Is Marketing Yourself Somehow Wrong?

Whew.  This week’s topic is a a toughie.  What a loaded question.  I’m sure we’re going to get hate mail after this one.  😉

So many of our clients have this as a fundamental question.  It’s sort of a Hamlet proposition for many practice owners: “To market or not to market, that is the question.”  It isn’t that they can’t market.  They don’t know if they even should.

Is marketing yourself to the public unprofessional?  Greedy?  Unethical?  A necessary evil?

It’s an important question to answer for any practice owner.

What is Marketing?

Marketing is simply the promotion, advertising and selling of a product or service.  It includes the strategy behind conceiving of a product to sell, deciding how to promote it, getting it advertised and finally sold to the public.  As a subject, marketing really grew up in the late 1800s and early 1900s as the Industrial Revolution shifted the United States from a country of small craftsman to a national marketplace.  Whereas previously you would’ve bought shoes from a cobbler who made them in the back of his shop around the corner, now goods manufactured in Detroit were being advertised and sold in New York.  Marketing was a natural outgrowth of this and became a new skill and profession in its own right.

Is Marketing Inherently Manipulative?

Well, it depends on what you’re selling and how you’re selling it.  It’s like asking if lawyers are inherently manipulative.  They definitely can be, but they don’t have to be either.

In any economy, marketing fills a vital niche.  It lets people know what’s for sale so that they can then buy it.  If done honestly it is helpful.  If done wrong, it is unethical.  As an example, if a practice owner were desperately searching for a piece of new equipment, he would probably like to read a brochure or a website.  How else would he know about it?  That’s marketing.

Now if that brochure were filled with lies or misinformation designed to get him to buy something he really didn’t need…then that same practice owner would probably feel manipulated.

When used to manipulate people, marketing is manipulative.  When used to help people get the service that they need, marketing is not  manipulative–in fact, it is actually a valuable service.

But What About For a Doctor?  Isn’t That Tacky?

A matter of taste.

It is true that in some countries this is considered absolutely taboo.  I was talking to a South African friend and she was telling me about how advertising is heavily regulated for professionals there such as doctors, accountants and lawyers.  It is considered to be a conflict of interest or some such.  In the U.S. we have some regulations, but for the most part there are few restrictions.

But what about the question of it being tacky?

Well are blue jeans in the office tacky?  What about corduroys?  How about a doctor who doesn’t where a tie, or an Office Manager with a penchant for tchotchkes all over the waiting room?

Tacky is a matter of taste and what’s appropriate for your area.  Something “tacky” in downtown Chicago might not be in rural Kentucky.  For that matter, something completely acceptable in Chicago might be considered rude in Kentucky.  It’s the same for marketing and advertising.

The best way to judge what’s appropriate for your area is by checking out how marketing is used in your area.  If you can find even a couple of other doctors using a certain method of marketing, it’s a pretty sure bet that the public at large doesn’t object to it.

Remember Who You’re Marketing To

Remember one thing: you are not marketing to other practice owners.  You are marketing to the public at large.  What the doctor two blocks over thinks about your marketing isn’t important.  Whether it brings in new patients or new clients IS important.  You aren’t marketing to your competitors, your colleagues or your state association.

So Is Marketing Right Or Wrong?

The answer to this is that the ethics of marketing depends on one thing: Do you deliver good treatment or do you deliver destructive treatment?

If a practice delivers good treatment that is valuable to patients, then patients and clients DESERVE to know about it.  If a practice delivers poor-quality treatment that is destructive, then it is wrong to market that practice.  It literally is that simple.

If your treatment quality is high, then you are actually being helpful by marketing to your patients.  After all, they need services that you deliver and by reaching out to them, you’re helping them go to a practice where you know they’ll be taken care of (yours), instead of getting substandard treatment that they won’t be as happy with in the end.

By this logic, a constructive practice that does good treatment has a moral obligation to market so as to help others get the high quality of treatment they deliver!  It would be wrong for them not to market, or to do poor marketing which really doesn’t represent them well.

The Bottom Line

If a practice does good work and knows that they do good work, it is absolutely ethical to let people know about it.  If they plan to do poor work, then obviously they aren’t doing anyone a favor by marketing themselves.

Truthful marketing about a high-quality service that people actually need is not only acceptable, but helpful.  Done right and with the intention to actually help people get the service they deserve, you should promote yourself to the whole world.

Sometimes the RIGHT thing to do is market.


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