By Jennifer Jabaley, OD
April 5, 2017
We all relate to stories. Stories help us to understand ourselves and the world we live in. By understanding your patients’ life stories, and by describing the services we provide in stories they can relate to, we can begin to fully serve their eyecare needs.
I have two main career focuses in my life: optometry and writing. Often, those passions overlap. When I’m seeing patients, something will inspire a story element, or when I am writing fiction, an idea will trigger a new approach to management, marketing or patient care. So, it’s no surprise that while I was attending a writing conference recently, a conversation around author branding spurred a revelation about optometry.
A misconception in the fiction world is that extremely successful author brands, such as James Patterson or Nora Roberts, evolve and grow as the author builds an audience. In actuality, an effective author brand is conceived before the first word of the story is even written. The author identifies a target audience and then writes for that particular segment of the market. If the author understands exactly what their customer wants (i.e.: an audience of soccer moms that want a beach read versus an audience of corporate executives who want a detailed espionage thriller), then the author tailors the story, the cover, the web site and social media for that audience. The story of the reader informs the story inside the book. Similarly, the story of your patients is what matters and should shape your practice brand.
How Stories Help You Understand Your Patient’s Journey
Every story is framed around conflict and a resolution. So, how can the idea of conflict and resolution be used to identify and engage our patients? In fiction, the hero has a want or a conflict. The story moves forward as the hero achieves their desire, or lessens their pain. Similarly, if we can identify our patient’s wants or problems, if we can help them attain or eliminate their conflict, that is how the patient’s story moves forward.
Understanding Who Your Patient Is
Just like how James Patterson understood a target audience first (for example, the 9-12 year-old male reader) and then tailored an entire series for that demographic (the highly successful Middle School series), if we understand a target patient base for our practice, we can then tailor our services, products and marketing for that demographic. Using the idea of story conflict and resolution, James Patterson understood the tween boy market wanted a fun, fast read that addressed insecurities and coping strategies around everyday middle school and family dynamics. For us, we need to take an in-depth look at the demographics our practice serves.
Frequently, practice owners make the mistake of looking only at demographic statistics (gender, age, race) as opposed to psychographic data (what they aspire to have or be). James Patterson didn’t just address the 9-12 year old boy, he addressed the 9-12 year old boy who is struggling with bullying, divorced parents and poor grades. Understanding what motivates and frustrates our patient is a paradigm shift and will radically change what you focus your services, products and communication on.
For example, when I worked in a bustling suburban practice, we had a designer sunglass trunk show that was wildly successful. I decided to do the same kind of event here at our small town practice, but only had moderate success. Why? Because I only addressed the demographics of the population, and not the psychometrics. The patient base for the suburban practice was young, corporate and aspired to be trendy and fashion conscious. While the demographic looked the same in the small town (age and race similar), I failed to see that the motivations of the audience was different. People living in this town are very outdoorsy, interested in fishing, kayaking, mountain biking and hiking. Designer fashion sunglasses like Kate Spade and Tory Burch did not meet their needs. This audience is more interested in light weight, sporty sunglasses like Maui Jim and Oakley.
Offer Services and Products Based on the Conflicts or Motivations of Your Patients
You’ll notice that your patients will tell you what they are challenged by and what they aspire toward. Best of all, they give it to you in their own language. As you pay attention to common concerns, you’ll notice patterns and similar journeys among your practice’s demographic. Once you identify a common theme, you can tailor your practice to fit their needs.
For example, if you commonly hear that your patients or patients’ children are involved in sports and are vying for college scholarships, it might be worthwhile to investigate addressing sports vision or ortho-K in your practice. If your practice is close to an airport, and you see a lot of patients who fly for business or work for an airline, consider becoming a dry eye specialist. By listening to your patients, not only can you identify their conflicts and motivations, but you can repeat it back to them in their language in your marketing and branding.
The first step in creating a successful business, whether it’s an author brand or a thriving optometry practice, is to understand your customer. By understanding your patient’s concerns and motivations, you can cater your services, products and marketing to grow your practice.
What are you doing to better understand your patients’ concerns and aspirations? How do you take that information and find ways to better serve them?