Target Practice: Marketing Your Pedorthic Business

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Are you taking a scattershot approach to your pedorthic marketing program, or are you targeting your market with a single shot? Marketing a pedorthic business does not need to be an all-or-nothing proposition. With an intelligently focused marketing effort, you can more effectively hit your targets and grow your business.

Perhaps among the greatest pressures on pedorthic practices today are gaining and maintaining market share in the crowded retail and healthcare landscapes. Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of the foot care market. Retail footwear stores stock therapeutic shoes and provide off-the-shelf (OTS) shoe inserts to individuals with the promise of quick results for alleviating foot pain, and some allied healthcare professionals such as physical therapists and chiropractors would prefer to sell corrective inserts themselves rather than refer patients to pedorthists. That isn’t to say that OTS foot orthotics don’t provide benefits for some wearers; however, as pedorthists well know, because these inserts are designed by shoe size rather than individual foot conditions, they cannot provide specific corrections.

“Many healthcare providers have never worked with a pedorthist and have no idea how much can be done with pedorthic modalities to alleviate pain and correct poor biomechanics,” says Rob Sobel, CPed, owner of Sobel Orthotics and Shoes, New Paltz, New York, and vice president of the Pedorthic Footcare Association (PFA) board of directors.

This general unfamiliarity among healthcare professionals about pedorthists and what they do means that pedorthists must work even harder to assert their value. But how should they do this? How should pedorthics be marketed?

Identify Your Value Story

Pedorthists know that effectively treating the diabetic foot and other diagnosed foot conditions like plantar fasciitis, arthritis, and metatarsalgia requires training and education in clinical pathology as it relates to these ailments as well as advanced knowledge of gait analysis, lower-body anatomy, and biomechanics. In order to survive in today’s healthcare environment, pedorthists must effectively communicate and market this value to current and potential referral sources.

Sobel takes this advice to heart. “The key for us has been to educate people about what we can do and how that helps biomechanically,” he says. “We…strive to make our healthcare partners understand we are an enhancement to the treatment they are providing, and sending their patients to us for a pedorthic modality is basically sending the patient to a specialist.”

Cathal Kennedy, BComm, MBA, co-owner of Hersco Ortho Labs, New York, New York, agrees. “Become the knowledge expert in your area of expertise and geographical region,” he advises. “Be the ‘I know a guy or gal who can do this,’ person. You have a lot of information to share that you may think is common sense to all foot and ankle medical professionals. It is not common sense to someone who isn’t a trained pedorthist.”

The training and education of its individual clinicians are just part of a pedorthic business’ value story. Specialty services, the number of locations, customer satisfaction stories, and successful patient outcomes are all elements that add to the narrative.

Use Content Marketing to Tell Your Value Story

Deciding on marketing channels through which to communicate a pedorthic business’ value story can feel a bit like Russian roulette. Pedorthists need to consider a variety of audiences and a smorgasbord of delivery options—advertising, radio, television, social media, direct mail, events, and webinars, just to name a few. Some business owners might opt to keep it simple and focus on a single, cost-effective effort. Most marketing experts would agree, however, that putting all of your marketing eggs in one basket can be detrimental to any business, even if its marketing budget is limited.

“The key to working [with] limited funds is to diversify your marketing strategies so that each of them serves a purpose,” according to Melanie Clark, owner of Melanie Clark Communications, a content marketing firm based in Nashville, Tennessee. “Your marketing initiatives must work together…to help you reach your ultimate goal….”

An intelligently implemented content marketing strategy can do just that.

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as a “technique that creates and distributes relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined target audience—with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” In other words, instead of delivering a canned sales pitch, content marketing involves delivering valuable, reliable, and engaging information that makes you more credible to your audiences.

Effective content, explains United Kingdom-based content marketing company Velocity Partners, is content that is both useful and entertaining. “Content is critical because people care about their own problems much more than they care about your products,” Velocity notes in The Content Marketing Strategy Checklist. “When you capture your company’s expertise and package it up to help your prospects do their jobs, you earn people’s attention.”

Content can be many things: articles, videos, photographs, customer reviews, company profiles, press releases, infographics, social media updates, and patient/customer case studies. All of these content mediums can work together to help tell a pedorthic business’ value story.

Invest in Quality, Consistency

High-quality content communicates high-quality patient care, products, and services. By the same token, audiences associate low-quality content with low-quality patient care, products, and services. “Good content isn’t enough any more,” Velocity Partners insists. “You need insanely great content that’s on-strategy and incites action. And you need to deliver it in a consistent, ongoing program.” Investing in pedorthic content experts to help generate content not only helps pedorthic businesses deliver their value stories more effectively, doing so also allows clinicians to focus on providing quality foot care rather than trying to create content that they no doubt have the expertise to deliver to patients and customers, but perhaps not the skill to distill in a variety of clear, concise, and informative ways.

If your content marketing program establishes your commitment to quality, that promise should be delivered throughout every aspect of your business—something all of our experts stress. “Think about the extraordinary service you have experienced, and commit to providing that to everyone you deal with, and I mean everyone,” Kennedy says.

Word of mouth advertising has been “huge” for Sobel Orthotics and Shoes, and a big part of why it works so well is the business’ focus on quality. “In order for [a word of mouth] marketing strategy to work, the products and services have to be exceptional all the time,” Sobel says.

“Happy feet make happy people,” adds Dann Francis, creative marketing director at Eneslow Shoes and Pedorthics, New York, New York. “We always strive…to have the best people on board…. After 104 years in business, our longevity is based on our knowledge and staying tuned into our returning customers.”

Start Simple and Grow

Getting a content marketing program off the ground can seem overwhelming, so start simple, and build from there. A clean, clear website with just a few basic pages, for example, is preferable to an elaborate site that is a struggle to maintain.

When it comes to reaching customers, an attractive, well-designed website is certainly worth the investment. Consumers are more proactive than ever in researching their foot care options, and Internet access has helped drive this trend. According to a May 2013 Pew Research Center survey, 85 percent of U.S. adults indicated they use the Internet, and of those, 72 percent said they had used the Internet to look for health information within the last year. This means that in addition to functioning as a “virtual storefront,” a pedorthic business’ website can play a key role in disseminating useful information and educating consumers. Indeed, many pedorthic businesses post FAQs and industry news on their websites in addition to promoting their staff, services, and facilities.

In 2012, Kantar Media Healthcare Research Team conducted a “Media Sources and Interactions” study. The researchers surveyed the reading habits of 1,500 physicians across 21 specialties. They found that while younger physicians are more inclined to be digital readers than their older colleagues, even among the youngest demographic, print is still the most-used platform for reading. (Author’s note: The study reported a 2 percent margin of error.)

Digital or Print?

A newsletter or publication can be an effective medium for communicating a pedorthic business’ value story, because it can incorporate a variety of individualized content types: photographs of clinicians and patients, clinician bios, customer success stories, and case studies, just to name a few. Digital production and delivery presents an attractive, low-cost starting option for pedorthic businesses. And as print newspapers, books, and general interest magazines thin out in favor of digital versions, business owners may conclude that print is also becoming less effective for marketing. Recent research suggests that this may not be the case—particularly when it comes to referral sources.

Print is still a viable option for consumers as well, and neuroscience provides some tangible data to help predict the effectiveness of delivering marketing messages in this way. In 2009, the United Kingdom’s Royal Mail service commissioned marketing research firm Millward Brown, headquartered in London, England, to investigate whether there are differences in the communications effectiveness of physical (print) and virtual (digital) media. Working in conjunction with the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University, Wales, Millward Brown used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to understand how the brain reacts to physical and virtual stimuli. The researchers asked 20 participants to view the same advertisements on a computer screen and printed on cards. Brain scans were used to assess whether the presentation medium affected how the materials were processed. The study revealed the following:

  • Tangible materials leave a deeper footprint in the brain. Because printed materials stimulate both sight and touch, they are more “real” to the brain.
  • Physical materials generate increased activity in areas of the brain involved with emotional processing and memory, which suggests that not only will messages in print materials be retained for longer, they also make a deeper emotional connection with the viewer.
  • Physical materials produced more brain responses connected with internal feelings, suggesting greater internalization of the ads.

When considering ways to make a memorable, emotional connection with one or more target audiences, print might be a good place to start. However, a well-rounded content marketing campaign will use both print and digital communications to complement each other and capture the widest audience. “E-mail newsletters supplement your periodic print newsletters, which in turn lend credibility to your e-mail newsletters by letting customers know there’s a real, grounded company behind them,” according to Allegra Marketing, Indianapolis, Indiana. “When you work them in tandem, you build powerful brand recognition.”

Doug Chartier is the special projects coordinator for EDGE Custom Publications. He can be reached at . Karen Henry is the director of editorial and special projects for Western Media and for Amplitude Media Group. She can be reached at

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