Our recent household move to a small town in coastal Oregon has presented us with some interesting opportunities and challenges. Fortunately, the opportunities outweigh the challenges! We are small town people, personally. For a decade we have lived and worked in Portland, a little big city. Despite the love we have for it, Portland has always felt a bit too big, too busy. So, settling into a new life in a smaller and slower place has felt like coming home.
That said, there are attitudes and expectations we bring from Portland that are unhelpful!
We expect too many choices at the grocery store, far more than are actually needed. Sometimes we’re annoyed at people doing the speed limit and following traffic laws. We are spoiled on so many coffee shops, bars, taverns, gluten free eateries and such in Portland. So it took us some time to fully appreciate the beauty of the simple (and fortunately objectively excellent) choices available where we now live. There are plenty of other examples of this dynamic in play.
Even with these mismatches, the move has proven to be a good idea. We’ve been settling in for six months now, continuing to maintain & grow our clinic in Portland, commuting, making it work.
The slower pace has caused us to rethink some of our attitudes towards work and play. The open space and quiet has helped us to remember how to think a little more deeply. The constant companion of nature has soothed wounds that we weren’t even fully aware of. As this has been unfolding, we’ve been in a bit of a “pause,” hunkering down and waiting. We’ve been letting the process play out.
Recently, something shifted, and now it’s time for us to start creating something new – something in addition to our current beloved mothership in Ladd’s Addition.
It’s time to birth our second clinic location in this new hometown we already love…
That simple statement has a metric ton of conversations, late nights, project lists, home improvement storereturn lines, worries, triumphs, emails and dollars wrapped up in it. We will be extending our branding and much of our infrastructure to support the new creation. That takes some pressure off the venture.
But, it’s been a long time since we’ve started something in a new town. Further – this place has a decidedly different energy than what we’ve been used to for the entire time Watershed Wellness has been in operation.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, we’re having to completely reconceive our clinic vision and marketing plan based on what we’re learning.
In the same way that some of our Portland attitudes don’t match as we go about our personal daily business, we are being careful to adapt our clinic to the energy of our new business environment.
Every town has its own peculiar business culture shaped by the geography and ecology, the microclimate, the historical background and social environment of the place and the particular demographics and psychographics that are embedded within it all. In short – every town is its own unique place, and that uniqueness impacts the way its best to do business there.
Though each place is quite unique, there are some broad generalizations that might be helpful to any of you looking for a location for your future clinic (or clinic expansions!). The one I’d like to touch on here is one we’re facing in our own growth – the difference between marketing to more urban and more rural places. To pose a particular question – how is acupuncture clinic marketing in rural locations different from acupuncture clinic marketing in more urban locations?
I’ve come up with three interesting distinctions that have emerged as I’m doing research along these lines:
- A more personal, intimate approach versus a more general, impersonal approach
In my experience, in smaller towns people know one another more frequently. There are fewer folks to run into, after all, so you tend to run into the same people over and over again – very quickly. Because of this, there seems to be more expectation of face-to-face contact and a more personal approach. We’ve found that where a quick phone call may have settled an issue in Portland, in Astoria we really just have to go to the place of business and say, “Hello!”
I suspect the same is going to be true of doing outreach to get new patients to visit our new clinic.
In Portland, people use the Internet for most of their healthcare research. Generally, they tend to look for low-touch, low-risk ways to get the information they need. Bigger ad campaigns, online content marketing, social media and directory/review site ads – these are all helpful ways to get the word out in an environment like this.
In our new spot, the name of the acupuncture clinic marketing game is going to be community engagement, one-on-one conversations, mutual support of similar businesses in a really overt way and other similarly “old school” ways of building visibility and awareness. This theme has come up more than once in my research, as you’ll see…
- The relative importance of more traditional business / marketing venues
There are a lot of examples I could bring up here, but the one that comes to mind is the acupuncture clinic marketing standard – giving talks at local health food stores.
In a town like Portland, as saturated it is with great healthcare practitioners, doing talks at the local health food store is unlikely to have a huge impact. There are lots of health food stores, with lots of talks, and without a catchy draw (topic for another article) you’re likely to get 1-2 folks that make the health food talk circuit regularly. This isn’t to say there is no value in the practice, simply that it may not have the impact you expect.
On the other hand in a smaller town with only one or two health food stores and very few healthcare practitioners – opportunities abound. Giving a short talk series on the benefits of eating seasonally, with free ear seed / herbal demonstrations may just be unique and compelling enough to draw a proportionally higher number of interested people. Weird things get noticed!
As a quick final note here – traditional institutions like the Chamber of Commerce are also of greater importance in more rural areas. Some practitioners I’ve talked to have also found value in being involved in local government, church and school operations in part as a way to get that more personal contact with members of the community.
What I like about all of this so far is that digging into some good marketing in a small town like ours actually just means becoming a more integrated and involved member of the community itself. That’s of course true no matter where you live – but I suppose this particular situation has made me even more aware of that truth.
- Online acupuncture clinic marketing and relative use of the Internet
Rural and small town access of the Internet, perhaps especially for healthcare purposes, is different than we find in bigger urban areas. There are certainly diverse factors behind the somewhat lower internet use rate in rural areas including income, relative education attainment and the availability of decent Internet Service Providers. Regardless of the reason, the fact of lower amounts of access in some rural areas is worth considering when you build a marketing plan for your acupuncture clinic.
In our new hometown, we’re finding that in the newer businesses popping up (chiefly from Portland and similar areas) websites and online marketing are used heavily. Older businesses, especially healthcare oriented business, tend not to have very robust online presence. However, Yelp use among residents is high, and Instagram and Facebook groups relevant to our town are heavily used. We’ll continue to do research to determine the needs, expectations and capacities of the people we are hoping to serve and if we find lower Internet use, we’ll adapt and focus more on offline and in-person marketing methods.
Adapting acupuncture clinic marketing to the community you are hoping to serve is simply wise action.
Ultimately, all of what I’m discussing here boils down to one simple point. When you’re considering opening or moving a clinic, or expanding into a new area quite different from your current one, understanding as much as you can about your local community is crucial. By understanding who your potential acupuncture patient population is you can tailor services, products, insurance panel involvement and marketing to be of most interest to them. This makes your job as a business owner a LOT easier.
The best thing about this process so far is how much it is invigorating our work in our existing practice in Portland. Because, as you can see – all of these principles could easily work in any environment (urban, rural or in between) with the right mindset and adaptation. So, while I do think there are real differences the way you need to approach different towns, and even neighborhoods, when it comes to acupuncture clinic marketing, the truth is that good techniques and philosophies work well no matter where you deploy them.