everything changed in a hungover stupor on christmas eve, 2008
Hey, I was 23.
I came into the office late, in casual clothes, after probably only a few hours of sleep. Most of my co-workers had taken the day off. My brainwaves crackled like a static AM radio station. My cognitive function was minimal, yet somehow I had an epiphany.
I had started my career in traditional and digital marketing in mid 2007, when many of us sensed that the economy would dip. Still, things were still good for most businesses, so most operated under the status quo. Here, on Christmas Eve 2008, two months had passed since banking titans Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers went under. Nearly everyone in the business community seemed catatonic. Too frightened to take action, most business people seemed to accept that there was nothing that could be done to outperform the Great Recession. They were scared, clueless, and alone.
next time is now
I decided, in my hung-over state, that I would do something radically different in 2009...I would try.
2009 was not a lost year for me or (some of) my clients. It was the year of "getting back to fundamentals." While other reps were afraid to call their clients, I spent more face time with mine than ever. I constantly brought them new ideas and research. I supported them. I helped them negotiate better deals. I made their creative messaging the most compelling it had ever been.
I share this with you because I helped some of my clients fight off the biggest economic downturn in two thirds of a century. Financially, 2009 was an okay year. Personally, it was one of the best years of my adulthood. I learned and grew more in that year than I did throughout four years of college. Financially, 2010 and 2011 were very good years. I left the recession earlier than most did, with much more accelerated growth, and so did many of my clients.
Nearly a decade later, the only thing I wish I would have done differently is mentally prepare my clients while times were good. I thought, I'll do that next time.
increasing ivf market share, even if the market declines
There are essentially eight fundamental principles behind increasing an IVF practice's new patient volume and, consequently, IVF cycle volume and gross revenue. A practice may be strong in some and weak in others. I've said for years that a strong economic period is the time to start taking market share from other IVF centers during a recession. Times are good right now, so let's specify the fundamentals that we need to master to ensure growth, even during a nasty market correction.
Fertility doctors and practice managers frequently ask me,
- How do we attract new patients?
- What is the one thing we can do to see a proven return on investment (ROI)?
- We hired a marketing director that we thought was really good, but we aren't seeing an increase in volume. Why?
- We have a really good advertising campaign, we can attribute a return on investment from the new patients that come in, but why are our volumes still down?
Not excelling in all of the fundamentals can sabotage the effectiveness of the sum of one's total marketing efforts. To the extent that a fertility treatment provider can master all of these, they can bring millions of dollars of additional revenue to even a very small practice. Mastery is the operative word; if we want to experience growth, even during a bad economy, we had better be working on that now. One might combine or split some of these fundamentals, but essentially, there are:
eight fundamentals to getting new fertility patients in the door
1). Well-managed relationships with referring providers
Even in 2018, OB/GYN referrals still count for a tremendous share of new patients. At least 40% of patients of Fertility Bridge clients are referred by a physician (this is not limited to them also coming from another source). For some clinics, MD referrals account for over 70% of new patients. Someone who regularly schedules physician lunches, delivers semen analysis kits and information about infertility support, and educates OB/GYN staff in your area, is tremendously valuable to the practice. Markets differ widely on the ROI of MD referrals, but in some cases, relationships with providers may be a fertility center’s most sustained model for growth.
2). Targeted Advertising
What does every fertility clinic want from their marketing? Proven ROI. When do they want it? Now! Targeted ads are often the clearest benchmark to measure. Through call tracking and proper attribution in Google Analytics, we can see how many new patient visits are yielded through a given ads campaign. We can target same-sex couples, who married within the last year, who recently visited your website and live within 25 miles of your practice, and the technology is only getting better. A word of caution on relying too heavily on advertising: I have run pay-per-click campaigns, that clearly bring in far more results than what is spent, but new patient volume is flat or even a bit down. Ads can perform at their very best, but if the practice's brand isn't stellar, they may just be damage control.
3). High-ranking web presence
Patients have to be able to find us. I say "web presence" instead of "website", because there are several digital properties that are important for an IVF center's visibility and this includes one's citations. Citation is the process of claiming one's profile across various online directories, the most important of which is almost certainly the Google My Business listing for each physician and office location. Correct addresses, phone numbers, office hours, detailed descriptions, and favorable images and video are crucial to a fertility doctor's profile. Of course, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) of the practice's main website is as important as ever. Are the page descriptions optimized? Are they tagged properly? Do your pages have enough backlinks from high-authority sites? SEO is the long, non-sexy process of making our site more likely to appear above other IVF centers. The larger one's market, and the more competitors the fertility center has, the more crucial this fundamental. In short time, this will include voice search (think Google Home and Alexa Skills).
4). Conversion Optimization
SEO can increase traffic to our practices' websites, but what do patients do once they get there? We want our website visitors to schedule a new patient visit, right? What steps do they take that make them more likely to become patients? Are we call-tracking to gauge our website traffic? Are our goals properly set up in Google Analytics? A single digit increase in conversions can result in six figure profit increases to the practice's top line.
5). Compelling Creative (Content and Design)
In order to take action, we must be compelled to do so. One fertility doctor told me, "your front desk folks are your best sales people, they set the first impression". Today, that first impression extends to the copy of your website, the images on your search listings, the "sharability" of your social media posts, and even more than ever, VIDEO. Video accounts for nearly 70% of all consumer internet traffic right now, and is expected to account for almost 80% by the end of 2018. Good gravy! How much of our current content is in video, the format which our patients consume the most? 10%? 5%? A big fat goose egg? Alleviating a prospective patient's concerns and familiarizing them with the care process and their team through video can be the most effective way to remove their final objections. Writing in the patient voice, not the standard clinic template, can make the difference between a patient scheduling that first visit or not.
6). Vibrant social media community
We often say that former patients don't want anyone to know that they went to see a fertility specialist. Anyone who says that apparently never visited the Institute for Reproductive Health or Buffalo IVF's Facebook pages. When one's community of patients feels supported and validated, hundreds of former patients come out to share the practice's message. Patients post photos, videos, and comments about how special their fertility doctor is to them on several occasions: their child's birthday, a holiday, sometimes even from the hospital on the day of delivery! Sometimes, dozens to hundreds of an individual's friends, relatives, and acquaintances will see that post. Suddenly, the person who has been struggling silently with infertility for two years, learns that their cousin, college roommate, or former co-worker dealt with the same problem they now face. They learn that they found a solution. This is a word-of-mouth referral that never would have existed before the Social Media Age.
7). Sterling and authentic online reputation
Some studies say more than 80% of patients use online reviews before deciding on a provider. Other studies show a much more conservative, and still astounding, 45%. I can tell you that nearly half of all patients of Fertility Bridge clients report choosing their IVF center after reading their online reviews. Did you know that far more people will glance over your Google My Business listing than will visit your website? Seeing a 4.5 rating from 30 reviewers instead of a 2.3 rating from 4 reviewers is compelling enough for many to choose one fertility clinic over another. There are tools, such as Grade Us, and systems that one can use to politely ask for authentic reviews from patients. I generally recommend using them, though with a very tasteful and respectful way of asking, and really adhering to making the patient experience the best it could ever be.
8). Remarkable patient experience
Of course, I save the most important, hardest, and most ambiguous for last. The word remarkable is not subjective. If patients remark to others about the care we provided, then we are remarkable. If they do not, then we are not remarkable. The standard for what patients want and expect is constantly changing. What was once acceptable in the delivery of care might not be any longer. What was once exceptional may now be expected. Patient retention is sometimes more proﬁtable than new patient acquisition and word-of-mouth referrals greatly accelerate a practice's new patient volume. When patients and staff are given the support they need and their expectations are set properly, they can be delighted. Providing patients with access to mental health professionals and peer support if they so choose, may greatly improve their overall satisfaction, their mental health, and be more proﬁtable to the practice. Patients, not practices, decide the quality of their interaction with your practice and now they have more power than ever to voice their opinion.
"First, Master the fundamentals"--Larry Bird
As business owners, we want to be able to measure any given marketing tactic and quantify its return on investment to the dollar. Thousands of online marketers flood our inboxes, touting their performance. Some of them are very good at their particular skill sets and some are not, I know because I've hired them. You probably have too. Have you found the the silver bullet? Neither have I.
When our patient volumes don't continually increase it is because one or more of the fundamentals is broken. The idea of guaranteed marketing success is flawed because weakness in any one of these 8 factors can sabotage our collective effort. We might have an incredible patient experience, but no social media content to make patients feel comfortable sharing that experience. We might have extremely targeted ads, but they lead patients to poor online reviews or a lousy website. To the extent we master all 8 of these factors, time is the only limit to growth, even in an economic downturn. When the recession begins, we will be prepared to take market share from other IVF centers.
Maybe the next downturn won't come for years and years. The best part is...I don't have to be right. Honing the fundamentals of fertility marketing to prepare for a recession is an asymmetric risk/reward proposition. Even if the economy doesn't tank, we're still poised to super-serve our patients with lean, first-class operations. A world of opportunity opens during a recession that simply isn't possible when times are good. I want you to be able to take advantage of it!
Put these eight fundamentals into action by reading actionable examples in their corresponding chapters in The Ultimate Guide to Fertility Marketing.