Unintended Marketing

It is said that albert einstein had a sign hanging in his office at Princeton University that read, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” The point that I want to take from that quote is that there are some not-so-pretty byproducts from marketing a chiropractic clinic that certainly count, but are often overlooked simply because they can’t be counted.

At one point or another, many of the tactics that chiropractors utilize in acquiring new patients usually involve something for free or something that is drastically discounted (i.e., a $17 exam). The name commonly referenced for this style of practice building is back-end selling. A back-end approach attempts to attract patients with “an irresistible offer,” and then demonstrates a need for chiropractic care on “the back-end.” In addition to free exams, free massages, and free dinners, a back-end approach also involves a number of other measures that are designed to get prospective patients to commit to care (often in reciprocity for the chiropractor’s very generous initial free/discounted offer).

Chiropractic is certainly not the only profession to utilize back-end selling; however, it is a profession that (unfortunately) most people consider when someone’s in pain. The idea of visiting a chiropractor as a means to prevent a departure from optimal spinal health is still far from the norm. While a number of chiropractors have done well with back-end selling, there is the potential for unpleasant and often hidden side effects from using some of these tactics and gimmicks: This is what I call Unintended Marketing.

In short, Unintended Marketing is that which occurs when someone perceives your “offer” (free exam, free massage, etc.) as being unprofessional and not dignified of a doctor. Because chiropractors are only able to measure the patients that DO respond to their offers, it becomes impossible to actually measure the potential side effects that may result from their actions. In fact, those who even raise the issue and suggest that a Doctor of Chiropractic may be repelling more prospective patients than he/she is attracting, are often met with more than just a dirty look.

Although Unintended Marketing goes virtually uncounted, the fact of the matter is that it still counts. Even without having hundreds of focus groups that could potentially legitimize the damaging effects of back-end tactics, it’s not that implausible to consider that there are people that are left with a bad taste in their mouth when they see an offer for a free exam, a free massage/free exam combo, a free dinner, and, yes, even a free DVD player. Is it that much of a stretch to understand that some people may not take to a DC who markets his/her services like it was a timeshare? Is it so difficult to think that someone, somewhere may be saying to himself or herself, “I’m not going to a doctor that puts such little value on his service that he gives it away for free”? Again, for the point of this article, I am not concerned about what takes place in other professions. And please understand that I am not rendering judgment. I am simply pointing out something that may be worth your consideration.

Back-end sales tactics often make up the arsenal of new patient acquisition tools utilized by many practice management consultants for the very simple reason that they work. Having said that, it’s important to realize that the success of these tactics is often measured in comparison to the expected results from a direct-mail campaign (about 1%). What’s counted is the number of those who responded to the offer (i.e., a $277.77 complete chiropractic examination for just $17.00). Remembering that “not everything that can be counted counts,” it would stand to reason that there is the potential for the offer to have the opposite of the desired effect. The potential unintended side effect of a doctor offering a complete chiropractic examination at a whopping 93% discount could be that some folks walk away with a low opinion of that doctor and the results from that exam.

As I mentioned earlier in this article, there are other professions that offer freebies. However, the difference between dentistry, for example, and chiropractic is that most people accept regular dental care as part of their definition of prevention. Currently, the same cannot be said for chiropractic.

The main point is that, as a profession, we might want to examine how we market to the public-at-large. I’m not suggesting that back-end sales tactics aren’t effective. Rather, I am simply throwing out the possibility that it may be worth our consideration to take a look at how we present the benefit of our service to those that may be unaware of what chiropractic has to offer, and to those who may have a lesser opinion of chiropractic as a result of outside influences.


Dr. Marc Swerdlick is a 1998 graduate of Palmer College of Chiropractic, a well-known speaker, and the president of both S Group Inc. and PracticeCentral.com—Chicago-based companies that deliver marketing strategies to health and wellness professionals, as well as to organizations and corporations outside the health and wellness arena. Dr. Swerdlick currently offers his Pre-Sale Strategy, New Patient Acquisition, and Patient Reinforcement Seminars to chiropractors in conjunction with Integrity Strategies LLC. For more detailed information on these seminars, contact Integrity Strategies by going to www.integritystrategies.com or by calling 1-608-865-0466.

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