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10 marketing must-haves

November 25, 2014
by Jill Sederstrom and Julia Brown
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Carefully crafted treatment programs are imperative for a behavioral healthcare organization. But without effective marketing, new patients might not even know your facility exists. To say marketing is crucial might be an understatement.

Marketing is an essential part of a behavioral healthcare facility's business plan and can be used to attract new patients, gain support of referring clinicians or establish a reputation within the community, but implementation can be a daunting task. And the advice applies to outpatient not-for-profits as well. Organizations will want to identify their targets and effectively market to them, whether it’s to fill beds or encourage voters to support a new policy or funding source.

The options to market a facility in today's healthcare environment are diverse, ranging from traditional print ads to social media profiles, email campaigns and networking, but regardless of how facilities choose to go about the process, experts agree that honesty and integrity are paramount. Above all, programs should follow a code of ethics in marketing—either ones they create themselves or the policy created by the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers.

"I know we are not all doctors, but we all have to come from a place of ‘do no harm,’" says Rick Baney, business development coach and consultant at Premier Recovery Options, LLC.

Experts say there are methods to make sure marketing messages are effective, cost conscious and ultimately reach their intended audience.

1. Put your plan into words

The best way to begin is with a plan. While it seems elementary, too many organizations fail to draft a big-picture strategy.

Writing out a marketing plan, even if it's only a single page, can help treatment centers think about what messages they are trying to send and who they are trying to reach. Begin by organizing your thoughts.

Lisa Nickerson Bucklin, director of marketing for Father Martin's Ashley, says an effective plan should define the intended recipient of any marketing efforts, what the facility wants those target recipients to know about who they are and the services they offer and how they help their patients.

"Once you've answered those questions, then that will help you zero in on the best media to use, the best vehicles and the best strategies and tactics to help you achieve your objectives," Bucklin says.

The marketing plan can guide all future marketing efforts and can help marketing professionals determine where and how to spend their money.

"Don't do random things," Bucklin says. "Do things as part of a campaign."

For instance, Bucklin says she avoids buying random, remnant advertising space—even if it comes with a steep discount—because often those unsolicited opportunities don't correspond with the facility's overall marketing goals.  Instead, she recommends developing a set of criteria derived directly from the marketing plan to vet potential advertising opportunities, guide social media efforts and help direct staff members' time.

2. Research your audience

Once behavioral healthcare centers have identified who they want to reach with their marketing efforts, experts say the next step is learning about where those target groups can be reached—whether it's through certain publications or websites, social media channels, conferences or community events.

"One of the ways you can start narrowing down the best marketing tools for your agency is to look at who your clientele is and who your referral audience is," says  Ramona Cruz-Peters, senior director of marketing and communications for Austin Recovery and The Council on Alcohol and Drugs Houston.

Knowing more about your desired audience can help treatment facilities decide where they can make the biggest impact with the money and manpower available to devote to marketing. To learn more about who your target audience is and where they go for information, Bucklin suggests surveying your audience.

"I am a firm believer in audience research, but it doesn't necessarily have to be hiring a market research firm and doing $50,000 worth of focus groups," she says. "Things like SurveyMonkey and easy to implement email and online surveys to your constituents can yield good insights about where they go for information because not all audiences are the same." 

She says centers can also partner with conference organizers to gather information, such as with surveys in conference booths, or a lunch or a roundtable to get insights about audience habits.

In terms of social media, Cruz-Peters says there is research available that shows which social networks reach which types of audiences.  While most healthcare facilities don't have the resources to populate all avenues of social media on a regular basis, carefully selecting the ones more commonly used by your target audiences will help yield the best results.

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