Marketing Strategies for the 21st Century

Marketing is an integral part of conducting business for any
company. Combining classic, traditional marketing methods with newer techniques
made possible by the Internet and social networking media can help O&P
companies tailor their marketing strategies for success in today’s world.

Target audience

Identifying and defining the
target audience is the first step in devising a marketing
strategy. Because orthotists and prosthetists provide services for patients,
marketing directly to patients is the first and obvious choice. However,
marketing to other audiences is equally important.

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“We consider who our audience is, and obviously we
serve the patient, but as we serve the patient, we are serving the
patient’s family. We are also serving the therapist who works with the
patient and the doctor who has performed surgery or other procedures on that
patient,” Jon Jones, marketing director for Capital Prosthetic &
Orthotic Center, said. “So while we are strategizing how to effectively
market, we take different opportunities to reach these different audiences as
it applies to them.”

Jones noted that it is often families of patients rather
than patients themselves who use the Internet to learn about an O&P
practice. Having a website geared to both patients and their families can help
draw new patients to a practice, and then after the initial contact has been
made, marketing efforts can be shifted directly to the patients themselves.

The various referral sources also represent other target
audiences for O&P marketing efforts. Alexander Lyons, CPO, president of
Lyons Prosthetics & Orthotics Inc., noted that patients generally find
their way to an O&P office through referrals made by physicians, physical
therapists, hospital staff, case workers or even family members who may have
been through a similar experience.

“Those are all potential markets, so I spend a lot
of time on those particular areas,” Lyons said.

Patient feedback

Obtaining customer feedback can help guide marketing
strategies. Orthotists and prosthetists serve patients at an extremely
vulnerable time in their lives, and getting insight from patients can be
helpful before a new marketing strategy is instituted.

  Jeff Collins
  Jon Jones

“Basically, in this business and almost all
businesses, we sell hope, and specifically in our business, hope is something
that we do real naturally,” Lyons said. “When I am coming up with an
idea for marketing, I like to get customer feedback. I am constantly trying to
track how patients found out about us, trying to get the feedback, and I have
everybody in the office watching for that.”

Before implementing a marketing effort, such as handing
out pens or other giveaways, Lyons noted he tests the idea first by forming a
focus group and seeking feedback from customers “to find out if that
really makes a difference in how they learn about us.” Lyons referred to
this strategy as “putting out bait.”

Education and training

Participating at meetings and events sponsored by
organizations that represent and support O&P patients can be a valuable
marketing tool. Warren R. Mays, CPO, president of Artisan Orthotic-Prosthetic
Technologies Inc., said he has often volunteered to speak about O&P
services at meetings of organizations such as the Muscular Dystrophy
Association or the American Cancer Society.

“That is a way to get out and not only meet
patients but also be recognized as an expert in your field since you are the
speaker,” Mays said. “That has been a very successful marketing tool
for us.”

Providing training for physical therapists is also helps
practitioners gain recognition and ultimately increase referrals. Mays
regularly offers a continuing education series of courses for physical

  Alexander Lyons
  Alexander Lyons

“I am in front of them once every couple of months
talking about the things that are important to us and how to manage amputees
and how to teach amputees how to use their prosthesis. So again we become the
go-to person on behalf of the therapists,” Mays said. “When they have
a problem or they see an amputee who is not doing well with their prosthesis, a
physical therapist will give me a call and say, ‘Hey, I remember you from
those lectures. I have this patient who is not doing well. Would you mind
coming and taking a peek at them with me?’”

Jones noted that O&P practitioners at his company
also provide training to physical therapists. The training helps practitioners
and physical therapists work together as a team so that patients can resume as
normal a lifestyle as possible.

“We like to provide training that gets them to the
same point of view that we share in different product usage, different
innovations in technology and those things that they are not exposed to in
their day-to-day hands-on operations,” Jones said. “We like to
educate them on those things so now we are working from the same vantage point,
the same perspective when we are giving patient care. With that kind of
teamwork, the patient is really going to benefit.”

Similarly, Lyons said he volunteers his time and teaches
at a local college in both the nursing and physical therapy programs, which
indirectly garners patient referrals from students after they graduate and
begin practicing.

“I am a big advocate that you use the strengths
that you already have. In other words, if you spend all your time trying to
become good in your weakness areas, then you become just that,
“good”. If on the other hand, you build upon your strengths, then you
become excellent. That should be one of our goals, to become excellent. For
example, I really enjoy teaching and at times I get feedback that I do a good
job when doing that. To capitalize on this strength, I focus on putting aside
more time to teach in order to develop excellence at that task. To cover my
weak areas, I try to enlist people who are experts in the areas that are weak
for me.” Lyons said.

  Warren R. Mays
  Warren R. Mays

Event-driven marketing is another strategy that can be
used to advertise programs or events sponsored by O&P practices and geared
to patients. For example, special events or seminars to introduce patients to
some of the newer and more technologically advanced prostheses can be marketed
using serial

“If we are having an event for people with
above-knee amputations that introduces them to the C-Leg or the microprocessor
knee, we will take a different marketing strategy. We will advertise on the
radio for such an event – ‘Coming up in 20 days; register now’
– but we do not typically keep an ongoing radio branding program
running,” Jones said.

Print advertising

Another staple of marketing strategies is print
advertising. Ongoing advertising in local newspapers can help increase name
recognition of a practice. Lyons said he has been running “different
advertisements, just small little blurbs” in weekly newspapers for
approximately 2 years “to keep our name out there.”

Newspapers also can serve as a conduit for human
interest stories, relating innovative techniques developed and used by an
O&P practice.

“We recently had a local newspaper come out and run
a front page article in their Sunday paper that really just told our story
about something that one of our practitioners had done pretty uniquely,”
Jones said. “I contacted the newspaper directly and said, ‘Here is
what our prosthetist has done recently and we think this is pretty slick,’
and they agreed. They came right out and did an interview.”

Marketing consultants

Seeking help from marketing consultants can be an option
for O&P companies when developing or implementing marketing plans and
strategies. Elizabeth Mansfield, president of Outsource Marketing Solutions,
describes this as “central fab for marketing.”

“When I explain my services and I am talking to
practitioners, I say it is like central fab for your marketing services because
they understand central fab when it comes to prosthetics and orthotics. They
went to school, they do it and they know how to do it but sometimes they just
get too busy so they have somebody else do the fabrication,” Mansfield

  Elizabeth Mansfield
  Elizabeth Mansfield

Marketing services provided by consultants can encompass
a variety of strategies and can be custom-fit to a practice’s needs.
Depending on the type of services needed, a practice can choose to work with a
marketing consultant either locally or remotely. Mansfield noted the important
thing is for any consultant to have an understanding of the O&P industry as
well as what goals a practice wants to achieve with its marketing plan.

“Marketing is marketing, and you can use all of the
same techniques for all different kinds of businesses, from a bakery to a dog
walking business to O&P,” Mansfield said. “But if you are using
somebody who is just a general marketing consultant, you really want to make
sure that they understand what you are doing and the business itself because
the techniques are the same, but they have to understand the business that you
are in for them to do a good job for you.”

In addition, consultants can provide ongoing or
as-needed help with marketing. Services can range from monthly e-mail
newsletters to what Mansfield describes as a one-day “marketing book
camp” during which she will help companies devise a complete marketing

“Basically, at the end of it, the point is to have
a plan in place so that they can go ahead and start doing that,” Mansfield
said. “To bring somebody in to do a review and an analysis of where you
are and compare that to where you have been and where you want to go is always

However, when using outside marketing consultants or
firms, Mansfield cautions owners against second-guessing themselves if they do
not agree with the direction or the recommendations being suggested.

“You understand all about your business so just
because somebody is an expert in marketing does not mean that when they come in
there and start saying things that maybe you do not agree with or that you do
not think is the right way to go, you should not second-guess yourself if you
really do not think that is how your company should be marketed,” she


Since the advent of the Internet roughly 15 years ago,
people have increasingly turned to websites for easily accessible information
about virtually everything, including health care and health care providers. As
a result, one key aspect to any company’s marketing plan should be its
website, which should at a minimum come up on search engines with key words
that describe services.

“In my case, I have certain key words in the
opening paragraph of my website that pop up when patients do a search, such as
prosthetics, orthotics, scoliosis, Portland, Oregon, Washington, that describe
our region and the services that we offer,” Mays said.

At a minimum, Mansfield recommends that every O&P
business have at least a one-page website that lists an address and phone
number so that patients can easily find a practice’s location.

“Putting together a website is hard work, and the
single biggest block for people is compiling enough content to be able to hand
it to a web developer so they can successfully complete the site,”
Mansfield said. “It is especially difficult with prosthetics and
orthotics; it is not like they can make up a whole bunch of stuff for you. Even
if you just have a minimal amount, it is so much better than having nothing at

A dynamic website with regularly updated or changing
information can serve to draw in a large number of people that can include not
only patients, family members and the general population but also health care
providers. To make his company’s website more dynamic, Lyons regularly
incorporates information and stories from a monthly email newsletter. Features
of the newsletter include a video story and an “ask the
orthotist-prosthetist” section, as well as a patient profile.

“I try to put pertinent information in my
newsletters, then I try to take that content and pass it over to the website so
that it is constantly changing,” Lyons said.

Social networking media

Social networking media that are accessed online or from
mobile devices such as Smart phones and iPads also can be used as marketing
tools by O&P companies.
Facebook, which was launched in February 2004, now boasts a
global network society of more than 500 million users.
Twitter also is a global networking society that has become
widely used since its introduction in 2006.

Both Facebook and Twitter are free sites that can easily
be used by O&P practices as valuable marketing tools, to attract both
patients and customers, and also to track competitors. Mansfield recommends
that all businesses establish both Facebook and Twitter business accounts so
that “nobody else takes your name,” even if the accounts are not used
regularly. However, because both Facebook and Twitter accounts can be
maintained at no cost and are easy to use and update, she encourages practices
to include both as part of their marketing plan.

“You do not even need a regular website right this
minute if you just want to go in there and set up a business Facebook page for
your company because you can do it for free and you can do it within 2
minutes,” Mansfield said. “It is something that is really useful and
works very well with O&P because prosthetics and orthotics is so

She also recommends that practices assign employees who
are personally familiar with Facebook and Twitter to generate content rather
than recruiting and paying an outside person. Generally, employees who use
these social networking sites are already familiar with how the sites work, and
as an added bonus, they enjoy using the sites.

“It is a minimal amount of content that you have to
generate, and so you really do not need to pay somebody to generate that
content for you because you have it right there in your office,” Mansfield
said. “Why would you want to pay somebody to socially network for you when
you can do that yourself?”

In addition, having an employee maintain Facebook and
Twitter accounts helps ensure that the content remains authentic and is
pertinent to the practice.

“It is a fabulous time to be a small business trying to market
yourself and your company because of all of these tools available to,”
Mansfield said. “Everybody can be global and have access to the same
tools.”— by Mary L. Jerrell, ELS

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