Mastering marketing

San Francisco-Being competitive is a tough task in any business, and it's especially true for optical practices. According to industry consultant Arthur De Gennaro, effective marketing can make that task easier while bringing significant benefits to the bottom line.

San Francisco-Being competitive is a tough task in any business, and it's especially true for optical practices. According to industry consultant Arthur De Gennaro, effective marketing can make that task easier while bringing significant benefits to the bottom line.

De Gennaro, president of Arthur De Gennaro & Associates, a Lexington, SC-based practice-management consulting firm that specializes in dispensary profitability, discussed the topic in his seminar "Marketing an Optical" at the annual meeting of the American Society of Ophthalmic Administrators.

"The first thing you have to assume when you go into the marketing business is that there is no shortage of places to get eye care or eyewear," De Gennaro said. "In order to gain new customers from other sources, an optical or ophthalmology practice must provide a compelling reason for a customer to change purchasing patterns. And this is something that's up to the practice to do."

"When you do marketing and advertising, what you're doing is purchasing top-of-the-mind awareness, which is repeated impressions on the adage that says, 'The more the better.' Repetition and consistency are key," De Gennaro explained.

"It involves consistent messages. If it's in print, it involves consistent font layout, logos, and so forth. When you're trying to build a brand, you have to be consistent and repeat your message over and over," he added. "In the education world they say you have to tell someone something seven times in order for it to sink in. That's why you see the same ads on TV over and over."

The result of that constant, consistent message can become brand-name icons like Q-Tips, Vaseline, and Kleenex-so successful that the brands themselves have become generic names for cotton swabs, petroleum jelly, and tissues, respectively.

"When you're marketing your practice, it's crucial to have a logo that's consistent in color, font, and so on; again, repetition and consistency," De Gennaro said. "Make sure that logo is on everything that goes out of the office-mail, letters, memos, stationery, business cards, flyers, everything."

That logo should also appear on newsletters and Web sites, both of which De Gennaro suggests are excellent ways to market.

"Newsletters are a great way to provide updates on new lenses, technology, frames, etc. Companies will be glad to provide info for you," he said. "In this era of computerization, you must have a Web site."

An effective marketing campaign must have a foundation built on demographics and competitive analysis, De Gennaro said.

"Everything begins with demographics," he said. "You must gather and understand information regarding average incomes in your market, who your customers are, average age, and so forth. How will you determine your inventory and your frame displays if you don't know your demographics-are your potential customers wealthy, middle class, lower income? Do they have kids? We need to understand the customers and then tailor the inventory to them, not the other way around."

Competitive analysis

"Knowing who your competitors are, where they are located, and finding out their strengths and weaknesses are all keys to help you plan ways by which to exploit those weaknesses," De Gennaro said.

Public relations also can be helpful in marketing an optical practice.

"Community service, community activities, free exams for the needy, etc., can provide media attention for your practice, and that's always good," said De Gennaro. "The bonus here is that these activities go a long way toward boosting employee satisfaction."

De Gennaro then discussed advertising, a critical element of any successful marketing campaign.