ended. Sometimes people are displeased with their experience with your practice. That's okay. It's important to acknowledge these patients online because your audience consists of every prospective patient who factors that review into their decision-making process. This should be done very delicately, Read the six critical rules for responding to negative fertility reviews. You can also nurture your "word-of-mouth" referral network by responding to positive reviews. These are the patients that have taken time out of their day to promote your practice and increase your social proof. Thanking them rewards and encourages a culture around your practice.
- Post original content to Facebook This is a way for you to dabble in the world of content creation. You don't need to invest much at first. You can start with your iPhone. Selfies with the embryologists, a family-style photo with the nurses, and an RE with his birthday cake will almost always garner more engagement than rhetorical questions or links to studies. Above all, it will help to instill the habits of content creation in which everyone on your team can participate.
- Start using Instagram. Instagram is an absurdly powerful connection tool in the infertility community. We have to be even more cautious with how we use it because of HIPAA regulations, but I've identified seven powerful ways for fertility centers to attract new patients with this fiercely popular medium.
- Use online video. Don't skimp on your selection of a cinematographer. Good ones don't come cheap. I would hire someone at the caliber of John Paget in your market. In my experience, the most effective use of online video is for social proof. Rather than a scripted commercial, online video can capture the feelings, emotions, and concerns of your former patients. You will need HIPAA release authorizations, but through your social media channels, you can find several delighted former patients who will be willing to share their experiences. For someone who is considering your practice, the heartfelt validation of one of their peers may be enough for them to make their decision at that moment.
- Invest in inbound marketing software. I advise this with a word of caution. It's only worth spending the money on inbound marketing software if you are also ready to invest the resources and time into creating the content that the software is intended to manage. Integramed uses a system offered by SalesForce. I personally like the inbound marketing platform offered by Hubspot. Inbound marketing provides you with a system to follow to create content to meet your goals. For example, let's say your practice does 500 IVF cycles per year and you would like to increase that by 10% in 2016. You use the content management system to track where your leads are coming from, how to increase them, and how to improve conversions. Inbound marketing is the most proven form of marketing there has ever been. But you need to be able to first quantify your goals, and be willing to invest the resources to meet them.
- Optimize for mobile. Really, this item belongs on the 2010 list, but I still see many fertility centers whose websites are non-responsive to mobile. The problem is two-fold. First, new updates to Google's algorithm tend to lower the search ranking of those websites that aren't mobile friendly. The second is that you can look at your bounce rate in your Google Analytics account. Your bounce rate may be 30 to 50% higher than normal. This means the patient is leaving your site without interacting with it because the site doesn't look good on their iPhone. The data from Google (below) demonstrates that the majority of your web traffic likely comes from mobile and tablets as well.
By all indications, 2016 will follow the trend of increased competition among fertility clinics. Some practices will merge to become larger, some will sell equity to large management firms, and some REs will go off on there own to begin new practices. Whether you are looking to defend you own market share, or to grow across multiple markets, these are the top seven ways to market your fertility clinic in 2016.