The current crisis within the care sector is impacting every operator within the sector. There has been a notable shift in the way care providers approach service delivery and development and this shift is also affecting how providers market their business.
The funding crisis means that providers are under pressure to develop sustainable income streams. Those who had relied on local authority block contracts now recognise that this is no longer a viable option. The need to consider alternative approaches to sustaining the business has never been greater.
The cost of delivering care services, coupled with the significant underfunding of the sector means that delivering good care alone is not enough to sustain your business. Although delivering good care is a great starting point.
Many will agree that effectively marketing your business is essential for survival. However, with the pressures and the tight squeeze on budgets, a focus on marketing can often be side-lined in favour of more pressing priorities.
Whilst this may be the case and the experience of some providers and operators in the sector, the unpredictable economic climate, demand for services, coupled with the relentless challenges of the care sector means companies cannot ignore the necessity to market their business if they are to stay afloat for the long term.
Plan to get ahead
Care providers need to start thinking about how they can generate business in this changing environment to ensure sustainability and longevity.
Gone are the days when consumers had low expectations and were grateful for any support they could get in how to care for their loved ones. People are now more discerning than ever before and as a result have high expectations of what they want from a service and indeed from the provider.
Information on the internet and in the media means that people are exposed to details about service performance, inspection reports, news of poor practice and even user reviews and feedback. Providers have nowhere to hide! Access to information makes it easier for people to compare services and as a result have become more astute in their decision-making.
If providers are to survive in this challenging and unprecedented environment, it is vital that they commit to their marketing strategy and take control of how their services are perceived in the market place.
Marketing is as important to care providers as it is for every other business. It is vital for any care business to develop a marketing strategy. Without one, it will be impossible to effectively remain financially viable.
Create a competitive edge
The key to growing and maintaining your business is to make sure that there is strong awareness of your service and company in the marketplace, so that potential customers, families and relatives, stakeholders and influencers are aware of what you offer and how to access your services.
There isn’t a one size fits all approach, as all services must ensure that their marketing is carried out in the right way for their particular audience and business model, a key part of which is having a recognisable brand.
The aim of your marketing management should help you develop long-term relationships with your customers and stakeholders. The strategy should be flexible so that you can respond to changes in customer demand and expectations, and also respond swiftly to changes in the competitive environment.
Spending time creating a strategic marketing plan as part of your business planning process will also help you to identify new markets to target.
Segment your market
One of the key elements in developing your marketing strategy is to identify your customer segments. Each of your customers can be grouped by particular characteristics into segments. Gaining an understanding of these segments will help you to effectively develop services that meet people’s needs in a way that is meaningful to them.
Creating a competitive advantage in this economic climate is essential for business survival. It takes time and commitment to see long-term results.
Your marketing strategy should help you to demonstrate your strengths as an organisation to meet customer’s needs. For example, if your potential customers are looking for high quality care provision, then your marketing activity should showcase what you do to provide the high quality care provision they want.
Once you have agreed your marketing strategy, you will need to develop a marketing plan. A marketing plan will help you to identify the actions you need to take to achieve your marketing strategy.
Your marketing plan should be an essential part of your overall business plan. The essence of marketing is to understand your customer’s needs and to develop a plan that helps you to meet those needs across all your operational activities.
Focus your resources
There are many different marketing activities you could use to help you achieve your business goals. From public relations, digital marketing, social media, advertising, materials development, events, to name a few. Using a combination of these activities as part of an integrated strategy will help you gain good results.
The extent of your marketing activity will largely depend on your budget, time and experience. However, the size of your budget does not always determine the success of your marketing.
It is always advisable to review and evaluate your marketing efforts. To ask yourself the tough questions of what is working well and what isn’t achieving the results needed to grow and sustain your business.
A review will give you the opportunity to make sure that your business is on the right track. And if not, to assess and develop alternative strategies to enable you to stay focused for what lies ahead and make sure your business can survive in these unpredictable times.
Edna Petzen @EdnaPetzen is director and marketing consultant at Lynden Consulting, a marketing and communications company helping health and adult social care businesses develop marketing strategy, manage their brand, improve performance and achieve communication excellence. Get in touchtoday to find out how we can help.