3. RESEARCH YOUR MARKET PLACE
The reason for conducting market research is to gain a better understanding of your practice and the environment it operates in, including the market positions the practice holds commercially and perceptually in your market. It is not enough to rely on intuition or experience here, you need qualitative and quantitative data to make well founded, soundly reasoned decisions.
Conducting market research is often the most time-consuming step in the planning process. However, it is also one of the most rewarding. Information obtained from research will help you shape and justify your marketing strategies and design purposeful marketing tactics.
Key areas to research include your practice, competition and community. Based on the findings, you may need to go back and review some of your goals.
Start inside your practice
Much of the information needed can often be found right in the practice. Your patient and financial records contain a wealth of information, if you have practical ways to extrapolate and collate the data within them. You can also find out about your practice and whether it is meeting the needs of your current patients by asking them to fill out a patient survey. Discussions with staff members and other doctors can also reveal information that you need or support key assumptions.
Here are some questions you need answered:
- What is your current patient base in terms of their age, sex, ethnic origin, main medical needs, type of insurance coverage?
- Where do your patients live? Identify how large your core patient catchment area is, i.e. your ‘Service area’. This will assist your advertising strategy.
- What are the services provided by your practice? Who needs these services? Are these needs changing?
- How well known is the practice in your local community among patients, potential referral doctors and allied services. How long has it been established? Is there room for improvement? Be objective and honest.
- How do your patients perceive your practice? What is it mostly known for, staff, services, quality, cost, convenience? Why do patients choose to visit and return to your practice?
- What are your practice’s strengths and weaknesses? Are there problems with scheduling, cancellations, staff turnover or reimbursement?
Who is your competition?
You need to find out who your competitors really are, where they are, and what they have to offer. Start by checking with your local Divisions of General Practice, Medicare Local or industry association, local hospital, Yellow Pages listing and other directories to find out how many other practices, doctors, nurse practitioners, pharmacies and allied support services are in your area. If possible find out how long they’ve practiced in that location and how many have moved into your area over the past year or so.
Once you’ve determined who your competitors are, you need to assess them. This information may be a little harder to come by, but you can try to gather as much information as you can by simply asking other colleagues, your patients, friends and neighbours. If you don’t already keep a file on competitors, start one now and begin collecting copies of every competitors’ advertisements, flyers, and practice information sheets. Watch out for articles and press releases in local newspapers. Take time to visit their web or social site pages. To assess the competition, you need to ask the following questions:
What marketing activities are your competitors using?
- What are your competitors’ niche markets and what audiences are they targeting?
- Why do certain patients or groups of patients like or dislike your competitors?
- How are your competitors viewed within the community?
Create a method for ranking each competitor in terms of their potential to lure patients away from your business. Conversely, this activity can be used to identify potential alliances through referrals other professional networking opportunities.
Who is your community?
In addition to gathering information about your practice and your competitors’ practices, you need to learn as much as you can about the people in your community. You can find answers to the following questions by contacting your local municipal council, or the Australian Bureau of Statistics (www.abs.gov.au). Census data is available for every State, Local Government Area or postcode (although it can be a few years old at times). Where possible try to collect data from the latest available survey as well as one or more earlier surveys to identify trends. You need to research the following information:
- How many people live in your service area? What are the demographic characteristics of the population in your area? Eg age ranges, sex, ethnic origin, education, employment, economic status, health status, etc. (Compare this against your existing patient base.) Is the local population expected to grow or shrink, age, or change in other ways?
- How is your practice perceived in the community? Are you known in the community beyond your patient base? Are you involved in any community associations or events for example?
- Who are potential patients? Are their wants and needs being met elsewhere in the community? If not, how can your practice meet those needs?
Tip – Gathering marketing information all at once can be overwhelming. Try breaking it up into tasks by collecting and monitoring different areas of research at regular intervals throughout the year.
Analysing the research
When you’ve amassed the intelligence you need, it’s time to step back, examine the data objectively, and consider your position. After looking closely at your own practice as well as your competitors’, analysis should reveal your practice’s strategic advantages by asking these key questions:
- What are the similarities and differences between your practice and your competitors’?
- What sets your practice apart from your competition? Is your location more desirable than your competitors’?
- Do you offer a broader scope of services than the competition?
- Is there a service you provide that no one else in the community currently offers?
- Your competitive edge may lie in your style of practice, the range of services you offer, the ease of making an appointment or the way you and your staff communicate with patients.
With further analysis, market research may even be able to indicate broad demographic trends that point towards possible clinical needs in your community, now and in the future. Thus, identifying potential gaps in your current range of services and enabling you to plan new services that the practice could provide.
Now that you know your markets, it's time to identify your target audience(s). Read more here...