Marketing Research | July 2016 Hearing Review

The top 3 marketing habits of fast-growing hearing care practices worldwide

Worldwide, successful practices are making small shifts now to optimize their referral programs, focusing on growing the practice by encouraging advocacy from existing patients, and striking the right balance between traditional and digital marketing. These three basic strategies can have a significant impact on your practice today, while setting it up for even greater growth in the future.

Marketing your practice. Is it a headache or a reward in the making? In a recent international study of marketing practices commissioned by Unitron, the majority of hearing healthcare professional respondents say their marketing efforts are often stymied by a shortage of time and resources. They know marketing is necessary but many are frustrated by what they see as an insufficient payback on their investment. Other respondents, however, say they’re achieving success by evolving their marketing practices and channels for a new era.

Increasingly empowered and informed healthcare consumers are reshaping the hearing healthcare business. This presents all of us with new marketing challenges and opportunities. In an age of patient-centered care, how do we ensure our marketing efforts and dollars are engaging these consumers and translating into practice growth?

To examine the opportunities, Unitron commissioned the benchmark International Hearing Healthcare Marketing Practices Research, which surveyed 350 respondents (48% practice owners; 21% managers; 31% employees) in four countries: the United States, Canada, Germany, and Brazil. About 2 in 5 respondents had been involved in hearing care for over 20 years and 84% were either the final decision-makers or shared responsibility for the practice’s purchasing decisions. The study set out to determine which marketing approaches are associated with practice success, and how manufacturers can best support hearing healthcare professionals in their marketing efforts.

Among other questions, the study asked:

  • What marketing practices, tools and channels help drive your practice success?
  • What role is digital marketing versus traditional marketing playing in practice success?
  • Is personal or mass marketing a more promising strategy?

The findings highlight three broad opportunities—areas where hearing healthcare manufacturers and professionals can shift their marketing efforts to reap greater rewards:

#1. Actively acquire more new patients through referrals from your existing patient base

Figure 1

Figure 1. Source of new patients.

The majority of clinics acknowledge that retaining and growing business through their existing patient base is more effective than marketing to new prospects. (The referral base goes beyond patients to include ENTs and caregivers.) Two of every three new patients come from referrals rather than from marketing to new patients (Figure 1).

Figure 2

Figure 2. Average percent of marketing budget dedicated to obtaining/recruiting new patients versus retaining/growing existing patient base.

Despite this insight, however, most clinics continue to allocate more of their resources to enticing new patients through such vehicles as newspaper advertising and direct mail (Figure 2).

Notably, clinics that characterize themselves as “low growth” direct even less of their marketing budget to existing patients compared to clinics that characterize themselves as “high growth.”

Figure 3

Figure 3. Percentage of practices (low, medium, and high growth) that have a plan in place to actively encourage patients to become advocates of the practice.

These same high growth practices are more likely to have a plan in place to encourage patient advocacy (Figure 3).

Examples abound of the staggering success of companies such as Airbnb, Dropbox and Uber, which grew from modest start-ups into billion-dollar companies using simple referrals from their client base as a primary growth strategy. Obviously, hearing care is a completely different industry, but the success of referrals is based upon the same simple premise: give your existing customers a positive experience, make it easy for them to share their experience with friends and family, then reward them for doing so. In short, nurture advocates—and future business—from the patients you already know.

Meaningful long-term referral strategies are becoming increasingly important to foster patient advocacy. If you don’t have an advanced referral strategy, you can start by implementing simple referral programs: a dual-sided referral card that offers a reward to the existing patient who refers a friend, and a discount or other benefit to the friend when they purchase from your clinic.

#2. Keep traditional marketing in the mix…

Figure 4

Figure 4. Impact of marketing channels for growing the business, from least effective (left) to most effective (right) as rated by the survey respondents.

No single marketing strategy works for every purpose, product, audience, or offer: a mix of media and approaches and a mix of traditional and digital marketing is almost always more effective at engaging prospects and eliciting action. The study shows that traditional tools, such as personalized letters and phone calls, play an important role in maintaining relationships with existing customers, and also can play a part in referral programs.

Figure 5

Figure 5. Usage of marketing tactics, all countries combined (left) and by individual countries (right).

Study respondents say they continue to use traditional marketing (Figures 4 and 5), with direct mail seen as the most effective, followed by newspaper ads and events. It’s important to keep in mind that the demographic we are targeting today is generally more comfortable with traditional approaches than digital. This is clearly shifting; we can expect to see a growing comfort level with digital media and will need to adjust the ratio of traditional to digital marketing accordingly.

#3 …but also integrate more digital marketing

Figure 6

Figure 6. Effectiveness of marketing tactics, all countries combined (left) and by individual countries (right).

By combining traditional and digital marketing techniques and channels, your message can be spread more widely. You can raise brand awareness amongst a broad consumer base through traditional marketing, while digital media allows you to reach out to a specific audience with highly customized offers and information in a very cost-effective manner.

The majority of study respondents say they have a website, and over 90% are on Facebook. High growth practices, in particular, note that social media and online marketing will be a primary focus for future growth. And that’s good, because while traditional marketing allows the targeting of prospects based on their location or age, digital marketing allows you to readily customize the patient experience, keep fresh dialog happening, and actively listen to and participate in the online conversation.

Those who noted the greatest growth in their practices are more likely to have plans to increase their online presence over the next three years. More clinics are hearing that their customers want appointment reminders sent via text message—a sign of growing ease with digital technology.  As you look to enhance your patients’ and prospects’ online experience, you can start small: a simple e-mail communication rather than a mailed letter. Offer a link within the e-mail that invites people to visit your website or Facebook for a free trial, upgrade opportunity, or battery offer.

You might establish a forum, inviting interaction among people living with hearing loss to deepen the conversation and keep people engaged with one another and your practice. (Just make sure you are engaging in “social listening” so you know what your customers and prospects are saying.) Social media allows you to take your message much further and for much less, and provides opportunities to offer added value. It is also measurable, so you can see where your efforts are paying off.

The findings of Unitron’s International Hearing Healthcare Marketing Practices Research provide insights into some of the opportunities for optimizing practice marketing. Unitron will continue to examine the evolving opportunities and report on best practices of hearing healthcare marketing. Making even small shifts now to use referral programs, focus on growing your practice by encouraging advocacy from existing patients, and strike the right balance between traditional and digital marketing can have a significant impact, while setting you up for future success.


Bruce Brown

Bruce Brown

Bruce Brown is the Global Marketing Vice President for Unitron, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.

Correspondence can be addressed to Bruce Brown at: [email protected]

Original citation for this article: Brown B. Successful Practices Use Marketing that Evolves with the Changing Healthcare Landscape. Hearing Review. 2016;23(7):14.?