By Diane Palombi, OD
June 7, 2017
Marketing tends to favor the young, but promoting your practice to older generations is a key to profitably growing your practice. A Boomer myself, I recently sat down with a group of friends, around my own age, to discuss what it takes to get us into an OD’s exam chair.
I am retired now after 30 years in practice, but when I was a practice owner, the majority of my patients were young families. I was happy with that demographic group. In fact, I felt that the older the patient, the greater the chance that there could be problems during the exam. Older patients can have slower responses to your questions, or be confused by them. They can have mobility issues. The odds of ocular disease are greater. They can be set in their ways and resistant to change. Progressive spectacle lens and multifocal contact lens wearers require more work to get their prescription right than single-vision patients. And if they are on Medicare, you may have added documentation before you can be reimbursed. For all those reasons, I did not promote my practice to older patients.
This seems to be the case in a lot of industries. Marketing is skewed to younger generations. It might be because I now am an “older” person myself as a Baby Boomer, but I feel that I did myself a disservice by ignoring older generations. Older people often have a lot discretionary income. Their children are raised and on their own. Many have paid off their mortgages and other debt. Until they are on a fixed income, they have more money to spend on themselves than in their younger years.
I know of several older people who have had refractive surgery, upgraded implants with their cataract surgery, and even had multifocal implant surgery instead of wearing glasses or contacts. Purchasing multiple pairs of glasses, or getting both contacts and glasses, is not a financial hardship for many of them. They may even spend their money for glasses, or contacts, for their kids and grandchildren. Instead of ignoring the older generations, we should be embracing them. We need to promote ourselves to the empty-nester and senior citizen markets.
Encourage Referrals & Promote on Social Media
I asked my friends a few questions about selecting a doctor and marketing. They had all relocated to a new state after retirement, and, so, had to start fresh finding a new eyecare professional. They told me that referrals from a friend, family or other professional were the main strategy they used to find a new doctor. One friend said, “For me reputation is the most important factor, especially if I am dealing with a medical eye issue.”
So, a fancy phone book ad, TV commercial or advertisement in a newspaper or magazine is probably not going to sway them to choose your practice. But if your practice has a web site (which it should), they may check it out to review your credentials, or they may look you up on Facebook, or find out about you when one of their Facebook friends mentions you in a post, or your practice shows up in the news scroll on one of their friends’ Facebook pages. In addition, like younger patients, many older patients may look you up on review sites like Yelp or Health Grades before booking an appointment.
E-Blasts May Not Work
My optometrist sends monthly e-mails that I promptly delete without reading. Based on the response of my friends, most eyecare professionals do not send out periodic e-mails. When it comes to marketing to older generations, this may not be an issue. Those friends that did receive the informational e-mails either just scanned them, and then deleted them, or deleted them outright.
Emphasize Personalized Service & Offer Promotional Deals
My friends had mixed feelings about visiting eyecare chains like LensCrafters and Pearle Vision, but they said they had greater comfort with eyecare practices in which they knew the staff. As an independent, if you can offer the patient a personalized experience in which you and your staff show that you remember them and understand their individual needs, you could have a leg up on the larger, better-financed competition.
Some of my friends said they are leery of chain opticals because they do not know the background and training of the staff. Others like the large frame selections that large corporate-owned practices can provide. Discounts and coupons for eyewear, which these establishments tend to offer, may sway the retiree’s decision since many are on a fixed budget. Others felt it was no big deal.
Cater to the Style Conscious & Fashion Savvy
There may be a stereotype of older patients as not caring as much as younger patients about the look of their eyewear, but many Baby Boomers came of age at a style-conscious time, and want to continue being fashionable as they age.
Most of my friends said that they were not influenced by television commercials, magazine and newspaper advertisements, or other media, when purchasing eyewear. But they do pay attention to trends in eyewear on television, movies and magazines. Some have researched web sites to look at frames, but do not order directly from the sites because they do not feel comfortable getting the right size and fit without trying on the frames in person.
Just as you shouldn’t prejudge any patient’s interest in, and capacity, to purchase new eyewear, train opticians to present all patients, regardless of age, with stylish options. An older patient today, who some may assume only wants a utilitarian eyewear solution, might jump at the chance to have a fashion-forward pair of glasses.
Are you marketing to both younger and older generations of potential patients? What have you found most effective in reaching out to Baby Boomers?
Diane Palombi, OD, retired now, is the former owner of Palombi Vision Center in Wentzville, Mo. To contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org