When I was in podiatry school 20-something years ago, there was a podiatrist on the faculty who was very impressive to me. He wore stylish clothes, drove a Mercedes convertible and took vacations to Australia. One day, I asked him: “What does it take to have a successful career as a podiatrist?” The doctor looked me square in the eye and said “Son, it only takes two things to be a successful podiatrist. One, you have to have a touch of gray hair so that you look experienced. Two, you need to have a couple of hemorrhoids so you look … concerned.” I did not want to wait for the gray hair and the other thing so I kept looking for alternate routes to success. I found that it really does take only two things to have a successful podiatry practice. First, you have to do a good job helping people with lower extremity problems. Second, you have to market yourself so folks will choose you out of the multitude of medical providers available to help them. Our schools, residency training programs and continuing medical education opportunities focus, rightly so, on helping us successfully treat problems of the foot and ankle. Education in marketing is primarily left up to the practitioner. The following “Laws of Marketing” may be useful to podiatrists who are looking to improve their marketing programs. The information provided is based on the writings of Al Ries and Jack Trout, two of the most influential marketers in the country. Pearls For Competing In A Competitive Market 1. The Law of Leadership. Have you ever met someone socially who you would like to have as a patient? Then when you tell him or her that you are a podiatrist, the person exclaims, “Oh, you must know Dr. So-and-So. He is wonderful.” You think to yourself that Dr. So- and-So is not that wonderful but you are going to have a hard time converting this new acquaintance to a patient. The Law of Leadership says: “It is better to be first than it is to be better.” 2. The Law of Category. It is often hard for people to tell which one of several doctors is really better but people take note of something new or different. There were many companies selling computers when Dell Computer Corporation became the first company to sell the machines over the telephone. Who sells the most computers now? The Law of Category says: “If you cannot be the first podiatrist in your town, be the first podiatrist to do something new.” 3. The Law of the Mind. It does you little good to develop a new service or feature if the podiatrist down the street copies your idea and heavily promotes the concept to your prospective patient base. Your competitor now “owns” the idea and you become a “me too” provider. IBM did not invent computers but everyone thought they did because they had a great sales force blanketing the country. The Law of the Mind says: “It is better to be first in the mind than to be first in the marketplace.” How To Make Your Practice Stand Out 4. Law of Perception. If you perform technically perfect operations but work in a pedestrian office and have gravy on your tie, your reputation as a surgeon might not be as good as Dr. Fancy Pants down the road who is kind of a hack but uses pain pumps for hammertoe surgery and has a nurse who looks like Cameron Diaz. The Law of Perception says: “It is better to be perceived as better than it is to actually be better (from a marketing perspective).” 5. Law of Focus. The typical American consumer has a very short attention span and is bombarded with a huge number of marketing messages each day. The objective should be to burn a simple message into the mind of your potential patients via repetition. The Law of Focus says: “The most powerful position in marketing is to own a word or short phrase in the prospect’s mind.” 6. Law of the Opposite. There is a tendency in the business world to play “emulate the leader” when it is often better to position yourself as an alternative to the leader. For instance, if the busiest DPM in your town has a three-week wait for an appointment and is a big shot at the country club, you could promote “same day appointments” and become president of the PTA. The Law of the Opposite says: “If you are shooting for second place, study the leader and design a strategy to counter the leader’s strength.” 7. The Law of Sacrifice. It is very difficult to offer luxury service at a low cost or to handle emergencies but always keep on schedule. You have to give up something in order to get something. Do you think it is possible for one person to specialize in reconstructive foot and ankle surgery, podopediatrics, herbal medicine and nursing home work in a crowded marketplace? The Law of Sacrifice says: “You cannot be all things to all people. Find your niche.” 8.The Law of Perspective. What is good for our practices in the short term may not be good in the long term. For example, dispensing an inferior diabetic shoe to save a couple of dollars may lead to a decrease in the number of shoes dispensed and, accordingly, net profits over time. Also, overaggressive treatment of new or self-limiting problems may increase revenue initially but cause the eventual loss of important referral sources. The Law of Perspective says: “Marketing effects are cumulative and occur over a long time. Everything counts.” 9. The Law of Attributes. Every business category has a list of possible attributes desirable for the business. Positive attributes available in a podiatry market might include a “high touch” personal approach, a “high tech” gadget and gizmo approach, an offering of special services such as evening hours or a doctor who speaks Spanish. Attributes also include a desirable location and a “low cost/insurance friendly” approach. The Law of Attributes says: “Try to own a least one positive attribute in your marketplace.” Pertinent Pointers On Succeeding And Failing 10. The Law of Success. If you are not getting better, you are probably getting worse. A podiatry practice that does not seek out new and improved services and treatments will lose ground in the marketplace. Does the phrase “Pride goes before a fall” ring a bell? The Law of Success says: “Success often leads to complacency and complacency leads to mediocrity.” 11. The Law of Failure. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. In order to improve, you must try new things and bear in mind that not all of your efforts will pay off. You should treat your marketing program like a stock portfolio. Ride the winners and dump the losers. The Law of Failure says: “Mistakes are to be expected and accepted (and then corrected).” 12. The Law of the Winner. Sociologists once did a large scale survey of octogenarians and identified the top 750 seniors in terms of health and happiness. These were the winners in the game of life. The survey included the question: “If you had to live your life over again, what would you do differently?” The majority of these winners responded with two common answers. They wished they had helped more people. They also did not regret so much what they did but rather what they did not do — the opportunities they had but let slip by. There are probably a few podiatrists who do not like going to work most days. Maybe they do not like their partners, maybe they are not in their preferred location or maybe they just do not like the type of work they are doing. These folks should make a change because life is way too short to spend it doing something that you do not enjoy. Many podiatrists love their jobs, are happy at their workplace and consider solving problems of the foot and ankle to be one of their gifts to the world. These lucky people should make sure their marketing strategy is very effective so they can help a large number of people. The Law of the Winner says: “Help lots of people and live a life with no regrets.” Dr. McDonald is in private practice in Kannapolis, N.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Editor’s note: For related articles, see “What Web Marketing Can Do For Your Practice” in the November 2004 issue of Podiatry Today or “How-To Insights For Expanding Your Practice” in the December 2003 issue. Also be sure to visit the archives at www.podiatrytoday.com .
References 1. Ries A, Trout J. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk. Harper Collins Publishing, New York, NY. 2. Ries A, Trout J. Marketing Warfare. Harper Collins Publishing, New York, NY. 3. Ries A, Trout J. Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. McGraw Hill, New York, NY. 4. Gerber M. The E Myth Revisited. Harper Collins Publishing, New York, NY.