Monday, December 13, 2010

It's a tough call

I was discussing a recent marketing project with an old friend. He is about as "black and white" a person as I've ever known. After attending law school and passing his bar exam, he practiced law for one year and quit. The whole legal system was too crooked for him. Judges were too influenced by whether a particular attorney threw good Christmas parties and had a good deer lease. He felt that preferential treatment was given to the attorneys who were good schmoozers. 

In that respect, my friend is very much like the most technical engineers I've had the pleasure to work with or the misery of working for. 

When I told my friend that I'd taken on a physician as a client, he was aghast. Back in his day as an attorney (one year), it was considered unethical to advertise. That would go double for a doctor! A  person should not select a doctor based on good marketing but on whether or not they are a good doctor. If you read my post on engineers and social media, you will see similar logic. 

I explained to my friend that what I was doing was helping this physician to communicate better with people who needed her services. I was determining what made this doctor unique and helping her to verbalize it clearly. She specialized in certain treatments and not others. As a result, she was building a practice devoted to being the best in a certain niche which other doctors were only treating as a sideline. 

When we Googled the keywords a patient would use to find a specialist in this niche, she was not showing up on page one. Only Wikipedia entries, national organizations and other informational sites were showing up. No doctors and certainly no doctors in the city where she practiced.  

And since she specialized in one area, she needed to communicate with doctors who could refer patients to her. She needed to develop a short brochure and do something to increase the likelihood that the doctor would read the brochure and not just throw it away.

There was nothing manipulative in what I was doing for the physician. It was all about coming up with clear, concise wording; adjusting her web page and writing a short brochure on her specialty. 

The snag in my plan was in determining how to get a doctor to read a brochure. Chances were good that some gatekeeper would throw it away before the doctor saw it.  You can't just set up an appointment to visit the doctor to talk shop. Getting the ear of a doctor is nearly impossible. Sales people, with nice fat expense accounts, take up their free (non-revenue generating) time.

What I did not tell my friend was that part of my marketing plan was to have my client throw a blowout summer party at the lake and a killer Christmas party with the intent of inviting a select group of physicians who would likely refer patients to my client. Is that manipulation? Schmoozing? Bribery? Or is that simply the most effective way to gain the attention of busy, affluent and influential people? 

It's a tough call. 

James Snider is a marketing consultant, responsible for developing the 3.4 billion dollar 1394/FireWire market. James has over 16 years of marketing experience with 7 years working for Fortune 100 companies, 8 years as executive director of a non-profit and, since the summer of 2009, as a strategic business development consultant.

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