Excuse the language, but that’s about the tone we get asked this question in a lot lately. Sometimes with even stronger expletives :).
Centers are really struggling and the truth is that most did nothing other than center-to-center referrals and Adwords for, like, ever.
Diversify or Die
As any mature business knows, marketing has to be diversified to be successful long-term. You can never, ever, rely on a single channel for inquiry and admissions generation or you will close just like so many centers did after the Adwords ban.
A healthy center has 70% of their admissions coming from referral sources. Of that seventy percent, 50% is from professionals like therapists, LCSWs, EAP programs, Unions, and other centers. 20% is from alumni, both the alumni themselves and their loved ones.
The final 30% comes from outbound marketing – TV, radio, billboards, community involvement, SEO, Facebook ads, etc. Outbound marketing is expensive on a cost-per-admit basis, so a healthy center can’t survive without it accounting for only a minority of intakes, especially with insurance reimbursements continuing to drop.
What Channels Work These Days?
This is the wrong question to ask. The reality in marketing is that all channels work as long as you’re using ones where your target audience hangs out. Since addiction affects a huge cross section of Americans, any channel is valid and will work.
But wait, you say, we tried TV or billboards, or Facebook ads and they didn’t work! The issue is not the channel, it’s you. Good marketing is extremely dependent on 3 things.
- The right audience. You have to be reaching the right people. For example, advertising in the Chicago projects are unlikely to produce results since nobody there has insurance or can afford private pay. By the same token, advertising in the Hamptons also won’t work for most centers, because really rich people rarely respond to ads, they depend on personal referral sources. A great place to advertise, however, is middle-class Chicago suburbs where there are tons of union jobs with good insurance.
- Quality content. If your content doesn’t have the right message or the right look that speaks to people and encourages them to take action, it will always fail on any channel. Also, remember that content is channel specific. What works on Facebook doesn’t work on YouTube, just like what works on TV doesn’t work on Facebook.A lot of centers put out this ridiculous content about junkies on the street looking like death. The reality is that most addicts have jobs and families, so if your marketing content doesn’t speak to that, nobody will respond. In fact, it will speak to the kind of people you are showing, and people living on the street or near homeless are not likely to have insurance.
- The right time. People don’t respond to addiction treatment advertising as much on Saturdays as they do other days of the week (at least according to our internal data). They also don’t respond over Thanksgiving or Christmas. Certain times of the day are also more likely to garner a response.This is really important for TV and radio. People are not likely to remember an addiction treatment ad while on the way to work. They have too much to do once they get into the office. But on the way home or on weekends makes a lot of sense.
You need the right content to the right people at the right time. If you can nail those three components, which is far easier said than done, your marketing will work on any channel.
Which goes back to diversification. Because every channel is unique, you have to figure out audience, content, and timing on a per channel basis. You can’t just start advertising everywhere all at once, simply because it’s cost prohibitive.
Get one channel working well, double down on spend, then take 20% of your marketing budget and push it into a new channel. It will take time to figure things out and build up a trusted audience on any new channel, but this is essential to build out a strong and healthy business that is not dependent on one or only a couple sources for admissions.
You also need to remember that length of time is extremely important. High quality inquiries with insurance and the means to pay don’t react to one-off ad campaigns. You almost always need to commit to an area and a demographic long-term to make it work.
Marketing Is Trust
As we say over and over again here at Circle Social, marketing is about building trust. As we define it, marketing is the process of building trust AT SCALE in a way that encourages a desired action.
Trust takes time to build. Sure, there were tons of desperate people that used to click on your Adwords ad because they were in crisis, needed help now, and didn’t know where to turn besides Google. That’s rarely the case now. Plus, it’s less than 5% of all people that need help! That’s 95% of potential patients you’re not reaching.
People have become much smarter about searching for addiction treatment for themselves or loved ones. They ask friends and family, check online reviews, research multiple centers, etc. In part, due to all the bad press, nobody trusts a center they just see in an ad.
Which is no different from the reality in any other field. Let’s say you use Tide for your detergent. A brand new detergent comes out and you see an ad on TV for it. They say it’s better than Tide. Are you going to go out and buy it? Of course not, you have no idea who these people are and you don’t trust them. Now that’s for a $7 bottle of detergent.
Let’s say you see an online certification to become a substance abuse counselor. It costs $15,000. You really want your certificate, but are you going to call and buy it because you see a billboard for it on your way to work? Absolutely not.
The more expensive a product or service is, the more trust you need to build to get people to purchase it. That’s why, when you’re running any marketing on a new channel, you need a minimum of 3-6 months to see results. People have to become familiar with you, which breeds trust.
The average amount of time we see for radio working for clients is around 6 months. That’s just how long it takes to build enough trust with radio listeners. Facebook campaigns can sometimes take only around 3 because you can build out behavior-based retargeting stages, something you can’t do with Adwords, billboards, or radio. But it still takes time.
And the reality is that only a very small percentage of interested people respond immediately to an ad. Do you see a commercial or billboard for McDonalds and immediately drive into one to eat? Of course not. But, when you are hungry around dinner time, you may remember the ad and think McDonalds is a good idea.
Addiction treatment marketing has to be the same. You can’t rely on the one super hungry person on the highway driving by and making a decision to eat at your restaurant right away. You need to target the 10,000 other people passing by in their cars that day who, while they don’t need treatment right now, they may be ready in a month, 2 months, or a year.
Integrated Marketing & Branding
While we have one client in Wisconsin that gets 1-2 admits a week off of their billboards, the reality is that billboards almost never directly bring in admits.
That’s because the primary purpose of a billboard is branding. No one is going to stop their car, write down the number, and then call (though it does sometimes happen). What a billboard is going to do is remind the person who just saw your TV ad last week and your Facebook ad this morning that now is the time to get in treatment.
Or they see your Facebook ad, remember your billboard, and recall they were curious about learning more, so they click the ad. Whereas, had they not seen the billboard ad before, they would have ignored the Facebook ad.
Single channel marketing is dead and you have to stop thinking that way if you want your center to be successful. Every marketing channel plays into every other one through integrated, omni-channel strategies. Someone might click on your Facebook ad, read your testimonial, then research online reviews, forget about you for two weeks, see a billboard ad, and then do a Google search and call your center. That’s how real marketing works in today’s world.
Just like McDonalds, Starbucks, or Nike, having marketing run across channels makes it that much more likely that, the next time you’re in the mood for a burger, a coffee, or a new pair of running shoes, you choose them and not the competition.
If you were hungry for a burger, would you go to a BJ’s Burger House? No, because you’ve never heard of them. Just like no one is going to come to or refer to your addiction treatment center if they’ve never heard of you and don’t trust you.
The important piece to really take away here is that branding has to be part of your marketing strategy, even if you can’t directly track back some channels to direct admissions. However, you should be able to see, over time, that you have an increase in overall admissions after 3 months of running billboard ads, even if the patient on the phone says they last heard about you from TV.
Building and Maintaining Professional Referral Sources
Referral sources must be constantly built up and engaged. We’ve had several clients where the majority of their admissions were coming from a single large EAP or Union contract. Suddenly, something changes and that contract is finished and so were their main admission sources.
Just like marketing channels in general, referral sources need to be diverse to ensure not all of your eggs are in one basket. You should have Business Development Reps or Community Outreach Reps constantly working on building new relationships. Remember, it can take a new biz dev rep up to 18 months to really work into the role and build up the necessary relationships.
So it’s crucially important that this is ongoing. If a main referral source dries up, you can’t afford to wait 18 months to get another one going. Especially since most biz dev reps are only bringing in 1-3 admits a month these days.
Now, once you’ve got those relationships, you need to keep them up. Every single time someone refers to you, they should be updated with the referred patient’s progress in week 1, halfway through the program, and at discharge, at a minimum.
This makes the referrer know you’re taking good care of the person and much more likely to refer to you in the future.
And don’t think this is just knocking on doors and making cold calls. At Circle Social, we use a number of unique strategies to profitably scale referral outreach through both traditional and digital channels.
These can be one-touch call/response campaigns or strategic outreach via LinkedIn and Twitter (yes LinkedIn and Twitter suck for admissions generation, but they are phenomenal for referral generation when used right).
Involve Yourselves in Your Communities to Generate Huge Invisible ROI
Far too few centers are involved in their local communities or even the wider recovery community. While you don’t necessarily need to get involved with political advocacy, there are tons of groups already doing that, you do need to be a leader when it comes to recovery efforts in whatever areas you have a strong presence.
This means holding events, sponsoring events, meeting with community leaders and collaborating with them, pushing occasional PR pieces to media outlets in those areas, etc.
The ROI on this is almost impossible to track, but it’s huge. If you don’t believe us, listen to our podcast with Kent Runyon from Novus Detox. They have over 60 beds that turn over every 7 days. They only do cash pay and PPO and they have been around with a solid census for over 10 years.
Their community involvement has been a key pillar to their success.
Traditional Advertising – Cost/Benefits of Going Back to Basics
TV, radio, newspapers, and billboards have been around forever. Radio, and TV in particular, have not been major players within most centers’ marketing strategies due to the high cost. To get on non-primetime, smaller programming slots, you’re looking at $3,000 a week for a local campaign. Try to take that national and you’re looking at millions of dollars a month, and costs have been climbing with so many centers giving it a shot anyway.
TV ads tend to generate calls for around $50-$60. 95-90% will initially be Medicaid or no resource calls, but if you keep the campaigns going for over 6 months, you’ll gradually see those numbers change.
Just don’t make the mistake of putting your entire marketing budget into the equivalent of the Hamptons. Rich people don’t respond to TV ads the same way and you can expect to pay $200+ per call with even smaller conversion percentages with these. They’re simply not interactive enough.
Radio can be cost effective for some centers. We have centers that will see a couple admissions a month off of radio once it’s been running long enough. It really depends on the geographic area and the quality of the radio ad.
We don’t know anyone running newspaper ads, so can’t say much there, and we already covered billboards above.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – The Cornerstone of Any Treatment Program’s Marketing Efforts
A lot of people lump SEO into digital advertising, but it’s actually completely different. Yes, it’s an online strategy, but it doesn’t work like any other form of digital advertising.
SEO is like the Yellow Pages and functions similar to Adwords, just a lot better. When you need a plumber, you used to go into the Yellow Pages and look for a plumber. Now, instead, you go to Google to look for that plumber.
SEO is the process of ranking your page so that your name appears at the top of search results, much like getting your number to appear as the first listing under plumber in the Yellow Pages.
SEO is a million times better than Adwords because it’s much more cost effective. You can spend $10,000 a month to try and rank for a particular keyword and get into the top 3 rankings in six months.
Where Adwords would cost you $60,000 a month and you’d have nothing permanent to show for it, you could spend $60,000 on SEO and be sitting pretty at the top of Google search results for a long time.
People tend to trust (remember, marketing is trust) the first page of Google search results. Think about your own search behavior. If you have to go to page 2 or 3 to find a business, you start to think it’s not a very good business. Google isn’t recommending it in the top 10.
So when people see you up there, there is this automatic assumption that your Page 1 listed treatment center is better than those on page 2, 3, or 100.
SEO is a must for any treatment center. However, the reality is that national rankings are insanely competitive and everyone is going for them. More realistic (and affordable!) is building up local rankings in your area or other specific locations across the country.
Maybe your center does great work with unions, so you focus on Chicago suburbs for your SEO. That’s doable and a reasonable investment there can produce long-lasting results.
This is also where we’ll mention Adwords, Bing Ads, etc. These are basically a way to shortcut SEO and operate according to the same Yellow Page principles. They’re just more expensive and give you no permanent result. You have to keep paying, every day, to keep your position.
Remember, 60% of searchers will click on the 1st result of Google. Less than 1% of searchers will click on a Google ad.
For this reason, we actually strongly discourage Google and Bing Ads unless you are a detox, IOP, or OP that just serves the local community. These can be cost-effective strategies if kept local. Still, far better to invest that money in good SEO than it is to blow on search ads with no long-tail advantage.
Digital Advertising – Data, Retargeting, and Admissions
Within the treatment center space, this consists of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube.
Twitter is worthless for admissions generation. You should not be spending any time or money there. It can be incredibly effective to aid in SEO efforts and build professional referral relationships that do lead to admits, but making general posts or running ads on Twitter is not going to do anything for you.
YouTube has a ton of potential and video content is highly effective these days. Plus, it’s much cheaper to advertise on YouTube than it is TV. However, we just don’t know a lot of people doing it. While the potential is there, there remains a need for further testing to determine viability. As short-form video content works amazingly well for generating Facebook inquiries, it’s highly likely YouTube will do the same.
LinkedIn also doesn’t work for inquiry generation. The main reason is that it’s cost prohibitive. You can target the same exact people on Facebook, but for literally a tenth the price. LinkedIn charges through the noise to advertise there and the functionality is much less than Facebook’s as well.
Like Twitter, however, LinkedIn is a goldmine of professional referral sources. Making connections and building relationships their allow biz dev and community outreach reps the ability to get to know people at scale, without the expense of traveling to visit people. LinkedIn is incredibly underutilized by the treatment center community.
Otherwise, Facebook and Instagram are where it’s at for treatment centers. We’re not talking about posting to your newsfeed. That does diddly squat. But Facebook’s ad management platform is the most sophisticated on the planet.
You can target anyone, anywhere for prices far lower than any other channel. For that reason, inquiries generated for Facebook cost as low as $3, with average costs-per-inquiry in the $20-$30 range. You just can’t beat that.
On top of that, Facebook (and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook and run through the same ads platform) is highly interactive. You’re not just pushing content at people like with TV, radio, or billboards, you’re actively engaging and responding to users based on their actions and comments, which builds trust and relationships.
The tracking and analytics tools are also second to none. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could see exactly how many people watched your TV ad, for how long, where they were when they watched it, what gender they were, how old they were, etc.? That’d be phenomenal, right?
Well, Facebook allows you to do exactly that. Not only can you see who is watching and how much they’re watching, you can send follow-up content to them based on their behavior.
Did they only watch 3 seconds of the video? Send it to them again.
Did they watch 75% of it? They’re clearly very interested. Send them information about your staff and program.
Did they watch the video AND click through to your website? These people are clearly ready to make a decision. Send them an ad asking them to get on the phone with you.
THAT is why Facebook is so powerful. The ability to not only do incredibly specific targeting at a cheap cost, but to create behavior-based campaigns based on people’s actions.
Email & Texting Is Central to Follow-up and Engagement
Your outbound marketing efforts should be gathering name and contact info for regular follow-up.
And, very important, make sure you are getting contact info both from alumni and their loved ones that referred them in. It’s shocking how many centers don’t have this information from their patients.
Regular, personalized newsletters and text messages are key to keeping people aware and informed of your services. As we explained in this post on How to Stop Your Rehab Newsletter from Sucking, you can’t be sending out generic stuff about the opioid epidemic or the dangers of alcohol. It just doesn’t work.
Everything needs to be personalized. People want to know what you’re doing, what’s happening in their area, what’s happening with your staff and alumni, etc.
People are also responding to email less and less. Text and messenger apps have taken over as the standard of communication. Just make sure that if you’re sending these, you have signed or acknowledged agreements with the appropriate legal language surrounding texting, even if it’s not for HIPAA.
And, of course, you should always have your email drip sequences set up for any new online inquiries. Open rates only average about 10%, but that’s 10% more contact than you’d get otherwise.
OK, So What’s the Bottom-line? Where Do I Market My Center?
- Focus 70% of your efforts on engaging professional referrals and alumni. This is done through both personal outreach and minimal digital outreach (email follow-ups, regular email newsletters, personal texts, calls, and visits).
- You need to include LinkedIn in your outreach strategy here.
- SEO is a must. It’s a long-term investment, but the returns are fantastic compared to the cost of the investment. Search is still a primary way many find treatment as well, so you need to be ranking on Google.
- Facebook is far and away the best and most cost-effective tool for driving online inquiries. It’s targeting, tracking, and content creation options are second to none, which is why it works so well.
- Keep engagement and awareness going with text and email.
We know that’s a lot, and we’re just scratching the surface. If you need some expert help to grow your center and your admissions, reach out by using the form below.