For cash-strapped GP practices, maximising every income generation opportunity is an absolute must. Whether it’s increasing revenue from extended and enhanced services, maximising QOF points or building a practice list, your patients hold the key to financial success. But just how do you ensure people know about your services and, hopefully, use them? The answer is targeted marketing communication.
For practice managers, this means wearing yet another hat – that of a marketeer – but the good news is that targeted marketing isn’t rocket science. It just takes a bit of common sense, some basic writing skills and a delve into your patient list/database. The key is not trying to market to everyone – keep it simple, keep it focused and keep it relevant to succeed. For example, there’s no point marketing child immunisations to patients without children. There’s also no point marketing the new NHS App to patients who don’t own a smartphone.
In a nutshell, the better you understand your target market, the better you’ll be able to target them with relevant content, messaging and ads. A target market is the specific group of people you want to reach with your marketing message. They are the people who are most likely to buy your products or services, and they are united by some common characteristics, like demographics and behaviours.
The more clearly you define your target group, the better you can understand how and where to reach your best prospects. You can start with broad categories like pensioners, or those with chronic conditions, but the more detailed your targeting, the better the return on investment.
Right audience, correct channels
As well as ensuring the services you’re promoting are relevant, targeting allows you to use the most appropriate communication channels for your audience. The list of potential communication methods provides plenty of options. From email, text message, and social media through to posted letters and flyers, newsletters, noticeboards and your website, practices have the opportunity to really tailor communications.
Take extended hours for example. One practice – a suburban London practice – has launched a ‘commuter clinic’ two evenings a week when the practice stays open until 9pm. This practice decided to promote the service to patients of working age and exclude pensioners, who find it easier to attend during working hours. They also decided this group could be most effectively reached through social media and the practice website, as well as by text message.
“We didn’t want to do a blanket communication to everyone, partly because we had fought hard with our partners to get them to agree to these extended hours and wanted to ensure the opportunity was opened up to the people who really needed it,” the practice manager told us. “So, we did a relatively quick run through our patient list and pulled out those of working age. We sent them communications and supported this with social media activity. Our receptionists also informed patients of the additional clinics on an ad hoc basis when they felt it was right. All practices have patients asking for early or late appointments to fit around their working day!
“We will, of course, offer evening appointments to all patients when the need arises, but it’s a case of being selective who we ‘sell’ to and managing demand in an intelligent way.”
A two-way process
At this point, it’s worth pointing out that marketing communication is a two-way process. If you’re targeting a specific segment of your patient list via certain channels, they need to be able to reach you through those channels in response.
In a recent Practice Index blog post about the NHS App, Nicola Davies, practice manager at The Roseland Surgeries in Cornwall said: “With the app, I would be very surprised if we were to have older patients using it because they may not have a smartphone. The older generation do not use the phone in the same way that younger people do. Generally, the app is not going to be used as much by the older generation.
“It’s about saying to patients that there are so many different ways that they can contact us. It doesn’t have to be by phone if they don’t want to. It’s time efficient and if it reduces traffic at the desk in terms of phone calls, that has to be a good thing.”
Data holds the key
As you develop your targeted marketing strategy based on who you want to speak to and how best to engage your target audience, your data will become key. Practices are in a good position in as much as they hold a certain amount of data on patients – but often more detail is needed.
It therefore pays to ask patients for feedback. How do they prefer to hear from you? Do they use social media (if yes, invite them to connect with you – maybe with the incentive of a free prize draw, for example). Do you have a mobile number for them? Maybe you could ask your PPG to ask people in the waiting room how best you can reach a certain group of people.
Some data points you might want to consider for your targeted communications are:
- Age: You don’t need to get too specific here. It won’t likely make a difference whether your average customer is 24 or 27. But knowing which decade of life your customers are in, or their generation, can be very useful.
- Stage of life and relationship with the practice: New parents, parents of teens, retirees, those with long-term conditions… the list of groups you can pull together is lengthy. You can target patients with specific conditions to drive self-care amongst patients at risk of repeat hospital admissions or boost uptake of annual reviews for working-age patients with asthma. Improved access to diabetes services for younger patients is another potential focus.
- Past ‘customers’: One practice we spoke to told us they had contacted relatively new mothers (those who had given birth within the last two years), who had received a free flu jab, inviting them back for another (paid for) vaccination. More than 50% of those emailed responded positively.
- Language: Don’t assume your ‘customers’ speak the same language you do. And don’t assume they speak the dominant language of their (or your) current physical location. This inspirational blog post about a successful breast cancer screening outreach campaign sums this point up very nicely.
Of course, you have GDPR to think about. Just because you hold a patient’s mobile number or email address, it doesn’t mean you have consent to use them. You’ll need a patient’s recorded consent to do this – which is another admin task to think about. Plenty has been written on the subject of GDPR on Practice Index.
Quality of message
Once you have your target audience defined and your chosen communication methods in line, you need to support your good work with some strong messaging.
This starts by being clear about the value of your product or service – and that means sharing the benefits. How do your services make someone’s life easier, better or healthier?
Relevance is also key and ties in with what has been discussed so far. Share information that’s relevant to the right people in the right way and you have a winning formula.
There’s also a need to keep information up to date and constantly refreshed. Every GP practice has a website these days, but is it doing the job it needs to do for you? Is the content regularly updated? Is it smartphone friendly? Does your news section sell your services? Does it provide the information people are searching for? Is it doing a marketing job for you? You might consider adding information contained in any newsletters you produce, updates on practice initiatives, the addition of new services, CQC inspection successes, new staff additions and so on.
If you are struggling to find the time to keep the news flowing, identify any eager writing champions in your team who might like to take on parts of your marketing to-do list. The same goes for social media experts or those with an eye for design.
One practice manager commented to us: “I asked for volunteers to help keep our website and social media (Facebook mainly and a bit of Twitter). Two people put their hand up and, because they volunteered, they’ve really embraced it. They actively approach partners and nurses for input, which has brought everybody closer together as a group.
“The key for us is that we ensure a news story is posted on our website at least once a week, so there’s consistency. We keep stories short and simple, so it’s not too time consuming and include photos of staff wherever possible, which patients like. We posting certain stories on social media, which has helped to drive more interest in our services. Best of all perhaps, is that by explaining our procedures, such as telephone triage, how and when to make an appointment, and the NHS App, we’ve saved our receptionists an awful lot of grief and freed up time. That has to be a good thing.”
It is handy to know that Practice Index pre-prepare a selection of marketing alerts [PLUS] for your Facebook and Twitter accounts each month, so you don’t even need to worry about writing the content yourself! For a complete introduction to your setting up y0ur practice on social media, there is a step by step eLearning course [PLUS] for all team members here.
All-in-all, targeted marketing and communication can be an effective tool for GP practices everywhere. It needn’t be complicated, and it needn’t take much time, but it can make a difference to the practice and patients alike.
Have you embraced targeted marketing in your practice? If so, what has worked for you? Share your thoughts below or join the conversation on the Practice Index Forum.