Like any business focused on people, marketing theory and strategy remain consistent with tactics and tools change with the times. It is important for Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) to get a glimpse of the overall Marketing discipline (which this article will touch on), and, it is more important to use Marketing to generate clients for the practice using the latest techniques employed by businesses and enterprise. This is important, especially for SLPs who are starting out in their practice.
Communication starts with the Customer and the clinical problem the SLP’s practice can solve for them. Having a good knowledge of who SLPs want to attract to their practice is vital. The profession of Speech-Language Pathology is a vast science providing a wide area of services (for example: Articulation, Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Autism, Brain injury recovery, and Accent reduction, just to name a few), and it is important that the SLP make an initial decision on the target audience based on the specialty services they want to offer. Surprisingly, this has an impact on the tools one will need in Marketing tactics. Note that this does not mean, that the SLP will not reach a wide audience - on the contrary, this ‘bullseye,’ when done well, will have a ripple effect on other audiences including even medical professionals who need to collaborate with SLPs. This is due to what we call the “Customer Journey.”
Marketing and the Patient’s Journey
In the study of Commerce, there is a flow in consumption (goods or information) that is called the “Customer Journey,” where a sequence of events identifies the path before purchase (goods or services). In its most simplistic terms, these are the five steps in order:
(1) building awareness;
(4) repurchase; and,
In all of these phases of the journey, the discipline of Marketing aims to move a customer or a client from being unaware to purchase of goods and services, and eventually create an advocate who endorses the SLP’s practice.
“Building Awareness” means achieving awareness of the SLP's practice from having zero knowledge. “Engaging” is the step that serves more information about the Practice and the SLP’s services, usually through the use of research by the client/customer. This is the stage where multiple points of information are consumed by the client/customer. “Conversion” means a customer is convinced that the service may address their needs and actually signs up for the service/book a session. “Repurchase” is when the customer does repeat orders of goods or services. And “Advocacy” is when the client/customer becomes an advocate for the SLP and organically shares good reviews with people who may need the same services.
While all steps have different intended outcomes, this article will focus on the first two steps which are crucial for startup practices.
Building Awareness for a Practice
Practitioners understand the importance of having a digital footprint today in the 21st Century. In July 2022, internet usage penetration is at 99.1% — with 93.5% of Mobile users. Based on this, most marketers generally assume that media and information consumption is now largely digital, and is as hard-working as the traditional analog or non-digital platforms (TV, radio, print, bus ads, billboards, etc). In today’s world, digital advertising is easily accessible by any business owner, while non-digital advertising is limited to advertising agencies and media companies that require large budgets. For the SLPs, we will focus on building awareness of one’s professional practice through digital media.
Here are the three platforms that an SLP must be aware of in digital media:
Owned Media - these are the digital assets an SLP owns and controls the message. These include a website for the Practice; content material like blog posts and podcasts; Research studies (if authored by the SLP); social media posts (of the practitioner’s professional account); and self-published newsletters/e-bulletins. The role of Owned Media is to promote the practice in the SLP’s own words.
Paid Media - these are when the SLP buys spaces in other people’s digital properties usually directly from those people, or through some intermediary. Examples are Google AdWords; advertising on medical-related websites, newsletters, or even mobile apps; sponsorships of events; advertising on social media platforms; and even advertising on non-digital platforms like radio. The role of Paid Media is to lead possible clients to your Owned Media (like the website) where they will learn more about your services.
Earned Media - finally, these are platforms where the customers/clients will have full control of the message. Examples are review platforms like reviews from 3rd party websites; blog posts of clients themselves; press articles; and other materials informing the public about the SLP's practices. The role of this media for the SLP is to start conversations with the audience and ideally develop positive relationships to promote your practice.
Must-Have Digital Assets
We recommend focusing on the following advertising tools to promote the SLP’s practice to relevant audiences. The digital advertising landscape changes frequently and consistently, and these suggestions will change in the very near future as technology advances reshape people’s information consumption.
Owned Media: The SLP’s Modern Website or a Landing Page
This is the most important digital asset to any professional and is worth investing time to think out thoroughly. The website or a landing page should answer visitors’ questions, and most importantly, have the ability to book an appointment. “Booking an appointment” is the best goal for a business and is called a “conversion” by digital marketers. An SLP does not have to spend big amounts of money to create the practice’s digital presence - working with a partner like Colib can provide a customized landing page that includes all the relevant information, and is the best alternative to spending resources for a website.
Owned Media: Google My Business Account
In recent years, Google has endorsed to professionals the use of their “My Business” services. When you search for a specific business by name, the search result is a focused set of data regarding that business - from map/directions to the business, website link, office hours, services, traffic times, phone numbers, and even customer reviews. The establishment of the GMB Account is another key digital asset for businesses that rely on a physical location, like SLP’s offices and clinics. Establishment of the GMB Account involves filling in information online, and an actual physical postcard from Google is sent to your clinic with a code - this verifies the information you filled out online. Once verification is done, your account goes live. This is the 2nd best asset an SLP should cultivate next to the clinic’s website or landing page from CoLib. A customized landing page through Colib will increase awareness for an SLP’s practice.
Note: While the information is controlled by you, the GMB Account is also an example of “Earned Media” with people having the ability to leave comments about your practice. It is important that this is monitored by you or your staff as well, as negative and positive reviews will be published on this system. See separate section below.
Paid Media: Google AdWords Account and Keywords
Google Search is used by the majority of people looking to find answers to Speech-Language issues. Ensuring that the SLP’s website practice shows up when people look for answers, is the best way to generate awareness. Adwords is a bidding platform - you bid for certain keywords so that your text ads will show up as ‘paid ads’ on search results. For instance, when a person types the keyword “speech therapy LAVAL”, there will be paid results (paid ads) and organic results (non-paid) under those results. The idea is to bid for the search term (example, “speech therapy laval”) and the ad that you develop shows up on the top results for that search session.
Undoubtedly, there is a learning curve needed for this digital marketing discipline if one is to do this on their own. We suggest working with a digital search agency will be a better use of the professional’s time. As a way to start your way into Paid Media, we are sharing a spreadsheet for the reader to consider as starting keywords for investing. Feel free to use this file to start your investment in Google Adwords.
Paid Media: Ads in local Newsletters and Newspapers
One of the most underused and often disregarded media channels by many professionals is the use of your local newsletters and newspapers. These digital and traditional media properties are very important to establish a practice’s presence in the neighborhood. And yet, enterprising small businesses continue to use these properties simply because it becomes a source of recommendation from people who live and work in their neighborhoods. The investment in advertising can be measured by adding a promo code to the advertisement. This will allow the professional to determine if the investment is worth the price.
Paid Media: Offline and Online Professional Networks
Word of Mouth is also a powerful promotional tool for Modern Marketing. This can be achieved by joining fellow Speech Language Pathologists in your metro area and province. There is a list of local and national associations and networks on this page: https://www.sac-oac.ca/regulatory-bodies-0
Consider attending in-person meetups in order to expand your network of fellow practitioners and be active in the regulatory body’s affairs and continuing education programs. Extending your network will open more doors to working with ancillary professionals including medical professionals.
Another area to consider is reading the sub-reddit dedicated to Speech Language Pathologists. There are many professionals who join this community (as of this writing, there were more than 33,000 members) and share various information from the mundane to the clinically informative. This is the link: https://old.reddit.com/r/slp/ Joining using a pseudonym is preferable to protect your practice and your personal identity.
Owned Media: Your Own Social Media Accounts
For most humans who navigate the world visually, social media plays a very strong part of communications about a professional’s practice. Younger generations consume information through this interactive technology, and information gathered from Social Media also influence the consumption of goods and services. Having an SLP’s practice active through social media is an important part of generating expertise and credibility, which wins more patients. Think of Social Media as your clinic’s official communications office, with content that is informative, and useful for worried patients and parents. It is easy to get into Social Media, but once opened, content needs to be reviewed by the professional with medical claims strictly verified.
Owned Media: Content with blog posts
Imagine your potential patients searching for symptoms, diagnosis, and general information on Speech Language. They are looking for quality content that will answer their questions as well as the best next steps for their situation. Creating really informative and expert Content from you or your team is a great way to gain credibility, and win new patients. Not only does this exhibit your practice’s expertise, but it also is a vital part of letting Search Engines find your website, as more traffic will increase your site ranking on Google, and your visits increase organically as google displays your site in its search results. The best part is that this helps reduce your investments in paid advertising campaigns.
Paid Media: Paid Social Media Ads (ex. Facebook)
Paid media is the practice of investing in digital advertising on third-party social media channels like Facebook and Instagram in order to send people to a practitioner’s website to inform them of their practice. The innovation comes with how a platform’s algorithm serves the ads based on a target audience decided by the advertiser and a web user’s online habits. So, while a potential patient might not be looking for a speech pathologist, they could be served a digital ad if they have been previously looking through a medical website discussing speech disorders. Social Media platforms allow you to choose specific audiences to optimize your budget spending and generate a higher likelihood of clicking on your ad. While this media is easy to learn (ie. spend money on), it may take an investment in time and effort to learn the nuances of paid social media. Or you can look for a digital marketer to help assist your team.
Earned Media: Review Sites
In today’s digital media, the conversation is very much a two-way street: both the SLP and the Patient have the ability to influence the opinion of people in general. While an SLP can invest heavily in a beautiful website with outstanding information to establish a professional’s technical expertise, the patients also have the ability to leave a review or feedback, which could damage or amplify a clinical practice. Google reviews are the most used platform by consumers on any product or service. Once a practice has secured it’s Google My Business account (which helps generate traffic to the website), reviews for a practice are also opened to the public. And in some cases, reviews are also rated by other customers as helpful or not. Overall ratings take into account all reviews, good and bad. There is limited ways to influence these, but as the term Earned Media suggests, it is very much dependent on a customer’s evaluation of any service. Encourage customers who comment positively on a practice to leave a review on Google.
Patient platform as a step toward Professional Help
For the SLP, a website that serves as a source of data increases efficiency in managing the practice. Converting website visitors into patients is the most important goal in marketing. This means that the system starts with scheduling software like CoLib. In terms of the “Customer Journey,” after being aware of the SLP’s clinc, the new patient will book through an easily navigable system that captures all the necessary information to assist the SLP. CoLib is a friendly platform (desktop or mobile) that allows patients to book a session with your team, notify the new patient through automated reminders and confirmations, all while being PIPEDA compliant. A platform like CoLib allows the SLP to manage hundred of patients conveniently and allows patients to secure valuable time with their professional via their laptop or through their mobile phone, converting awareness to action.