As opposed to hospitals or primary care, urgent cares are dependent on consistent walk-in patients to drive success. Therefore, choosing your clinic’s physical location—based on proximity to competitors—is one of the most important decisions you can make. Nearly as important is marketing your urgent care to the correct audience.
Marketing may seem like a task that is secondary to operational needs. The opposite is true. Marketing needs to be a primary focus if your urgent care is to succeed financially. A forward-thinking budget will have a line item for marketing. In reality, you can have the best staff and medical equipment in the area—and no patients to serve because they don’t know about you.
Urgent cares can fail because they don’t invest in the power of marketing. According to the Urgent Care Association of America, the mean annual marketing budget per site was $37,000.1 The U.S. Small Business Administration estimates 7% to 8% of revenue should be budgeted for marketing.2 This percentage should increase for those in the start-up phase. Not only is money needed for marketing, so is strategy. Marketing requires you to know and reach the specific patient demographic you want to treat.
Here are some tried-and-true marketing ideas we’ve seen be successful for others in the industry—and that your urgent care should consider:
Have a Consistent Brand Identity
Actually, this isn’t an idea. This is a good general rule of thumb. All your marketing material— ads, brochures, website, printed pieces, promotional items—should have a consistent brand. Your brand name and logo should be clear and easy to read. Inconsistent brand identity (look and feel) is the equivalent of changing your business’s personality. It confuses your patients.
Careful consideration should be given to your brand name. Changing it later can be a painful— and often costly—process. If your urgent care is part of an umbrella organization, ensure you’re meeting the brand standard they have set. Be conscious of not being too clever with naming and branding; this can cause misunderstanding as to what you do. People put trust in a brand, so correct use of branding is vital to building and maintaining respect.
Brand identity is more than a name and logo. A brand is how your patients think of you. How are you standing out from the competition? Differentiation is key to having people remember you. Be unique at your clinic; offer something that others don’t have. Valet services, movies in the waiting room, or personal consultations upon arrival can make your urgent care memorable and will drive more referrals.
Be Involved in the Local Community
For all the expensive, glossy marketing items out there, nothing is more effective for urgent cares than being involved in the local community. Grassroots marketing efforts can be easily done, are cost effective, and will be seen as a more genuine approach to reach potential patients in your neighborhood.
Ideas for community involvement can be sponsorship of events, such as sports, health activities, or other local functions. You can also participate in—and donate to—local fundraisers and charities. School and college event sponsorship can also be effective if you serve a younger demographic. Build strong relationships with local businesses if you do workers’ compensation or occupational medicine.
Host open houses, conduct a local flu shot clinic or sports physical camp, or invite area leaders to visit and tour your facility. Join your local chamber of commerce—and, contrary to popular belief, it’s wise to develop relationships with other local providers and medical organizations, so you can easily share referrals as needed.
Participate in Local Media and Public Relations
Want to save money on ads, but get your name out on radio or TV? Developing relationships with local media can be a great way to achieve this. Knowing your local news (TV and radio) and being in contact with area reporters can give you a channel to spread your urgent care’s name. Have a new provider join the staff? Add a new service that you want to share? Get the news out and ask for an interview from the media.
Keep a list of media contacts, and assign a staff member to send them ideas. Appoint a main point of contact at your clinic for media, so you can control your message. Another inventive way to get airtime is to do a medical segment for local media. Your providers or nursing staff can provide relevant or seasonal health tips in a short segment for TV or radio to get your name out.
Don’t forget to send stories to local newspapers. If you write your own press releases for events—and explain the importance to the area—media will be more likely to share them. Similar to Idea 2, sponsorships and donations can also garner press attention and build a favorable impression.
Offer Referral and Membership Programs
Urgent care is typically seen as a once-off visit, so how do you increase patient visits to sustain your clinic? It’s true that episodic, immediate care situations are unpredictable. But what is predictable is how you treat patients. If they have a good experience, they will share this information with their network of connections. And if they require your services again, they will return—whether for another incident or for a follow-up visit.
To help encourage your satisfied patients, offer a referral program with special discounts or promotions. Partner with local businesses to offer usable, desirable promotions. For example, for a certain number of people referred, you could offer a thank you card together with a gift certificate to a local restaurant or health club.
Membership programs with your employees and their families are another way to build your patient base. Employers are also increasingly offering their own membership programs in which employees can pay a flat monthly fee to be seen at certain clinics. This type of program can be similar to occupational medicine and workers’ compensation offering, in which employers send employees to you on a contract basis.
Display Clear Signage and Billboards
Transit, or outdoor advertising, is the highest ranked marketing tactic for perceived effectiveness by urgent cares.1 Your urgent care logo design plays largely into this point. Whether you’re in a building with other businesses or you have your own practice, it’s crucial that your clinic is in a high traffic area. Being in a convenient location—and having clear signage—will make your clinic easy to spot for when your services are needed.
A common mistake urgent cares make is not including the words “urgent care” on their signage because it’s not part of their official brand name. Another misstep is making signage so small it can’t be read from the road or by passing traffic. Having easy-to-read text and colors that stand out from the background is vital. Other suggestions include signs that are lit at night, and display hours of operation—along with phone and website—in a prominent place.
Create a Quality Website and Online Presence
Today, your urgent care is judged by its online presence as much as it is by its physical appearance. Similar to how clean and modern facilities earn trust from patients, so too does a professional website. The fact is, you are considered a more legitimate practice with a well designed website. A website is a 24/7/365 advertising tool to help patients find you so they can learn about your clinic.
While it’s recommended you have a marketing professional create a website, you can manage content yourself if your website comes with a content management system (CMS). If you have a blog option, you can post helpful articles relevant for your patients—or even have them sign up for a digital newsletter that you create.
Online marketing offers many opportunities. Social media is another way to reach your audience (remember to connect all social media accounts to your website). As with Idea 2, you can use social media to build relationships with local businesses and partner together for joint promotion.
Paid advertising (pay per click) on other local websites can drive traffic to your website. Another way to spread your clinic name is to encourage patients to review your clinic on sites like Google and Yelp. In addition to the Yellow Pages, make sure your urgent care is a registered Google Place—so your name will appear in local online search results.
Marketing is a wide mix. TV, radio, print, online, referrals, brochures, online ads—the list is endless on what avenues your urgent care can try. Marketing can be overwhelming, and you might be tempted to try everything to be safe. But the only thing less effective than no marketing is marketing with no strategy. The best way to market is to first determine who your target market is and then choose ways to reach those patients accordingly.
One of the jobs of marketing is to educate the audience. As walk-in urgent care clinics are a fairly new offering, it’s important to show patients the differences between your services and those of emergency rooms. With a more educated public, patients will make informed decisions on where to receive health treatment.
While many urgent cares handle marketing themselves to save money, it’s true that some forms of marketing are more effective if done by professionals—such as a marketing agency or qualified freelancers. If you hire out marketing services, ask for references from other clients—and choose marketers who are familiar with healthcare. If you do marketing in house, be strategic about who does it and what marketing efforts you focus on, especially if staff is already doing multiple tasks.
Make marketing work for you by planning for it in your annual budget, by having a strategic plan to follow, and by assigning staff or a marketing agency to help. Applying the marketing ideas listed above will help jump-start your efforts or refine your current tactics. With all the efforts your urgent care is doing, how will you know what’s truly effective? The best way to track marketing is to consistently ask your patients how they heard about you.
- Urgent Care Benchmarking Study (2012). Urgent Care Association of America. http://www.ucaoa.org
- Bessley, Caron. (2012, June 4). How to Set a Marketing Budget that Fits Your Business Goals and Provides a High Return on Investment [blog]. http://www.sba.gov/community/ blogs/community-blogs/small-business-cents/