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How To Ensure Your Practice Does Not ‘Jump The Shark’

If you were lucky enough to see the episode of Happy Days with the Fonz waterskiing and evading a shark, then you know exactly where the saying “jumping the shark” comes from.

   Jumping the shark is a ploy used by a TV program to try to stop the apparent downward spiral the show may be taking. The term originated in the 1980s, and has spawned multiple Web sites and fan followings. It is now in use to describe many different situations outside of television.

   In the business world, jumping the shark can describe a company’s new attempt to draw further attention to its name or brand. Consumers do not always perceive this as a great move, causing the attempt to backfire. Consumers can consider these types of moves as desperate, annoying or as the company hooking the white flag of surrender to the pole.

   Does anyone remember cousin Oliver from The Brady Bunch? Yes, he is the little kid they brought in toward the end who did nothing but irritate the audience. What you may not remember, in part because of Oliver, is how great the show was right up until the end.

   One could argue that an example in business would be the Wall Street Journal beginning to polarize its audience with more articles that avoid traditional non-biased reporting.

   So how does your podiatric practice avoid getting the label of jumping the shark? It is a little different in the medical profession but there are a few things you should do.

   Avoid changing your practice’s image for the worse in any method of advertising, remodeling or employment. It is easy to take shortcuts when debating the cost of certain angles of improving the branding of the practice. Simply making your logo bigger or more cartoonish may come off as unprofessional. On the other hand, an employee who is pricier to hire but more personable and/or knowledgeable could change the image of the practice for the better.

   Don’t try to do too many things at once. Changing the office’s front staff, décor and protocols all in one day can be confusing for patients, especially some of the older patients. It can also become overwhelming and possibly result in mistakes patients can easily see. Implementing changes in smaller steps may help avoid this situation.

   Leave car dealership advertising to car dealerships. We have all witnessed this type of message on ads for car dealerships. The volume goes up, people are screaming for attention, flashy words and numbers are visible, and usually the commercial mentions a free gift for visiting the dealership. Your practice can garner attention without the physicians of the practice coming off as slick car salespeople. Some practices would argue that offering coupons for podiatric services would fall under this category as well.

   Stick with what works. How do you know which of your practice’s marketing methods are attracting or maintaining patients? Keeping track of your external and internal marketing with an eye on specific results will make it easy to focus on successful approaches. This will also make it easy for the practice to ditch the marketing approaches that are not producing.

   Have confidence in the capabilities of your practice. A self-described “marketoonist,” Tom Fishburne, has a picture of a board meeting with the leader stating, “We have steadily accumulated years of brand loyalty but now that we have hit a rough patch, let us throw it all away on product proliferation and gimmicky promotions.”

   You should expand existing services, invest in new technology and continue to offer great customer care. Avoiding “quick fix” approaches will help you keep the focus on professionalism and patient confidence in your brand.

   Now if we could just figure out how to get our favorite shows to end before they jump the shark.

   Dr. Lawton is in private practice in Naples, Fla.

   Dr. McCord retired in December 2008 from practice at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.

Megan Lawton, DPM


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