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Differentiation drives marketing plans

October 23, 2015
by Joanne Sammer
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New sector growth will present some key marketing challenges for addiction treatment centers for the next several years. After all, a growing market is an attractive prospect for investors and new entrants to the marketplace, which translates into more competition.

Since behavioral health derives its patient volume largely from referrals—not location, as is the case for most medical providers—it’s especially important to optimize marketing efforts.

The Affordable Care Act and other favorable legislation have provided consumers more access than ever to insurance coverage for addiction treatment. In addition, the political landscape is shifting toward advocating treatment as an alternative to incarceration. Clearly, one new marketing challenge stems from the need to convert the broader pool of potential patients into program admissions.

“There is a larger and much more diverse population that now has access to addiction treatment,” says Melissa Fors, executive director of marketing strategy for Hazelden Betty Ford in Minneapolis. “Our job is not only to educate people about addiction and the treatment options available, but we also have to let them know that they are now able to get treatment because they now have insurance coverage available to them.”

Fors also notes the need, in many cases, to educate these consumers about their benefits under the Affordable Care Act and parity rules.

Growing competition and capacity in the marketplace is partly a result of the influx of investment into the addiction treatment industry. More cash is allowing new programs to launch and existing programs to expand organically or through acquisitions. This influx of private equity capital is also offering new resources for enhanced marketing budgets.

Therefore, in this environment, “the marketing challenge is differentiation, whether through a website or social media” or some other means, says Rachel Docekal, vice president of marketing and brand strategy for Origins Behavioral HealthCare in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Differentiating your business

As treatment centers look for ways to stand out in the crowd, online marketing will continue to predominate with treatment centers investing heavily in websites that aim to turn clicks into admissions.

“Pay per click (PPC) and search engine optimization (SEO) are the most obvious elements of this, but even direct marketing has to have an online component,” says Andrew Spanswick, CEO of KLEAN Treatment Centers, a CARF-accredited organization based in West Hollywood, Calif. “Right now, it’s all about content and mobile devices. If you are not seen there, you are missing 50 percent or more of the market.”

The trouble is, online marketing can be costly, especially for smaller operations.

“Those that are simply throwing money at media are seeing their costs rise by roughly 12 percent a year, which is pretty unsustainable,” says Dan Gemp, president and CEO of Dreamscape Marketing in Baltimore. “That has the potential to make the cost of sales double every six years or so.”

Online marketing can also be an ethical minefield. In a click-centric environment, treatment centers must be careful how they go about getting those clicks.

“There are players in this space who are not ethical,” says Docekal. “These players are using keywords and phrases to represent their programming in a way that may not reflect what they are actually doing.”

A more transparent call to action is recommended by experts with a marketing strategy that places greater emphasis on content.

Many treatment centers are driving online traffic to unique informational content, including blog posts, articles, podcasts and video. For example, to maximize its online presence, KLEAN Treatment Centers leverages a radio show that it has been producing for the past six years, which is captured in short video clips, showing the speakers interacting in the recording studio.

Recently, Elements Behavioral Health launched Addiction.com, a consumer-facing website with content such as, “Would you become un-addicted if you could?” and a link to download its Cassava recovery app. Marketing teams are paying attention to content as much as they are clicks. And it’s time well spent.

Who, What and Where?

The more relevant content a treatment center develops and promotes, the stronger the overall online presence, specifically: better placement in organic (not paid) internet search results. This content-driven marketing has the added advantage of educating audiences about various aspects of addiction treatment and recovery. For example, Fors notes the need for marketing to provide education about opioid addiction for not only potential patients and their families but to the medical professionals prescribing these drugs.

How treatment centers go about developing a content-based marketing program will depend on what generally drives that center’s admissions. For example, if most admissions come through referrals, content can include something as simple as regular email campaigns or periodic newsletters to the center’s referral network and alumni. If sales and outreach personnel are driving admissions, Gemp suggests developing a mobile app or other tools such as video tours or a photo gallery that these professionals can use to demonstrate the benefits of the treatment center.

This type of marketing strategy is paying off.

 “These centers are not only succeeding at a higher level, but they are experiencing a lower cost per admission over time,” says Gemp.