Increasing HME Visibility: Expanding Your Contacts
- By Daniel Ramer, Erin H. McKeon
- May 01, 2002
1. Establish in-services
In-services is perhaps the simplest way to increase your company's visibility. The opportunity to provide information to a physician's staff, at a rehab employee meeting or to social workers at an important hospital provides a great way not only to provide information but also to put your company's name in front of your referral sources. In-services can be related to product information, product demonstrations, updated insurance information or any other topic of interest. While in-services can be provided along with a manufacturer's representative, a company employee should always be present and involved. On a cautionary note, if a manufacturer's rep is involved, be sure he or she only provides the requested information and does not try to market other products he or she may have.
2. Find your way into the Yellow Pages
Advertising in the Yellow Pages often is taken for granted as a means of publicity, but it is a critical component of a company's marketing plan. Many members of a community are not aware that home medical equipment providers exist and, unless they are referred by a health professional, people will look in the Yellow Pages for sources. Consider including a picture in the ad; it will attract attention. Include information concerning the benefits of your products, not just a listing of products or services. An example of this would be "asthma relief" not just "nebulizer." Don't take for granted that the consumer is familiar with your products and services; in most cases, they are in the dark.
3. Provide information for a physician's newsletter
Consistent information to potential referral sources is an important way to increase your visibility to referral sources and their staff. Monthly information could include new products, updated insurance information, staff biographies, events you are participating in or general health information of interest. The newsletter can be mailed; however, a cost-effective method for companies with at least 1,000 physicians in their market is providing the newsletter by fax. Sending the newsletter once a month is best, or at least send an issue every other month.
4. Use database mailing
One of the most valuable assets that you have is the database of your customers. When possible, group the listing by diagnosis. There will be times when a mailing can be done to your entire list, but other times a targeted mailing can be more appropriate. For example, when the new non-invasive blood glucose monitors become available, you could announce this news to your diabetic database. Marketing to an existing customer is much more cost effective than servicing a new customer. Even a newsletter twice a year will keep your name in your customer's mind. Remember, not only do you want to continue to service present customers, but you also want to be visible to their family and friends who may need your services. Theses mailings can include new product information, insurance updates, events you are participating in, staff biographies or even a coupon offer. Every mailing or newsletter should always include a "thank you" to your customers.
5. Put your store name in store flyers and package inserts
Every time you have an opportunity to put your name in front of a customer, it increases your visibility. Locations with a retail showroom can provide specials as well as other appropriate information, but even companies without a showroom can provide this same information with all of their deliveries. Many times your customers will be aware of only the service you are providing them, but not be aware of your other available products and services. When someone sees a product advertised on TV or by a direct mail flyer you want to be visible in his or her mind and recognized to be able to provide that product locally. Schedule a yearly calendar using these ideas. If you write your ideas down into a schedule, you will be more likely to carry the ideas out.
6. Get involved in community activities
Since many members of a community are not aware of what HMEs do and may never find out until the need exists, your HMEs visibility can be increased by becoming involved in activities that are not necessarily directly related to health can increase your visibility. Business expositions, county fairs, senior shows and mall events are only some examples of potential activities. Although many attendees may not want to talk specifically about your products, your presence at these events will to give you an advantage when they do need your services. Handing refrigerator magnets out is an inexpensive way to get your company name into people's homes as many people keep them.
7. Join community memberships
The Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, Lions Club, Kiwanis and other service organizations are another route to increase your visibility. Membership or board participation in an arthritis foundation, diabetic association or spinal cord chapter, not only can increase your visibility, but this type of networking also leads to referrals. The more involvement you have speaking, volunteering for committees, assisting in fund-raising activities, the better.
8. Provide single topic programs
Providing a half day or full day program to consumers-or better yet to health professionals-is extremely effective. Subjects can include: asthma, wound care, incontinence, compression therapy and other topics depending on your strengths. A small registration fee plus support from vendors can make this an event without costs to your company. Manufacturers can help by providing speakers, publicity and funds. Programs also strengthens your relationship with manufacturers and builds your relationship with attendees. A continental breakfast can be provided at registration and lunch for a full day program. Base the registration fee on these costs. Room rental, speaker expenses and audio visual needs can be covered through vendor support. This is a large undertaking, but a one-time-year can be extremely valuable. Appropriate company staff should attend and be visible to the attendees. At every event of this type, have your company banner displayed directly behind the speaker's platform. The attendees will be looking at it throughout the program.
9. Participate in health fairs
While participation in these events can increase your visibility, sponsoring and producing an annual event is more effective. Perhaps the following example can best describe what is possible. Rochester, N.Y., is a mid-size city where I have produced a health fair event for 12 years. Larger cities or smaller population centers can proportionately achieve similar results. As in single topic program sponsorships, a health fair can be sponsored with little or no cost to the company. Held last October, the health fair had an attendance of 3,000, which included the general public and more than 300 health professionals. Twenty-one screenings and testings were provided and one-hour programs were held throughout the day, many targeted to health care professionals. All of this was provided at no charge to all attendees. A continental breakfast was provided early in the morning for nurses, social workers, therapists, case managers, physician's staff and other health professionals to increase their attendance. There were 200 exhibitors including 80 health-related non-profit organizations. All exhibitors had some relationship to health and paid vendor fees adjusted for the non-profit exhibitors. Although health care can be a low-cost (sometimes no-cost) event for a company, they do require an investment of time by some company staff, but the rewards are extensive. The rewards include increased visibility, the perception of a valuable community service and a stronger relationship with non- profit agencies and your referral sources.
10. Advertise in the media
This topic can be one or more articles by itself, however there are some main points to consider. Media advertising can include everything from advertising in church bulletins or shopper papers to sophisticated television schedules. Perhaps the most important point to consider is the value of a scheduled plan and consistent advertising. Media advertising is an important way to reach people who do not know of HMEs. Advertising can be product oriented or it can be a company introduction. Many manufacturers now have cooperative advertising programs to help with the costs and can provide materials to help in the development of appropriate ads. Television can be beneficial because it shows the use and benefits of a product in action. Budget considerations, size of a company and geographic location have to be considered in making the media choice, but the use of some type of advertising-whether television, print or radio-will increase your visibility.
A Final Thought
Any one of these ideas can help with your marketing efforts, but implementing several of these important points will result in a greater combined effect. A written annual scheduling of methods to increase visibility will make it more likely that you will put your plan into action.
This article originally appeared in the May 2002 issue of HME Business.