Doctor or Dish Soap? How to Position Your Practice

It's amazing to me how few medical practices think through how they 'position' themselves against their local competition, a small activity that could reap large rewards in their ability to convert interested patients into appointments. I do hear many physicians and healthcare marketers talking about branding, a marketing concept that is probably much better suited to commodity products (like dish soap) and often requires massive advertising expenditures to implement. Positioning (although related to branding) is a much more realistic (and effective) goal in the world of medical marketing. The article Why Brand When Positioning Will Do? at MarketingProfs begins to provide a synopsis for why this strategy might be more achievable.

Positioning, in its most simplified form, is about differentiating; identifying what you do that is different (and better) than your competition, and then integrating that into your messaging. It starts with having a solid understanding of who your competition is, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and where there might be opportunities for or threats to your business (what marketers refer to as a SWOT analysis).

I often express this to new clients in a simulation of a prospective patient calling them, who admits they have already called many of their competitors, and wants to know why they the practice is different (and of course better). Here are some of the responses I have received:

  • "We have an extremely supportive and caring staff"
  • "Our office is very nice and clean"
  • "Dr. Johnson provides personal care to all his patients"

While these points may in fact be true, and I don't discount their importance, they are lousy positioning points. Why? Because the other (competitive) practices likely say the same things. These points don't really differentiate you. They are also difficult to validate and thus their credibility is suspect.

In the world of internet advertising, we have the advantage of measuring very distinctly (through click-through-rates and ultimately conversions & calls) how prospective patients react to different positioning points in ad copy. Here are some things that have tested out well:

  • Experience - Don't be afraid to list an exact number of years or an exact number of procedures performed
  • Board certification
  • Focus - in a given specialty area
  • Location(s)
  • Procedure(s) - especially newer, minimally-invasive ones that not everyone performs
  • Convenience - Sat/evening hours, same-day appts., etc.
  • Cost - if you feel yours is lower than most
  • Insurance/Financing options
  • Languages spoken (e.g. Spanish)

Of course, what works in your particular market, against your specific competitors may vary, but the above list may provide a starting point for discussion.
If you have greater interest in learning about positioning, there are many books out there on the subject. One I would suggest is POSITIONING: The Battle for Your Mind, by Al Ries and Jack Trout.