Don't underestimate the importance of marketing

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Pam Selker Rak
Pam Selker Rak

Particularly in tight economic times, I'm often asked about ways to approach marketing in more cost-efficient ways. And, yes, there are some hints that are helpful when budgets are tight. However, there is a more important strategy—and that's to ensure that marketing is being conducted consistently in order to get the most effective results for the long-term.

So here's the best piece of advice I can give in any economy, good or bad: Long-term care organizations need to approach marketing in the same way they approach product or service development and delivery.

Why? Because developing effective marketing is really no different from developing quality software, products or providing long-term care services.

Or at least it shouldn't be.

Organizations spend millions in research and development, and they hire the best talent to turn their ideas into breakthrough products or services. They further provide millions of dollars so that their staff is constantly updated as to the latest technologies. Yet they often fail to take this same process to further understand their market, or communicate with their customers in a structured, ongoing manner to build their brands for the long-term.

In fact, they often scoff at it. And, sometimes, it's tough to blame them. They have watched other organizations spend a lot of money on marketing without understanding their audience and customers, and are either struggling or are no longer in business.

Both of the above approaches can produce failure. Marketing cannot sell a bad product or service (at least not for the long-term). And a good product or service can have only limited success in selling itself. It may have some success in the short-term but will not have mainstay without marketing to build and retain awareness and retention among targeted audiences.

The facilities that survive have a healthy balance of good products, unmatched delivery and customer satisfaction practices, a viable market and an effective multi-channeled marketing-to-sales or marketing-to-census development strategy. These organizations are effectively “interacting” their products and services with key customer audiences because they have followed the same structured procedures as they do for product or service development.

Sometimes, even the savviest executives may not see the value in marketing; the discipline is foreign to them. Marketing is perceived as being so different from the process of developing products or care services, that the expense becomes hard to justify. However, marketing should never be viewed as an expense; it's always a long-term investment—if it's done right.

Think of it this way: Would you spend tens of thousands of dollars on a fully loaded Mercedes, and then refuse to pay for gas? Would anyone want this investment to just sit parked in the garage where no one would ever see it or appreciate it—or even understand—its value?

Probably not. Then why do many organizations do the same when it comes to marketing their products or services?

Because of the significant investment required, organizations typically follow a carefully crafted, phased approach to product or service development: (1) determining user requirements, (2) designing the user interface or experience, (3) creating the product or service, (4) testing and refining the product or service, and, (5) implementing and maintaining their offering.

Marketing development should be approached in this same, familiar manner. The first step is determining your customers' requirements. Simply put, this means understanding your customers; “pain” and figuring out the core reasons why they need your products and why they should buy them from you and not your competitors.

Once you understand your customers' needs, then you can design the best strategies to meet their requirements—strategies that convince your customers that your organization offers unique features and benefits that competitive companies do not deliver.

In turn, knowing how customers will interact with your company and products forms the basis for creating and implementing the marketing plan (the means to achieve customer interaction).

Once implemented, the marketing plan should be tested and refined using a mix of tracking mechanisms for all of your marketing initiatives. This enables you to measure return on investment and tie results directly back to your bottom line.

The final step in the marketing development process is maintenance. Maintaining the plan through continual educational initiatives builds awareness and retention over time and keeps your customers interested in your product and services for the long haul.

Developing a long-term marketing program in a structured manner helps organizations break through communication barriers and better understand customers—and, most importantly, develop an ongoing relationship with them. It's also a long-term complement to the investment already made in their products/services.

But perhaps most importantly, it reinforces to organizations that they've already invested in the Mercedes. Now, all they have to do is drive it.

Pam Selker Rak is founder and president of CommuniTech LLC (www.mktgcommunications.com) in Pittsburgh, which provides measurable marketing strategy and services to clients in the long-term care industry and beyond. She has put together a collection of cost-efficient ways to help market when budgets get tight. To request an electronic copy of the booklet “100 Tips for Marketing in Tenuous Times,” send an e-mail to pam.rak@mktgcommunications.com or call (412) 221-4550.


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