Generate Unique Marketing Messages with a Creative Team

By Maria Higgins, OD

June 24, 2015


A solo OD tells how she put together a creative team to craft unique marketing messages that generate new business.


DEFINE YOUR VISION. If your vision is for a practice that caters to individualistic taste, then use marketing creative that says “out-of-the-ordinary.”

CREATE BUDGET. Can cost as little as $200 or less per month.

SET GOALS & TRACK. Decide what will define success, such as X number of new patients, and then document if you achieved it.

When you live in a creative community, tap local talent to craft a unique message. Put a team together so you can sustain that messaging and keep top of mind with patients and the community.

When I opened my practice four years ago in Frederick, Md., which has a creative, independent spirit, I knew I wanted a distinctive marketing campaign, disseminated largely by social media, that matched my affinity for unique products and individualism (being true to yourself, whatever your tastes happen to be). To achieve that, I put a team of talented individualstogether to create thecampaigns I envisioned.

The creative photography that Dr. Higgins says makes her practice web site distinctive. All of the imagery your practice uses in marketing should reflect your vision for your practice, she says.

Define Your Vision

I chose the community ofFrederick, Md., becauseI thought it was the perfect place fora clever, interesting, funky business with a surprising marketing strategy.

My staff and I want the public to know that we are different, that our frames are all independent lines, that we will listen intently, and that we stand behind our products. We want patients to thoroughly love their glasses. We want them to find the glasses that exude their personality and style, and we want them to shine behind those frames because they feel good about themselves.

Start Building Your Marketing Team

My sister, Erin Hazley, is my graphic designer and all-around clever thinker. She set up my web site, she does all my logos, ads, event invites, posters, business cards and handouts. She has an interesting and unique take on the world, and I trust her design judgement implicitly.


Dr. Higgins’ practice logoillustrates itsmission: to cater to patients who like to standout from the crowd.

James Atkins Photography was referred to me by a friend who knew him to be an innovative and gifted thinker. James came up with the idea of shooting our web site photos in a field with a vintage optometry chair and stand. We dragged that 500 pound chair out into that field and spent a scorching day shooting. James had hair and makeup tents set up and done by the local beauty school.
Christina Christopher was an optician in my optical who decided to open her own home design store, Country Shabby Chic. Christina designs our window displays every month. She has such a creative mind and interesting style that our windows have become something that people anticipate. She also will attend our event staff meetings and brainstorm, exploding with amazing ideas.

Erin, James and Christina bring their cleverness and individuality to all aspects of Unique Optique. These people make up Unique Optique’s marketing team because of their interesting personalities and how closely they fit the mission of the practice. I trust their opinions and judgements on marketing and branding. I bring them a question and I can truly believe in and act on their advice.

The windows Dr. Higgins and her marketing team created for Valentine’s Day, under the theme “My Bloody Valentine.” Dr. Higgins says not to be afraid to be creative–and unique–in the optical windows and other decorations you display.

Create Marketing Budget

My sister and I trade services. I recently started a social media business called the Unique Technique, and I have taken over managing her social media for her. In turn, she designed the web site for that new business. If the pendulum swings too far either way, we will send an invoice.
For quality photography, an average day rate should be around $1,200-$1,500. A day or two should satisfy the photographic needs of most small businesses.
Christina charges me $125 a month to design and implement my two large front windows. She will also pick up supplies, and adds those costs to my invoice.

Manage Marketing Work Load

My team and I do all the marketing ourselves. At least half of my time is spent on marketing in one way or another. I put out a monthly blog and a monthly e-newsletter. We do two events a month including an art gallery opening or a trunk show and then other random events, like Pride or our Health Fair or our Downtown Fashion Show.

We are very active on social media and post to Facebook, Twitter, Google + and LinkedIn at least daily via Hootsuite, which is a site that allows you to automate your social media. We post to Instagram at least 2-3 times a week. We send hand-written thank you notes to patients who refer friends and family to us. We change our window displays monthly. We respond to every online review, but we rarely run ads, on- or off-line.

Implement Campaigns

The practice owner’s role is determining the feel of a campaign and making sure the marketing campaign is staying on message. Once we have the message we want, the professionals expand and elaborate on the original plan.
For example,for Valentine’s Day, paper hearts and kisses just would not do as that is too run-of-the-mill. I got a kick out of a T-shirt I discovered that said “I heart realism” with a picture of a real human heart. I decided that our Valentine’s windows should have real hearts, movie flyers for slasher movies with a love theme (My Bloody Valentine, The Loved Ones, etc.) and lots of (fake) blood. Christina took that idea and ran with it. In the end, our windows had blood dripping down from the top, skulls, real hearts in vials with blood, anatomical heart posters and all red frames. It was our riskiest window yet, but I think people have come to expect a little originality in everything we do.
Another campaign we created was in support of the men’s health initiative Movember. We did windows with moustaches, and included information about the Movember web site, where donations to the initiative could be made. Our decorated windows accompanied social media posts of pictures of our patients who were participating by growing moustaches.

We have Instagram campaigns where we visit local downtown business neighbors, taking our eyeglass frames to them and taking their picture with an obvious feature of their business in the background, such as bicycles if they are a bicycle shop or dog beds if they are pet supply shop. We then post the photos on Instagram, under the heading “Unique Optique On Location,” and also tag on social media the business we are posing in front of, our own business and the Downtown Frederick Partnership, a group of local merchants I belong to. The idea was born from trying to build synergistic relationships with other business owners. The cost is zero and the return on investment is immeasurable, as it allows us to work with other local businesses to promote ourselves to one another’s customers (or patients).

Editor’s note: If you use patients in external marketing you must have the HIPAA marketing release form signed by the patient in order to meet PHI standards.

We have a social media campaign called Who’s Who. We have a photo booth in our office. When it prints the pictures, it prints two strips of the same picture. We added magnets to the outside of the metal booth and people will often leave their second print. We noticed that these pictures left behind amounted to a who’s who of Frederick, so with our patients’ permission, we started posting these pictures to social media, noting the good work each of the models in the photos do for the community.
We created a children’s trunk show for back-to-school season called Through the Looking Glass, in which we gave out gift bags that included the Alice in Wonderland book,and served snacks that incorporated playing cards and chess boards. I dressed up as Alice. One of our vendor’s was generous and donated free frames and our lab donated lenses, so we could offer the prize of a free pair of total eyewear. The winner was determined by a game of Pin the Smile on the Cheshire Cat. We had about 15 families attend, and approximately five children got glasses that day.

Every year, we have a birthday/anniversary party celebrating another year. This year the themeis “Go Glow!” It will be a glow party with necklaces, bracelets, glasses all made of glow sticks. The name tags will be written inDayGlo marker that needs to have a black light to be seen. We will have a glow-in-the-dark Twister game. The purpose of this party is simply a thank you to our patients.
We try to come up with innovative ideas for campaigns at least monthly. I keep a file on my desk where I put any ideas.

Track Effectiveness

Unique Optique is a relatively new practice at four years old, so most of our marketing efforts are still striving to get the word out and attract new patients. We often find that people who attend our events will return to have an exam and purchases glasses or contact lenses from us in 1-4 weeks.

We recently hosted an event called Pink Drinks, which is the monthly happy hour for our local LGBT Center. Everyone had a blast, posting photo booth pictures on Facebook, drinking, eating and enjoying themselves. The week after, we had two of the attendees return to purchase the glasses they had tried on, primarily because they had had such a good time with us.

Maria Higgins, OD, is the owner of Unique Optique in Frederick, Md. To contact:

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