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Physical therapy marketing: It’s all about relationships

Posted Jul 16 2009 10:52pm

The marketing of physical therapy services, though complex in theory, is really pretty simple.  It’s simple because it’s essentially about one thing - relationships.  Now, if relationships scare you (or if you’re particularly bad at them) you might dispute what I have to say…but at least hear me out.  Physical therapy marketing really doesn’t have to be that hard.

I’ll also disclaim that while I’m speaking of marketing physical therapy services in this post, these principles really apply to most - if not all - healthcare disciplines.  I’m choosing to speak specifically about marketing in physical therapy because (1) it’s a growing field, (2) I am one (a physical therapist), and (3) this is my blog, so I can talk about pretty much anything I want :)  Point is, if you’re not a physical therapist, read on - the stuff probably applies to you too.

So back to relationships.  Physical therapy - and healthcare in general - is about people.  Without people, there’s not much of an industry and physical therapists don’t have much of a profession.  And by nature, people rely on trust to make their decisions about which healthcare providers - physical therapists - to use.  As you know, trust requires that you have a truster and a trustee …and hence, the relationship is formed.

Think about it - when was the last time you made the decision to purchase a product or service that was an unknown, an off-brand, or something (or someone) that you didn’t trust in some way?  It probably doesn’t happen much because when you don’t have some element of trust, there’s more than a good chance of getting burned.

Trusting relationships with a product or service (yes, you have a relationship with products and brands, just as you do your physical therapist), are key to consumer loyalty, and leveraging the relationships that you already have is the first step toward building these important relationships as part of your physical therapy marketing strategy.

Be A Parasite
It might sound like sort of a crude way to start this section out, but taking a parasitic approach to relationship building is an important - and common - place to start.

A parasitic approach to relationships simply means using your existing relationships to form new ones.  Just as a parasite hops on board her host to get fed, a good marketer has to “hop on board” his relationships in order to be “fed” new ones.

To be a good parasite, you have to travel with your “host” and you have to reproduce (your relationships, that is).  By attending networking events, meetings, and informal social gatherings with those you have built trusting relationships, you will be well on your way to sowing your seed with many others with whom you may develop fruitful, long-term relationships.

Speak Your Needs
Don’t I mean, “speak your mind?”  No.  Speaking your mind can mean anything - speaking your needs means telling those you’re in a relationship with what it is - specifically - that you need.  It’s much more efficient, and much more effective.

This can happen in a number of ways, but I recommend that once you have trusting relationships built with those that refer to your physical therapy practice, or that use your practice for themselves or their families - you become comfortable telling these persons that you are looking to grow your business.

This doesn’t have to (and really shouldn’t) be done in a cheesy manner, and it shouldn’t feel forced or uncomfortable.  The time has to be right, and the mood should be relaxed and professional.

You are simply looking for a way to grow the physical therapy services that you believe in and that your community has come to rely on.  I like to say that, “if you don’t believe in something enough to sell it yourself, then you probably don’t have something worth selling.”  In a relationship, you can speak your needs - and if the relationship is good, your needs should be heard.

Build Your Brand
Branding is a topic of its own, but for our purposes here I want to make the point that your brand is integral to relationship-building in physical therapy.  Your brand is shorthand for the promise that you make to those with whom you do business, and to those that use your physical therapy services.  Your brand signifies the service, outcomes, personality, and atmosphere that your physical therapy practice creates and that your staff represent.

Your brand is what lives in the minds of those that have formed - and will form - relationships with your physical therapy practice, and for this to be used in a positive way your brand must itself be positive, consistent, and relevant to others.

The Other Stuff (website, advertising, newsletters, etc.)
There’s a whole lot of “other stuff” that we do to market our physical therapy practices that could be construed as having little to do with relationships.  The practice website, the yellow pages ad, the monthly newsletter, to name a few.

If you don’t think these things have to do with relationships however, you’re largely mistaken (and I say that in the most respectful, yet sincere way).  All of the “other stuff” does one of two things.  It either (1) initiates the possibility of a new relationship with your physical therapy practice, or (2) builds upon existing relationships by confirming what has already been established.

It can actually also do a third and fourth thing, which is to (3) make a bad first impression of your physical therapy practice - ensuring that the possibility of a relationship will be virtually nil, and (4) destroy existing relationships through unprofessional or inconsistent representation of your physical therapy practice.  We’re going to assume however, that all readers of this blog know better than to ever let #3 and 4 ever happen :)

If you could only know one thing about physical therapy marketing it would be that it’s all about forming and nurturing relationships with others.  Everything else in marketing supports that very simple tenet.  From your networking luncheons, to your logo, to your local sponsorships, and to everything in between - your marketing efforts must be used to develop longstanding relationships with your community and your referral sources if you want to see real, sustainable growth of your physical therapy practice.


Tannus Quatre PT, MBA is a private practice consultant and principal withVantage Clinical Solutions, Inc., a nationwide healthcare consulting and management firm located in Bend, OR and Denver, CO.  Tannus specializes in the areas of healthcare marketing, strategy, and finance, and can be reached through the Vantage Clinical Solutions website.

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