The Tip of the Spear
Creating a Virtual Presence Inexpensively
- By Patrick Boardman
- Jan 01, 2010
The question hasn’t changed in thousands of years: How do I get my goods and services in front of the people who have the ability to buy them?
A Chinese general and strategist named Sun Tzu pointed out that while there are things such as morale, wisdom, intelligence and tools during a campaign, it is only those who apply them in a flexible fashion that win.
With the Internet age well upon us, companies are scrambling to assess how they should position themselves on the Web through Web sites, social networking, blogs and other Web-based mediums.
Our company, Active American Mobility and Medical Supply, based in the Houston market, has taken a much closer look at how to create this additional dimension of marketing known as virtual presence.
Our Site: In the Beginning
Starting back in 2007, our first step was to create a Web site. Our options were many. Do we create a Web site that serves as a fancy electronic business card? Such a site would be a way to help people if someone already knew who we were: They could use a Web browser to locate us by typing our name. A result would then appear, and they could click a link and locate our telephone number and address.
The second option that was available to us was creating a site that was more than an electronic business card.We decided to invest in a site that would work much more like the hub of a wagon wheel. In the center of the hub is our electronic business card. The difference was that each spoke of the wheel created a different channel of information. The spokes are varied, but include things like:
- Medical Dictionary
- Links to Other Helpful Agencies
- Online Referral Forms
- Product Catalogs
- Guides to Medicare and Other Insurances
- Information for Patients and Caregivers
Once we elected to go with this format, we implemented the site… and at first, nothing really happened. To combat this, we realized we needed to make frequent content changes to the Web site. This began to increase our relevance, and we occasionally would show up on an Internet Web search.
The Many Benefits of Blogging
Active American has always had a commitment to education.We frequently do the in-services and “Lunch and Learn” meetings like many other HME/complex rehab companies. Our next logical step was to start a blog to expand our educational message. The addition of our blog sky-rocketed our relevance in Google searches.
We realized very quickly that there is a plethora of benefits to having a blog.
- Educational information shared with consumers, referrals, and competitors
- Requiring our key personnel to write the blogs improves their global understanding of our industry
- Blogs can be linked to our Web site
- Professional development for our blogging staff
- Frequent blogging increases relevance in Google searches
- Internal resource for our own employees
- Perception by referrals of Active American Mobility and Medical Supply as informed consultants in complex rehab, respiratory services and HME.
In our organization all of our ATPs and sales personnel are required to contribute a monthly blog.We also have a few local health-care professionals who are working on blogs for us and will soon be featured on Complex Rehab Network (our blog). Keep in mind that you can blog for free on Google, just as we do.
Marketing Via E-Mail…Effectively
Another important piece of virtual presence is e-mail marketing campaigns.
Let me be clear:We are not talking about spam here. You will not help yourself if you continually bombard your referrals with “Deals of the Week.” It is critical that you take great care with the type and quantity of the messages you send. Remember that e-mail marketing is a double-edged sword. If you mail something without thinking it through, you could offend the very people you are trying to build a relationship with.
E-mail marketing is driven more from a perspective of education and branding, not the immediate sale. E-mail marketing is vital in getting the word out systematically to the community about your organization. E-mail marketing for Active American is truly the “tip of the spear.”
From a branding perspective, e-mail marketing is a way you can hone a message or perception about your company to a very specific audience. In this way if we have relevant information to share, such as change to complex rehab evaluation documentation requirements, we can send an e-mail to just the therapists to alert them to the new change.
Such targeted customization of your corporate message has never been more possible than it is in today’s marketplace. The software we use is called Constant Contact and is absurdly affordable. For less than $100 per month, you can send newsletters, surveys and events to your contacts.
Most small businesses would be stunned to realize the quantity of new contacts that slip through their fingers every day.
It was uncomfortable for us to face the fact that our intake staff would receive a referral from a new source, and we would not capture them as a new contact. Now, when a new referral calls, we capture their information with their permission and add them to our database for future newsletters, events, etc.
The initial investment of compiling your database is the hardest part.
Happy Virtual New Year!
The next virtual step for Active American in 2010 will be using You Tube and other social networking sites. This year, we plan to release many different educational videos on our Web site that include everything from how to put a power chair in free-wheel to how to clean your concentrator filter, etc.
It is important to remember that while Web sites, blogs, social networking, and e-mail campaigns are great tools, nothing will ever replace good customer service techniques such as courteousness, good communication and follow-through.
Sun Tzu’s advice still rings true after 2000 years. Be introspective and flexible, and you will win the marketing campaign.
This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue of Mobility Management.
Patrick Boardman has 15 years’ experience as an RTS and in sales and regional management. He currently serves as director of business development managing the Houston and San Antonio markets for Active American Mobility & Medical Supply. He and his family live in Sugar Land,Texas.