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Message, Market, MediaIn last month’s Therapy Marketing Monthly, we discussed the importance of marketing and why marketing needs to be the primary focus of your practice outside the work you do with clients.

We also defined marketing as “understanding the wants and needs of your clients and referral sources, communicating with them regularly, and building relationships with them in order to help them achieve their goals.”

So, all you have to do is understand your prospective clients’ and referral sources’ wants and needs, build relationships with them, and help them achieve their goals and you’re on your way to a full practice and the land of milk and honey, right?

Well, yes, and no…

Like most things in life, learning how to successfully market and grow your practice isn’t quite that simple, and there are a few more things you need to know before getting started.

As we discussed, building win-win relationships and successfully marketing your practice requires that you get the right MESSAGE to the right PEOPLE via the right MEDIA and METHODS – effectively, efficiently, and profitably.

Our objective at the Therapy Marketing Institute is to equip you with the most reliable marketing principles and strategies so you can create the most powerful message possible, choose the most appropriate media and use it in the most appropriate manner, and get your message in front of precisely those who want and need it most, so you can create a step-by-step marketing plan that helps you achieve the thriving, abundant practice you know is possible.

So, that being said, let’s take a more in-depth look at your MESSAGE…

But, before we do, remember that I said marketing is the single most important factor in your practice’s success outside of the work you do with clients. One of my marketing mentors, Dan Kennedy, is fond of saying, “Don’t be in too much of a hurry to promote, until you get good. Otherwise, you just speed up the rate at which people find out you’re no good.” Harsh but sound advice.

In today’s incredibly cluttered, competitive environment, you need a truly great marketing message. But it better truthfully represent what follows behind it: your prospective and actual client’s experience!

Getting Started

Marketing in general, and your marketing plan in particular, shouldn’t begin with any particular media or strategy. You need to start by determining exactly what clients you want to attract and putting together the best, most promotable message possible that truthfully represents the services you’re offering.

Assuming you know the types of clients you want to attract, the first step in constructing a unique, powerful, and compelling marketing message is to thoroughly review the marketplace and everyone else of significance who’s presenting their message to your target clients.

Toward that end, I’m going to suggest a little exercise…

Right now, while reading this article, or as soon as you’re done, pull up Google or another search engine and begin searching using some of the phrases your potential clients are likely to use (e.g. “couples counseling san jose”, “child therapist chicago”, “trauma counseling seattle”, and so on). Ignore the online therapist directories for now and just visit lots and lots of other therapists’ websites.

Start with the first site you find first, and using a thick pad of paper write down each promise, feature, or benefit you come across on the first website (only write down what the therapist is promising to provide the client, what the client will gain/receive by working with that therapist). When you find a similar statement on the next therapist’s website, just put a mark next to it, and keep stick-counting the number of times the same basic statement appears on all of the websites. If you find a new or different promise, feature, or benefit on any of the sites, add it to your list, then stick-count the number of times it reoccurs on other sites. Go through the first several pages of search results and then repeat the process using another search term that’s applicable to your
target market.

This exercise is extremely instructive for two reasons:

  1. The Internet is one of the most competitive and cluttered advertising arenas imaginable. There are ways to try and pick off searchers and direct them to looking only at your site, but as a practical matter most prospective clients searching online are sorely tempted to shop around and you are literally surrounded by your competitors’ advertising and they are all a millisecond’s click away. You are all presenting your messages simultaneously to the same prospective clients and you should know what you’re up against.
  2. At the same time, and despite this obvious extreme competitiveness, your stick-counted list will glaringly reveal one astounding fact: everybody is saying the same thing! By and large, everybody is delivering the same message. And, with very rare exception, they are unfocused messages. They are big and broad and not really for anyone in particular.

While crafting broad messages such as most of those you’ll come across on other therapists’ sites may seem the way to do things because that’s the way everybody else is doing things, it is definitely the wrong approach if you’re seeking above-average results.

If you desire average results, go ahead and do what everyone else is doing. If you desire exceptional results, you’ve got to do things differently.

The Importance of Creating a USP

Contrary to all of this “me-tooism,” the key to the proverbial vault for successfully marketing your practice is coming up with a message that differentiates you from all your competitors in a positive, appealing, and preferably compelling way.

Many marketing professionals call this a “Unique Selling Proposition.” I’ve also seen it referred to as a “Unique Service Proposition,” a term I prefer. For now, we’ll just stick with the acronym: USP. But call it what you will, without one you are merely a choice. With one, you can be the choice.

Unfortunately, we can’t possibly cover all of the details involved in creating a powerful USP in this one article. Whole books have been devoted to this topic…

However, you can think of a USP as a way of summarizing and telegraphing one or more of the chief benefits of your practice or the services you offer.

You’re quite familiar with USPs, whether you’ve recognized them as such or not. Most great businesses put forward USPs, or at least try to. Think of Domino’s Pizza’s “Fresh, hot pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Or FedEx’s “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”


These are more than just “tag lines,” these USPs have built multi-billion dollar businesses.

Now, I know you’re not looking to create a multi-billion-dollar corporation, but it is worth working on the invention of a strong USP for your practice. And it’s not necessarily easy. I know people (myself included!) who’ve taken months, even years, to finally hit on a USP that really worked. But, for those who have, the months of frustrating brain strain have paid off handsomely.

I should also point out that you can go to very different places in the same industry with a USP. A gourmet pizza restaurant can exist and do extremely well next to a Domino’s, as they both have different USPs and are targeting different customers. Lawyers may all have a J.D. after their name, but there are tax lawyers, trial lawyers, divorce lawyers, and the list goes on and on… Even if you think of someone as specialized as a child therapist, there are child therapists who specialize in attachment disorders, autistic-spectrum disorders, ADHD, and so on, just as there are teen counselors who specialize in eating disorders or cutting and marriage counselors who specialize in sex therapy or in working with those who’ve experienced an affair.

Good examples of mental health USPs? The Couples Institute in Menlo Park, California, has a pretty solid USP. While the headline on the home page of their website reads: “Helping Partners Give and Receive Love”, the real USP for this business – at least to my way of thinking – is the next line: “We’ve been helping couples realize their dreams since 1984. You’re next!” And, if it were up to me, I’d remove the “We’ve been” and just go with “Helping couples realize their dreams since 1984. You’re next!”

The Couples Institute USP

Why does this USP work, because it’s targeted to a specific group (“couples”) and lets those prospective clients know that they’ve found the expert(s) they’re seeking. Additionally, the message tells couples the benefit of going to the Couples Institute (“to realize their dreams”). And it conveys a sense of authority that would be difficult for most competitors to match by specifically stating that they’ve been helping couples do this for 30 years (“since 1984”) while finishing with a sense of optimism and an implied call-to-action by telling prospective clients “You’re next!”

Another one I’ve seen that works, although it’s definitely a bit broad, is: “Your place to create change.” Better would be something along the lines of: “The place for professional women to create the change they seek.”

The more you can hone in on exactly whom you’re targeting and the benefit you’re offering them, the more effective your USP and marketing messages will be.

If you offer peak performance training for executives, you may consider a USP along the lines of “Helping Executives Turn Every Opportunity into a Million-Dollar Moment.” Or, if you help couples overcome affairs, you may use a USP like “Turning One Partner’s Cheating into a Win-Win for Your Marriage.” You can even use a USP based on your location. For example, “The Place in Silicon Valley for Troubled Teens.”

Personally, I don’t find a USP based solely on geography to be very powerful or compelling. And it certainly leaves the door open to competitors. But it’s better than none at all, which is where most mental health professionals find themselves.

The One Question You Need to Answer

The hypothetical USPs above are just a few, off-the-cuff examples – again, when I work with clients to help them develop powerful, compelling, USPs, it typically involves hours upon hours of effort. And, while a USP can be based around almost anything (place, who your services are for, location, hours of operation, price, etc.), when you set out to attract new clients to your practice, there is one paramount question you must answer…

Pretend you are your prospective client and ask yourself:

“Why should I choose your practice/services versus any/every other option available to me?”

Answering this question is the basis for creating a strong, compelling USP and should be used as a means of brainstorming and coming up with the right USP for you and your practice. And you should be striving to develop a message that somehow trumps all others and places you in a category of one.

If you’re able to place yourself in a category all by yourself, direct comparison with your competitors becomes much more difficult (you’re no longer just another marriage and family therapist, you’re a peak performance expert, an expert on helping couples overcome affairs, etc.) and the fees you can charge become much more elastic.

Of course, as we’ve already discussed, you shouldn’t market yourself as an expert unless or until you are one, lest you lose clients as fast as you get them. Remember, your marketing messages need to truthfully represent what follows behind them: your prospective and actual client’s experience.

If you can’t answer this question, you won’t be able to create an effective USP, but you also likely have bigger problems – typically it means that you’ve been getting clients because of low prices, convenient location, luck of the draw, or your personal charisma, and all of these leave you and your practice very vulnerable to competition.

You need a USP. Not least of all because a good USP will then become the foundation for the rest of your marketing messages. In fact, all of your marketing messages should elaborate on and reinforce your USP.

There is, of course, a lot more that I can and will say on the subject of creating effective marketing messages, both before and after you come up with a good USP. However, there is one other question I want to bring up right now that I think is important to ask yourself…

“What’s Your Magnificent Mission?”

The nature and specifics of my business interests have changed quite a bit over the past decade, but I’ve always kept them linked to this mission: to help mental health and wellness professionals successfully market and grow their businesses.

Whether it’s through developing websites, public speaking, publishing a blog, or creating educational content such as this article, this mission gives most of my business activity greater meaning than just making money. From this mission comes, I think, a different, superior level of creativity, inspiration, and persistence.

There is also a general sense among most of my clients, subscribers, and readers that we are, together, about something more than me as a merchant, they as clients, and money changing hands.

Without it being inauthentic, I think this is an important aspect of a sustainable, successful practice, business, or career, and something that greatly strengthens marketing messages.

I’m not saying you have to have some saintly charitable or profoundly philosophical motive behind your psychotherapy practice. And I’m definitely not one who thinks anyone should feel guilty about making large amounts of money! But I do find that professionals who are at least as enthusiastic about the values and missions and processes of their businesses as they are about their bank accounts do best.

I also think you’ll find the challenges of successfully crafting and conveying a compelling USP and marketing messages easier and more fun when you’re on a magnificent mission!

Now, you may be wondering how to create a great USP or the right marketing messages if you don’t know the prospective clients you should be targeting?

This is an excellent and crucial question, and figuring out who your ideal clients are and making sure you know exactly why you should be targeting one market over another will be the subject of an article in the next issue of Therapy Marketing Monthly… So, stay tuned, and don’t forget to share your questions and comments below!

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