Throughout the last 25 years I’ve started a number of professional practices from scratch, and more importantly helped a number of associates, both young and not-so-young launch successful professional practices. One thing that amuses me is when an associate comes to me all fired up with the next new great idea. Invariably it leads to me telling the story about the hammer and the crystal vase at the rib cook-off.

I use this story to illustrate some very important marketing concepts. The concepts of demographics, segmentation, targeting and positioning (or STP). The story illustrates many more marketing concepts that the true marketing aficionado will quickly recognize. We’ll leave those concepts for future articles.

Picture for a moment that you desire to market your professional practice. You are a hammer and a darn good one. So you buy a bunch of tee shirts, pens, coffee cups and plan your soon to be famous Dr. Hammer’s Best Rib Barbeque Contest. You invite current and prospective patients to participate and even develop fancy plaques to award the winner, second place and third place entries. You have the charming idea of multiplying the effects of your barbeque contest by having the winners proudly displaying their Dr. Hammer award plaque. In this way your marketing effort will continue throughout the year. People will see your amazing plaque, the winners will brag about their accomplishment and the Dr. Hammer name will be in perpetual circulation year round throughout the community. Prospective patients will flock to the Hammer Clinic, you have a marketing machine!

It would be interesting to see that you think of this advanced marketing concept. I would suspect that those who have some formal marketing education would quickly see the problems with this marketing strategy. Without a thorough understanding of fundamental marketing principals, this plan of execution might seem appealing. To be fair, if you enjoy having cook offs and mingling with prospective new patients this idea could be fun.

However there are so many problems with this idea from a marketing perspective that it would be impossible to discuss them all in a short article. So we will intentionally limit our critique to some of the more basic marketing principals.

Let’s say for the sake of illustration that you throw your big rib cook off event and you have 50 potential patients participate. Never mind the cost in terms of dollars and time to get these 50 to attend. Let’s take a look at the concept of demographics. I’ve actually heard some marketers suggest that demographics are old school. That modern marketing methods make the concept of demographics obsolete. Well it is true that the concept of demographics is an old old concept. It might even be considered one of the foundations of marketing science. Let’s see how it works and you can decide for yourself if marketing demographics is an obsolete concept. Back to the barbeque!

Much to your delight, you have 50 people attending your cook off. That’s 50 potential patients and a lot of one-on-one face time. It is a good environment to start to develop public awareness and initiation of relationship marketing procedures. You have your Dr. Hammer tee shirt on, you hand out your Dr. Hammer, “Get Hammered” promotional tees and give each attendee a water bottle. Not just any water bottle, this one has your highly effective headline “I got hammered at Dr. Hammers 3rd Annual Rib Cook-off”, engraved in the plastic.

Everything is going according to your strategic marketing plan. You start to engage the crowd. Ready to raise awareness of your brand of hammering. You survey the crowd; you see that fully 50% of the attendees are crystal vases. Undeterred you start the sales process. Mr. and Mrs. Mikasa, so glad you could attend I’m Dr. Hammer and you really could use some hammering. The Mikasa’s smile and nod their heads just waiting for a chance to grab some free ribs and get as far away as possible from the swinging Dr. Hammer. You spy the Lenox family out of the corner of your eye. They brought their little crystal goblets. Pay dirt you say to yourself. Mr. Lenox, I’m so glad you could make it. I see you brought your beautiful little goblets to the event. Eat up, enjoy and let me tell you a little bit about how having your children hammered is a great idea. You probably had no idea of the benefits of hammering crystal at a very early age, let me tell you about it.

You’re pleased with the large turn out of crystal at your party. You notice that there is also a large number of boards with loose screws that turned out. You’re on it! You can hammer those loose screws into place, you just need to sell your service to these folks. After all everything is sales. You can sell ice to Eskimos. These loose screws will be no match for your silk tongue and smooth pitch. You own them.

There are more than a few rusty hinges at the party. You’ll make quick work convincing them of the benefits of hammering rusty hinges. The crystals, loose screws and rusty hinges have been educated in your brand of hammering. The event will produce a few new patients. But more importantly when these folks either need hammered or talk to someone else that needs hammered, they will surely sing the praises of good old Dr. Hammer, thanks to his famous rib cook off.

It could have been a little better however, if only a few more nails were present, but hey you did a good job on educating the folks who did show up on why getting hammered is exactly what they needed. Mission accomplished.

Mean while Dr. Demographic, we will call her Dr. D for short, spent much more time on market research determining what folks in the neighborhood really were looking for. She looked at her files and determined who her best patients were and how effective she was at helping them. With this knowledge she took extra classes and polished and diversified her clinical skills. She was then ready to apply true marketing strategy. This strategy involved the age old marketing concepts known as STP.

She knew from her marketing research that the Lenox, Mikasa and Swarovskis of the town were looking for the latest techniques in preventative maintenance. Since she studied special protective foam techniques at the university, she was able to formulate a marketing plan that singled out all the crystal in town (this process is known as segmentation) determined the most cost effective ways of getting her message to the crystal (known as targeting) and lastly created a marketing campaign comparing the benefits of protective foam versus hammering for crystal vases and goblets. This last concept is positioning.

Dr. D didn’t stop there. She knew that there were many loose screws in town and she had invested in post graduate education concerning the best and most effective methods of tightening loose screws. Once again she targeted her message at that segment of the population that was suffering from and looking for answers to their loose screw problems. Her strategy was once again to point out how hammering loose screws might be effective in some cases, but the new electric screw driver she purchased was the best, most efficient and fastest way to fix their specific problem.

Her next action step. Getting oil information to the rusty hinges. Now of course everyone knows about oil for rusty hinges, but Dr. D was banking on the fact that her competition was engaging in new age marketing like trying to create images of hammers helping rusty hinges. Furthermore she knew her competition wasn’t doing a great job of targeting and positioning. They were raising awareness about themselves while failing to offer specific solutions like oil for rusty hinges. A specifically targeted campaign offering oil to rusty hinges will out-perform a generic awareness and new age marketing campaign any day. Dr. D knew that it would be much more efficient to offer oil to rusty hinges than trying to sell ice to Eskimos. She would allow her competition to expend its energy dealing with the Eskimos, she would offer protective foam to the crystals, her state-of-the-art screw driver to the loose screws and oil to the rusty hinges.

Furthermore, while Dr. Hammer was trying to sell hammering to the crystals, hammering to the loose screws and hammering to the rusty hinges, Dr. D knew that the nails had a support group in town and she arranged a number of speaking engagements in front of this group. She created a full color brochure that talked about how prepping wood before hammering a nail would make the job more efficient. She talked about new coatings that could be applied to nails that made them stick better. She gave them some very good information that they could apply immediately and obtain real benefits from. Dr. D did this because she knew that once the nails had benefited from her knowledge they would consult with her the next time they had a problem. She also knew that by giving away some useful information to the nails, they would talk amongst themselves and say something like, “I attended a seminar put on by Dr. D, she told us about this great new coating that was available.” It really helped me. Dr. D really understands nails. If you have problem you should really give Dr. D a call. Maybe you can swing by Dr. Hammer’s barbeque for some free food on the way to Dr. D’s office?

I hope you can see how this story illustrates the value of STP, when it comes to marketing a professional practice. STP is a fundamental step in developing a marketing campaign. It is a tool to increase your marketing effectiveness and efficiency. If your marketing consultant does not include this process in his or her recommendations to you, be wary. Don’t be fooled by marketeers that tell you the old tried and true methods of marketing are out-dated and obsolete. Here is a challenge to you, I will bet you that a marketing consultant that minimizes or discounts the importance of fundamental marketing tenants, like demographics, segmentation, targeting and positioning, will also tell you that you shouldn’t place much emphasis on academic marketing practices like metrics. If you read our other articles on metrics you’ll know that without metrics it is impossible to know if your marketing is effective and efficient. Not being able to measure the steps in your plan of marketing execution makes it impossible to ascertain if your marketing plan is working as advertised or not. Failure to utilize metrics only benefits the consultant never the customer.