The phrase “know your audience” is usually applied to public speaking, but it’s also vitally important for anyone communicating online.
The concept is simple: If you’re sharing information about, say, luxury European travel, you shouldn’t use language that would best appeal to budget-conscious teenagers or show images of crowded youth hostels in Amsterdam. The goal is to ensure that the right people are receiving your message.
In the case of medical practices, who are these “right people?”
This is not a pop quiz. We’ll just tell you: They’re not your former rivals from medical school you now want to impress with technical language and industry jargon. They’re not younger versions of you living out your dream of becoming a doctor. They’re not your mom (primarily, anyway).
They’re potential patients. Potential patients you would like to convert into actual patients.
That means every choice you make for your online activity, from website creation to ongoing promotional marketing, should take that specific audience into account. Decisions to consider with potential patients in mind include color schemes and graphics, copy voice and tone, and even social media platform.
Types of Potential Patients
Within the broad category of potential patients, there are three more-specific groups to focus on:
1) People who are unhappy due to a medical or cosmetic reason and who want to explore their options. Example: A woman who knows she wants clearer skin, but is unsure how to proceed. Can she use at-home products or is there an in-office treatment that can help?
2) People who have a specific procedure or treatment in mind and who want to learn more about it. Example: A man who has done some research and would like a tummy tuck, but doesn’t know how long the surgery takes or what the recovery process is like.
3) People who have a specific procedure or treatment in mind and who want to know whether your practice is the one they should choose for care. Example: A woman who has decided she wants to try BOTOX®, but wants to know what sets you apart as an injector in terms of experience and results.
Ideally, your website will offer something for all three types of potential patients, by employing easy-to-use navigation that allows users to quickly find the information that will be most useful to them.
Refining Your Audience Category
In addition to general considerations, it’s also important to write for a more specific audience—one unique to your practice. There are four categories to consider when crafting a voice and look for your online marketing endeavors:
Downtown Manhattan is different from a Los Angeles suburb. Miami and San Francisco are both coastal cities, but with different populations. The “where” of your practice is key to knowing your audience, but even more important is the “where” your patients call home. You may have a big-city office that draws women and men from outlying areas. Or you could have a spacious, relaxing facility that looks like heaven to anyone eager to escape the hustle and bustle of the nearby metropolitan area.
At its most basic, geography should influence your voice and tone, as well as the angles with which you approach the messages you are sharing. Dermatologists in San Diego warn against the sun damage that can result from routine trips to the beach, while dermatologists in Denver emphasize sunscreen for ski trips and caution against the dangers of thinking overcast days block ultraviolet rays. That fact alone can shape everything from blog topic selection to featured procedures on your main website.
This category is about the information you use to fill out clinical forms: Age. Gender. Race. Annual income.
Older, more affluent populations (and thereby audiences) typically gravitate more toward pricier surgical procedures intended to address significant signs of aging or environmental damage. Younger people are more likely to be interested in less-invasive treatments that cost less, require less down time, and yield more modest results.
These populations also have different habits online, which can influence where you go to find your target audience. While much has been said about younger users moving to Instagram and leaving Facebook to Boomers, Facebook remains the top site for teenagers, as well as older generations. That said, the Pew Research Center reported that seniors are increasingly choosing Facebook as their preferred social media platform.
While this is connected to annual income, money is not the sole factor. Lifestyle includes standard of living, choice of leisure activity, use of disposable income, hobbies, and more. Some people have wealth and aren’t afraid to flaunt it. Others may choose to live simply and humbly, no matter their net worth.
Lifestyle can also involve attitude toward a range of social, political, economic, and other factors. Is the majority of your audience conservative or progressive? Adventuresome or cautious? Would they be receptive to cutting-edge technology and techniques? Or would they prefer tried-and-true treatments? The answer should impact your marketing decisions. Knowing the difference can determine whether you emphasize innovation over tradition or experience over breakthroughs.
You may know a lot about your target audience, but all of the demographic information doesn’t actually mean much if you don’t what your potential patients actually do. Where do they get their information (newspapers, podcasts, TV news, technical blogs, or Wikipedia), and then how do they apply their knowledge? Where do they shop? How do they respond to sales or special events or discounts?
You can spend a lot of time educating people on the ins and outs of skin cancer screenings and treatments, only to have them choose a different provider because they prefer texting to calling, but you have no way to reach your practice online.
So What Can You Do?
You should absolutely get to know your patients and community in order to better understand the people seeking out your services. But to truly find your audience, it’s important to always be refining your approach.
At minimum, this means continually updating your website and marketing efforts to reflect which keywords people in your specific area are typing into search engines to get answers to their healthcare-related questions. You should also be collecting whatever data you can on patients in order to identify commonalities, trends, and more, which can inform current and future marketing efforts.
Every dollar counts, so you want to be sure the money you invest in marketing is being put to use. Don’t send the right message to the wrong audience, or vice-versa.
For practices too busy treating patients to devote much time to considering voice (or practices that want to be that busy), there’s good news: Clinical copywriters can work directly with doctors and other staff to represent that voice and deploy copy that is both medically accurate and appropriate for the intended audience.
Ryan has been copy manager for MetaMed Marketing since 2014, and wrote for the company’s various clients for a few years prior to that.