Healthcare marketing and advertising can appear to be complex, confusing and daunting. But the first steps on the road to success are grounded in only six fundamental building blocks.

We think of it as an “ah-ha moment.” It’s that highly gratifying instant in my consulting work with practitioners when the veil drops, the mystery disappears, the light bulb ignites and a big idea is understood in a flash.

Here, in 14 words, is a sentence that frequently leads to an ah-ha moment:

“There are only six ways to market any healthcare practice. Six and only six.”

The broad topic of successful healthcare marketing is complex and sometimes confusing. There are hundreds of strategies and thousands of tactics, but understanding this six-point outline provides a manageable starting point for bringing it all together.

The Six Fundamental Elements of Healthcare Marketing

Professional Referral Marketing: A reliable and continuing stream of inbound patient referrals from GP’s, other non-competing allied health or other professional sources is the lifeblood of many healthcare practitioners. And whether it’s a primary or secondary channel, professional referral sources can’t be taken for granted. Professional referrals do not happen by magic or simply because you are a good practitioner. Success requires a written plan and an unfailing system to preserve and grow the flow of professional referrals.

Internet Marketing: From websites and social media tools, online marketing is a mainstream channel for marketing, advertising and public relations. Exactly how you use the muscle of the digital freeway can be highly effective and profitable, or a huge waste of time and money.

Branding: This is all about standing out from the crowd in a positive way, and it includes virtually everything you do. A powerful, differentiating brand for your healthcare practice is part of your reputation. Meaningful and effective branding does not occur without a deliberate effort to shape and express the right message at the right time.

Internal Marketing: This heading includes all the ways and means that you communicate with people who already know you, primarily present and previous patients. Depending on the nature of your practice or situation, this influential audience can be a rich resource for referrals, additional services and/or word-of-mouth advertising.

External Marketing: These are the media that reach prospective patients that don’t know you. Advertising in newspapers, radio, television, letter box drops and the like, target an audience that needs to know that you provide an answer for their healthcare need. There’s little margin for error in an external media budget that is expected to produce a measurable return-on-investment.

Public Relations: This heading includes, among other things, planning and generating healthcare publicity and free press exposure, such as newspaper articles or broadcast interviews. The end results look easy, and it can be a positive and powerful influence. But “free press” typically results from careful planning, good timing, a clear message and a deliberate effort.

Whether this is familiar territory or an “ah-ha moment” there are only six ways to market any healthcare practice.