Marketing terminology and concepts can leave some medical practitioners reaching for definitions and diagrams for better understanding.
Perhaps one of the biggest arenas of discussion centers on which strategy to enlist: inbound vs outbound marketing.
Let's clarify what these terms mean.
HubSpot is credited with coining the term inbound marketing (also referred to as content marketing) and offers this definition:
“Inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that pulls people toward your company and product, where they naturally want to be. By aligning the content you publish with your customer’s interests, you naturally attract inbound traffic that you can then convert, close, and delight over time.”
For a medical practice, the application of an inbound marketing strategy includes the following:
Having a web presence, composed of a website with an active blog, which provides quality educational content for current and potential patients and others who may be inspired to share your content
Interacting with others in social media such as Facebook or Twitter and providing a space for sharing and discussing the content you publish at your blog and elsewhere
Developing media that current and potential patients can consume at will, such as ebooks, videos, podcasts, and infographics that are both educational and inspiring
Creating a smart system for nurturing new relationships your practice makes with potential patients by way of calls to action, email newsletters, and other two-way communications, so that they will eventually call you to schedule an appointment
Developing intelligent search engine optimization (SEO) efforts throughout all of your content marketing efforts in order for your medical practice to be targeted and found
Opportunities for patients to voluntarily elect to learn more about your services, medical conditions, and other related healthcare content
For this definition, we turn to Duct Tape Marketing:
"Outbound marketing, also referred to as interruption marketing, involves getting your marketing message to the largest number of people possible through advertising, cold calling, direct mail, and other aggressive techniques that interrupt people in their daily lives."
We would add live paid seminars, email blasts to purchased lists, telemarketing, and trade shows to the list of strategies that constitute outbound marketing.
For medical practice marketing, outbound strategies are more physically present in:
Advertising in traditional media, such as radio, TV, newspapers, and magazines
Direct mail, billboards, signage, and freebie items adorned with your brand
Community donations and event sponsorships to acknowledge your brand
Email blasts and, unfortunately, spam
Banner ads on your website or elsewhere on the Internet
Pay-per-click ads in search engines
Targeted Facebook ads and, unfortunately, social media clickbait
Outgoing communications that do not offer your patients anything they can use without paying for something first
Before you decide one is better than the other, let's pause for a moment. Medical marketing is a complex weave of both kinds of efforts; you still need to use the best strategies from both to succeed. As a medical practice, you just have to do so with intention; that means fully understanding the key difference between these two approaches:
Inbound marketing for medical practices gives existing and potential patients the power to "opt in" to relationships with a medical practice. Usually this is because that practice offers something of value or interest to them. When they are given the opportunity to reach out, their intention is a powerful thing.
Using a medical inbound marketing strategy is also pleasing to existing patients and cohorts in your field because it aims to add value to every encounter they have with your practice, whether it's a free article on your blog about the latest blood pressure medications, a free ebook to download on managing epilepsy, or a free webinar they can consult to learn how to use a spacer on an inhaler.
It's critical that potential patients feel there are no strings attached to what you have to offer them. Inbound only work when potential patients to come to you of their own volition.
Outbound marketing isn't ever a two-way communication, and prospective patients never invite it, they simply receive it. It's often referred to as "interruptive" marketing because of this.
Advertising of nearly every kind is outbound by nature, but that doesn't make it evil: its main purpose it to get the word out about your medical practice and to create familiarity with your brand in every way possible. It's a one-way communication, the equivalent of burning a fire to create a smoke signal for whoever will notice.
Generally, because there is no "freebie" attached to outbound efforts, and patients aren't compelled to take action when encountering this kind of marketing. Only randomly might they notice your advertising at a time when they most need your services. Even so, they are still the ones who must make the effort to reach out to you, and outbound marketing doesn't make that easier for them.
Inbound and outbound: more comparisons
Given the distinctions between the two, you can see why inbound marketing has such appeal.
Remember commercial TV?
Think about the way you watch TV these days: if you have something recorded on your DVR, you can fast forward through the commercials, if you like.
In the old days, you had to sit through the commercials even if you didn't want to. Which do you prefer? Most likely, your patients, old and new, will prefer the same experience.
What about the Yellow Pages?
Another way to compare the two (with a hat tip to Vital for these great analogies):
Back when phone books were still a "thing," the Yellow Pages were a way for companies to advertise themselves to anybody who might be looking. You could say that the Yellow Pages were a print version of the search engine for those looking for services. The recipients of phone books received these for free and could use them at will, meaning that, should they choose to look beyond the White Pages and into the Yellow Pages for a reference, they were "opting in" to that experience.
Did you get the mail today?
On the other hand, these same people would receive junk mail they never signed up for which included advertisements, flyers, coupons, catalogs, and other media from all kinds of businesses hoping to snag their attention.
Junk mail may be said to be the "analog" version of today's email "spam." Nobody likes either because it's impersonal, random, and not interested in your "opting in" to what they have to offer. You simply receive it whether you like it or not. Thank goodness for recycling bins, right?
The reality is that, according to statistics cited in Mashable, 44 percent of direct mail is never opened, 86 percent of people skip through TV commercials when they can, and 84 percent of younger web surfers leave websites because of "irrelevant or intrusive" ads.
To learn more about the differences between inbound and outbound marketing, and why the focus has shifted mostly to inbound marketing, you may want to check out these awesome infographics from Mashable here.
Duct Tape Marketing
Did you know? We offer a free inbound medical marketing handbook to help medical practices learn the basics of solid inbound strategies. Click on the book link below to see how you can get your free copy.