It’s no secret or surprise that the economy is taking its toll on the addiction treatment business. It can be felt at recovery facilities everywhere. Some are shutting their doors after years of doing great business. Some are just barely hanging in there. Some merely have experienced a slowing in business but are doing fine. As a marketing guy, I wanted to write this article specifically for Recovery View members to hopefully stimulate those creative marketing juices and help those that need it to get a leg up on the competition.
Obviously the number of people seeking recovery has declined dramatically. It’s just a fact that people aren’t about to drop $15,000 or more — much more in some cases — to get sober in a bad economy. There are simply fewer people seeking recovery to go around.
So, what can be done to get through this tough time? Belt tightening? Okay, that’s a start. By now you’ve probably already tightened until you’re squeezed purple. What about lowering your price? Or adding more value? Or both? The instinct of most businesses is to cut marketing dollars in hard times – which is basically suicide. While you may save a few dollars right away and feel some easing of the pressure on your budget, it virtually guarantees that your revenue is going to decline later on. There is, in most businesses, a ratio of dollars spent to sales – it’s a metric by which businesses evaluate their marketing dollars and how well they’re being spent. This is even more critical in a business like ours. Many businesses have repeat customers, who come back time and time again – they only need to capture people once for a lifetime of revenue. While that may be the case with some clients in recovery, it certainly isn’t the goal. We need to find fresh bodies all the time. So, marketing dollars are even more important as you try and get out to more potential clients. This is when marketing plays a vital role — every aspect of it.
The two critical issues are these:
One: are the people who are ready for recovery seeing you as an option?
And, two: are they choosing you?
If they’re not even aware you’re there, that’s a problem. If they’re aware you’re there but not choosing you that’s another problem with a different answer.
We are here! We are here!
Getting the attention of the people who need you is the single most important job there is. But what are the efforts you can do to increase awareness of your facility.
Well, one is networking – which is why you’ve become a member of Recovery View. This is an excellent example of networking within an industry.
Another way to network is with the trade associations you belong to, or should belong to, and with organizations that work directly with consumers regarding addiction. Marketing to physicians is another way, as well as to hospitals where many people with addictions end up through overdose or some form of accident, or attempted suicide, etc.
You could advertise, but you need to plan where and how. There are specialty magazines, or trade magazines, to consider such as Treatment Magazine. Treatment Magazine is distributed to a large number of addiction physicians and psychologists, making it a great potential referring source. When you look at advertising possibilities, really look at who will see them, who the subscribers are.
The internet is a great possibility as well. If you blog and blog often you’ll come up in searches more often. What can you blog about? Anything! Changes you’re making, the state of treatment in the country, philosophy, the economy, the fact that you’ve started a garden, your new chef, and particularly anything that gives a useful tip or information to a consumer or someone who can also help you in return.
You can also pay to advertise on the internet, but that can get expensive, unless you barter for space on your web site, or for services, etc. The internet is like life in some ways, the more active you are on there the more you get noticed. There are experts you can hire to help you with this. A good SEO (search engine optimization) person can help get people to your website who are looking for your help. Also, take a good look at your website. Once people get there, is it convincing them to come? There’s an old adage in advertising that goes “telling isn’t selling.” Most websites merely inform rather than sell. They inform, but they don’t inspire further action like a phone call. Telling, in fact, isn’t selling, these are different languages.
If you have anything you can do that’s newsworthy, do it and get press for it. Hold an event, have a fund raiser for a charity, give a special gift to your community — and invite the press. You have to do something to get noticed, so get active.
There are a lot of ways to get out there. Really look at who your clients have been, where they have come from, where you might find others. Do you have a specialty that could appeal to a specific group of people? For example, if 90% of the people you’ve treated are steel workers, then that’s a specialty. If they’re Hungarian, that’s another specialty and you might want to address it in terms of language and your menu. Use whatever you can to set yourself apart or appeal to a specific group. It’s easier if you have a specific target to hit rather than trying to go out to the general public at large.
If not us, who? If not now, when?
Now that you’ve gotten someone’s attention the real selling begins. Here the questions become more about what you’re selling, what the benefits are and how much it costs? In every instance it eventually comes down to a price verses value story.
When I started in advertising 30 years ago the first thing we learned was find your USP – your Unique Selling Proposition. This is the same as a point of difference, or a competitive edge, whatever you want to call it. For some it’s the fact that they have horses, or equine therapy, for others it’s the lowest price point.
The places usually hit hardest in a bad economy are those just under the really expensive places. The really expensive places cater to a crowd that, often times, doesn’t feel an economic slowdown. But the so called upper middle class feels it and the middle class and so on down. In every other instance the price tag tends to get scrutinized a little harder in a bad economy — especially for some of the more luxurious places. When you have a very successful model like The Betty Ford Center that has had a host of celebs go through its doors yet shuns all the trappings of luxury it gets easier for people to tell themselves that the luxury stuff has nothing to do with getting sober. Of course, there will always be people who want the luxury, but there will be less of them in a bad economy.
Should you lower your price? Maybe. If you do, try to do it in a way that is either not obvious or is really obvious. In other words, you can lower your price by creating “specials” for a limited time. This can also help in terms of “converting sales” – in other words convincing people that now is the time to take advantage of your special offer. Or, you could make it an across the board price change and tie it to something specific, for example the economy, making an announcement like, “Starting today, we are discounting our price by the same percentage the national unemployment is at.” Which is to say, if the unemployment rate is 11%, you’ll be giving an 11% discount. If it goes up or down your discount will follow accordingly. You could further say that you’re also giving an additional percentage of income to food banks across the country. Get a cause going – it’s newsworthy. And people feel good about you.
Maybe you need a partner.
One thing you should always look for, but never more than in a bad economy, is relationships that can be mutually beneficial — even better if there’s an additional benefit for your clients.
I’ll give you the best example I know – Clarity Enterprises, Inc. Some thought we were crazy to launch in this economic climate. But, as a matter of fact, it’s probably the best time ever for us. Because, as a provider of neurofeedback services to recovery centers, we give you, the addiction treatment facility, a great point of difference.
Certainly, in this business, the biggest point of difference you can have is success. It somehow seems to be an intangible item in recovery scenarios, but certainly anyone spending any sum of money to stay in a residential center today is looking for the chances of success. What if you could have a success rate of 80% or better? That would be a huge point of difference. Especially if it were a claim you could validate. There is one way to do that immediately. It’s with neurofeedback. Prolonged substance abuse and addiction result in brain damage. Neurofeedback training restores the brain functioning, reduces cravings, and helps the recovering addict control impulses and deal with the cravings that result in relapse.
Neurofeedback has been tested and proven time and again in all kinds of university conducted research.
Three studies of interest are:
Peniston, 1989 – a study done in conjunction with the Veterans Administration in Colorado. All subjects were Viet Nam veterans who had other forms of treatment unsuccessfully prior to the study. They were severe alcoholics who also suffered from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The outcome was that 80% of the subjects stayed sober and had no further issues with PTSD as of a follow-up study done three years after the treatments.
Diné (Navajos) – A study done with 19 alcoholic Native Americans in 1994. The treatments were culturally appropriate. Again the three-year follow-up showed that 80% of the subjects stayed sober.
Cri-Help – Cri-Help is a recovery center in North Hollywood, California. The study included 121 subjects (60 in the control group, 61 in the experimental group, or those that received the actual neurofeedback treatments). A three-year follow-up concluded that 77% of the experimental group remained sober (those that received the neurofeedback treatments) versus only 44% of the control group (those that did not receive the neurofeedback treatments).
The Cri-Help study also documented that the neurofeedback treatments significantly improved anxiety, depression, stress, sleep and other disorders, and the experimental group stayed in treatment 50% longer than the control group.
What we do makes what you do work better, faster and longer.
As stated, neurofeedback deals with cravings and relapse. It counters impulsivity. But, just as importantly, it makes the brain far more receptive to the treatments and therapies you’re already employing. So, the therapies and treatments you’re now using have far greater affect. Your success goes up. You have more successful clients who make recommendations to others on your behalf. And we can document your success rate because with our program your clients continue the neurofeedback sessions for a full year, even after they’ve left the residential facility. By the way, this also means you have a continuing revenue stream from each client after they’ve left your facility. Which leads to the next point…
Find or create other revenue streams.
Like the neurofeedback aftercare program I just mentioned. Or, we could also create an outpatient program for your facility. Or a highly specialized “executive” level program for people who are more on the go, or have too many obligations and can’t stay 30 days in a treatment facility. If you have more options available you have more chances of hearing a “yes” when speaking to a potential client.
Again, look for strategic partners that can gain a mutual benefit from working with you.
Staying ahead of the game.
Because the good times were so good for so long people naturally just let the business develop itself. These days you need to be informed of what’s happening in the industry, what’s happening in the country, how you can stay ahead of the competition. You should be looking not only at marketing for treatment facilities, but at marketing in general – you could find a great concept that could cross over to your situation. Subscribe to Marketing Week, for example, look at what types of promotions other industries are doing and what kind of press events people are doing. I once worked on a fabric maker’s business – their key accounts were lingerie manufacturers. They really couldn’t afford advertising, they didn’t have the budget. But they did have enough money and resources to make a huge bra that we put on the John Hancock Tower — which generated millions of dollars worth of press. So, get creative about getting out there. But, obviously, be appropriate to the business you’re in. We do good in this business. If you can combine it with other ways to do more good, you’ll most ocertainly have a winner.
And, by all means, check out neurofeedback. After all, I wrote this to promote what we do at Clarity. It’s part of our marketing strategy. See how that works?