Marketing consultant Alex Bugg explores how to utilise owned, earned, and paid marketing techniques to efficiently grow your clinic
Clinics cannot avoid the modern business need of putting out content to attract and retain patients. It is my opinion and commonly agreed that content which educates, entertains and inspires works at every stage of the buying and selling process. For most, a clinic’s main focus is usually putting out content on social media. However, the six-hour Facebook outage of October 4, which cost the platform $79m in revenue alone,1 showed us the fragility of heavy reliance on social networks for clinic marketing.
Businesses have become more reliant on Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp to generate leads and run their operations, but this outage presents clear reasoning for growing and improving audiences and databases you own and spreading out your digital marketing efforts to mitigate against social media companies’ outages and constant algorithmic changes.
We have the opportunity to deliver content to patients in three broad avenues: owned media, earned media and paid media. All three play an important role in marketing your clinic to the public and to current patients. Where ‘organic vs paid’ marketing gives you a crude understanding of where different platforms fit into the bigger picture, looking at owned, earned and paid gives a broader perspective and allows you to identify overlaps that can save you time and effort in content production.
Owned media is the content you have on platforms you own, where you have complete control over the message, design, and branding. They belong to you; you aren’t paying for space or promotion. A typical clinic’s owned media platforms:
Growing an audience who see this owned media has the highest potential to drive enquiries to your clinic. Your website should contain key information on landing pages about the treatments and products available and make it simple to contact the clinic in multiple ways (for example, contact form, phone, chatbot).
The emails your clinic sends work to keep current patients retained and continually engaging and booking appointments. Getting sign-ups from interested parties who aren’t yet opted into marketing is possible by offering incentives such as subscriber-only offers, downloadable skincare guides and early access to new treatments.
Some argue that social media fits into owned media, as you do control the messages and the design that goes out. However, you do not entirely control the distribution and visibility of the content. You will find that visibility changes over time at the mercy of algorithms. The focus should be on the profile information, once somebody finds your content on your platform, with details on reaching your true owned media.
It is my opinion and commonly agreed that content which educates, entertains and inspires works at every stage of the buying and selling process
Earned media is any third-party mentions of your brand, such as: PR activity, shares of your owned media, guest posts, reviews. Earned media builds brand awareness and is like a modern-day word of mouth which establishes credibility, and is becoming increasingly important in a growing industry such as medical aesthetics. These mentions can be written, video or audio.
Although earned media does have its important place in business promotion, the difficulty here is that you cannot control third-party mentions of your clinic or practice. This does leave you exposed to inaccurate or negative mentions. Review platforms are a priority for clinics, as consumers are more researched than ever; gathering reviews for free via the Google My Business (GMB) platform which allows potential patients to compare practitioners. Whether you use a free platform such as GMB or a paid review platform, they should be regularly monitored for negative posts.
If you’re submitting content to a third party, you can of course control the message, but the owner of the platform may opt to remove this content at any time, for example a post on a local website promoting your business can be edited by the owner, and may be taken down.
The return on investment of earned media is more difficult to track than that of owned media. Resulting enquiries which come directly from this are not built into your systems, so may be harder to attribute directly to earned media efforts. This is because unless you ask explicitly at enquiry about how a new patient found you, they may not credit the PR activity or first discovery of you not on your own platforms – a click to your site from a piece in a newspaper site can be tracked, but not via print.
Whether you’re engaging in PR activity or not, you can track your mentions across the internet for free by setting up Google Alerts. Use your name and your brand terms to monitor this. This allows you to stay on top of what’s being said about you online, and allows you to address it if necessary.
Paid media is exposure you pay for. It covers pay-per-click (PPC) where an advertiser pays a publisher when the ad is clicked on, for example social media advertising, YouTube ads, print advertising, advertorial and other digital sponsored content. Although they can be impactful, ad blockers and an individual’s own scepticism on sponsored content are roadblocks to paid media as they can choose not to see it.
Paid media is effective to pay to promote key lead-generating pages – such as treatment or condition pages – on your owned media platforms. It is more effective than owned media for generating leads, as prospective patients are further along the buying journey when searching directly for a treatment on a search engine. The buyer intent here is high and the paid media earns the click, but for PPC, it relies on strong owned media to generate the lead.
Remember this when investing in paid media. How the enquiry is taken and handled is just as important as generating leads cheaply on search engines or social media.
Social can sit across all three types of media. These are your owned social channels, so you can control the message, but the artificial intelligence behind sites like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter show ‘personalised’ feeds, which will affect the visibility – organically you won’t see 100% of your social media audience viewing your post anymore.
Your social also competes on pages with ads, posts from other accounts (Facebook has 2.8 billion users and Instagram has 1.3 billion2) and suggested content based on a user’s interests. So, the part you own on social media, you no longer get to guarantee that a follower will see it.
Clinics can also pay to promote their social media, not just via ads; I find that guest posts and influencers are great for reaching new audiences. Working with influencers blends into owned, earned and paid types of media; you can be involved with the creation of the post, control the wording, pay for the promotion and tag in your business (the Advertising Standards Agency may catch up with you if you don’t), but it visually appears as earned media. Again, this content is at risk of being removed, and is harder to attribute leads to.
A solid marketing plan may neglect the channels you already own in favour of social and PR efforts, but it’s my view that working on owned media should be a priority. Using the links in your social media bios strategically can drive traffic to your website, bookings and email sign-ups. It’s your choice depending on your goals or promotions, which page you send them to, or you can use a multi-link landing page such as Linkinbio. Growing traffic to your website will not only generate leads but improve your search engine optimisation (SEO), as it signals to search engines that this is a popular and useful website or specific page on the internet. This ranks your website higher than your competitors on Google, which grows traffic further, and generates leads. This is a positive feedback loop, so focus on driving traffic to the clinic website from social media wherever possible.
A clinic mailing list can be so much more than a boring newsletter. Offering downloads and gifts for sign-ups, running giveaways via social media to grow this list and then delivering educational or inspiring content will lead to subscribers and potential patients and increased business. Even industry efforts like writing for publications such as the Aesthetics journal can be used to send traffic to a part of your website, despite the fact that you won’t own the copyright and will need permission to publish. If you’re interested in building an industry profile, having a professional section on your website to publish media on your terms is a great way to help brand awareness and secondarily generate leads through improved SEO.
Combining owned, earned, and paid efforts will generate the right digital marketing mix for any aesthetic clinic. Too much focus on one tactic, channel or distribution will leave a clinic at a disadvantage. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to content marketing that suits an aesthetic clinic, so experimenting with different media channels, doing research and tracking leads allows you to learn where to invest your time and effort. Understanding owned, earned and paid media channels allows clinics to plan their marketing efforts. For service-based businesses, owned media is often underestimated. Having a plan that covers all three and aims to drive traffic to your website and email list will increase brand awareness and generate enquiries.
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