What Does The Irene Experience Teach You About Marketing Your Clinic?

If you live on the east coast, I hope all is well in the aftermath of Irene. Although the storm weakened from an initial Category 4 hurricane into a ‘tropical storm’ as it approached the NY-NJ-CT area, the damage from this event is expected to be in the billions of dollars. Millions of people were stranded without power (including myself) and widespread flooding was reported throughout the east coast.

Even if you were not directly impacted by Irene, the entire event revealed how people react in response to stress and impending calamity (bear with me, I’ll tell you how this ties in with the marketing of your clinic). These are some of the things I observed as thousands of residents were scrambling to prepare themselves hours before Irene was expected to impact our community in New Jersey:

  • People were stockpiling food, water, candles, torches, and batteries not knowing how long they would be ‘stuck indoors’
  • Local officials sent emergency broadcasts by phone, cable TV and text messages advising people to be prepared for a power outage that could last several days
  • Everyone with a patio was advised to move furniture indoors because 50+ mph winds could turn small objects into ‘missiles’
  • Mass evacuations were ordered in NJ and NY (the NJ governor said: “Get the Hell out of the beach, you’ve had your tan, now get out”). My colleague Laura Miranda PT, one of the speakers at the Private Practice Summit, had to evacuate her apartment in Battery Park.
On a related note, my wife showed me a message on Facebook that was ironic and funny at the same time:
As hurricane Irene arrives, federal disaster officials have warned that internet outages could force people to interact with other people for the first time in years. Residents are bracing themselves for the horror of awkward silences and unwanted eye contact. FEMA has advised: “Be prepared. Write down possible topics to talk about in advance. Remember, a conversation is basically a series of Facebook updates strung together.”
Now that the ordeal is finally over, people are getting back to normal life.

Despite the return to routine, people are still shaken up, and they will be for a while.

People need comfort and reassurance (although it’s not obvious). Any event that affects the lives of people (especially one of this magnitude) is a unique opportunity for your clinic to comfort people on a mass scale, and market your services as a secondary benefit.

This brings me to marketing lesson 101, which is…

For Marketing To Work, Always Enter The Conversation That’s Already Going on in the Consumer’s Mind

It doesn’t matter if you and your community have been impacted by a natural calamity or not, the big takeaway is:

“Ask yourself  – What is the consumer thinking about at this point in time?”
Answer this question - What can I do to enter that (pre-existing) conversation?

Case in point.

A couple of hours ago this morning, I received an email from Chase Bank (intended for customers in the NY-NJ area) that was brilliant in its intent and execution. I’ve included a copy of the email below, and a few key things they accomplished.

  • They addressed exactly what was going on in the consumer’s mind.
  • They explained what they were going to do immediately to make things easier for the consumer (waiving ATM fees, overdraft fees, late fees on credit cards, loans from today till September 4th)
  • They showed they care for their customers with the statement “We also plan to call many of our customers in the hardest hit areas to see if there are other ways we can help“. This really caught my eye. Whether they actually call me or not, I know their intent and I appreciate it.
  • They reiterated their commitment to their customers and reinforced their status as a trusted provider of financial services.

Chase was the only bank that sent me this email, and I got no such email, phone call, or text message from Bank of America or Citibank; the other major financial institutions in the Northeast. In all fairness, I may get a letter from the other banks in a couple of weeks, but Chase acted immediately and came across as the ‘knight in shining armor’ in a way. The competing banks missed a key opportunity to connect with the consumer on an emotional level, something that no amount of money spent on marketing and brand building can ever achieve.

You can do the exact same things to position yourself as the trusted private practice in your area. Choose from different modes of contact – email, phone calls, text messages or even letters. The key in this lesson is the intent, which will be noticed (and commended) by every single patient and referral source.

The big lesson from Irene is this:

“Communicate with your patients and referral sources as quickly as possible after an ‘event’ that affects everyone’s life.”
Be the first to show strength, dependence and courage. Position yourself as the 'rock' of your community.

You will be doing a whole lot more than just ‘strategic marketing’. You’ll be doing the right thing.

6 Comments

  • Kenneth says:

    amazing article Nitin. We have bookmarked your blog and keep coming back to read your articles. We were hit hard by Irene, but this article shows you how to take life's lemons and make lemonade out of it. I am glad we weren't hit as hard as we anticipated. Keep up the great work Nitin.

  • Sandy says:

    Nitin, thanks for yet another amazing article. I've been thinking about how to approach this situation given the fact that every single patient is talking about it today, but you put it in a crystal clear manner for us to understand and implement. thanks for the good work you do for our profession. We need more people to lead the way like you do!

  • Beverly says:

    Wow, you're so right Nitin. I never even thought of utilizing a huge life changing event to become even more connected with customers. It's the perfect opportunity to truly put a "human touch" and emotional connection into your business connection. Great article. Great points!

  • jim says:

    terrific post. look forward to seeing you in Laura on October 14-16 in NJ. keep up the good work.

  • Rosa S, PT, DPT says:

    Every patient is talking about it..about how they were affected by Irene… And I am sharing my experience too. But it didn't occur to me that this can be a way to reconnect with new and old referral sources and past patients. I know that I would appreciate someone offering to help after the storm, and I'm sure so will the patients and referring doctors. I got one of those emails from Chase too, and remember thinking how good it was for them to do that. That's good customer service, and great marketing! Thanks for the article.

  • Vince says:

    A person lost a little fitness center up the street. I went today to see him . He was not sure what my intensions were but I offered my facility two nights a week to run his classes . My intensions were and are to help and to your point most people don't communicate and are not sure how to handle people who are sincere. In the end never think of doing something for something in return justdosomethingforsomeone vb

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