This is it. This is the comprehensive resource that you need to generate more leads and grow your census at your addiction treatment facility.
Here's the game plan. First, we'll address addiction treatment referral sources. How do we market to these people who bring you more patients? Then, we'll review offline and online marketing tactics. Lastly, we put it all together to create a marketing plan for you.
Let's break this down into some pieces first, so you know what we're covering and have some quick links to get there if you want to skip ahead.
- Family and friends
- Teachers, counselors, and pastors
- Coworkers or employer
- Alumni and others in recovery
- Paid calls / leads from online and other sources
Traditional marketing strategies
- Events and sponsorships
- Earned media
- Radio and interviews
- Outdoor advertising
- Direct mail
Online marketing strategies
- Paid advertising
- Content marketing
- Social media marketing
- Conversion rate optimization
- Email marketing
Note: I've begrudgingly separated traditional marketing strategies from online marketing strategies not because they should be in their own silos on your marketing strategy, but purely for organizational purposes here.
Marketing to Referral Sources
There's a lot of ground to cover when it comes to referrals. Your referral sources are all over the place in terms of what the messaging that matters to them, the time that it takes to nurture them until you see a referral, how many people can refer, their influence on the patient, you name it.
Referrals are the life blood of the addiction treatment industry, so we're going to unpack them and figure out how marketing can make them a champion for your treatment facility.
Friends and Family
Friends and family are great referral sources. I can tell you personally, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist, that friends and family desperately want their loved one to get into treatment. You don't have to "sell" friends and family on the value of referring their child, sibling, parent, or whoever that they see suffering, hurting themselves, and others.
You've got to do a couple of things to get friends and family referrals:
- Give them the tools to help their loved one make the decision to get treatment
- Tell them why they should choose you over other treatment options
Friends and family are actively searching online and in the analog world for help. I hesitate to put this screenshot up, because I looked at these websites and each of these facilities have a lot of redeeming qualities from a marketing perspective, but when I searched for [addiction help charleston sc] none of the top three results gave friends and family tools and resources to help their loved one get into treatment.
The point is that most treatment centers don't even try to capture the attention of friends and family. What if you weren't most treatment centers? Just follow this step by step action plan:
- Create a brief guide
- Design a cover
- Write a landing page explaining why someone would download the guide
- Follow up
- Nurture until success!
The guide need not be complicated or long. In fact, it shouldn't be. Here's an idea that should do the trick, "5 Ways to Get Your Loved One Into Treatment." that would outline what's involved with involuntary commitment, court-ordered treatment, interventions, and also the blocking and tackling of "convincing" their loved one to see treatment. I'm sure you have some tips and tricks that you've acquired over the years.
Put that guide front and center on your website for a month and see what happens. Post the landing page on social media. You can even write some content around and it link back to the landing page if you blog (and you should).
Because friends and family are so interested in this information, they are willing, no eager, to give you their email and phone number in exchange for it except those who feel stigmatized by their loved one's addiction, but we'll stick to the low hanging fruit for today!
Since friends and family are actively searching out ways to help their loved one, lots of tactics work:
- Hosting or sponsoring
- Local news media
- Email marketing once they have opted in by downloading your guide
Of course, that doesn't mean that you can't seek them out either by speaking at groups, targeted and I mean targeted direct mail, and so on work too. The key here is to understand your friends and family referral source by creating a buyer persona and then determining the tactics that you use to reach that person based upon what you've learned from that process like what they see, hear, and do on a typical day, what media they consume and when, and so on.
Activating Teachers, Counselors, and Pastors
This is an interesting referral source. While friends and family might have just one person that they could refer to treatment, teachers, counselors, and pastors have way more opportunities to tell someone about your treatment facility. At the same time, they aren't nearly as capable of doing so:
- They may not realize that someone has an addiction in the first place
- Choosing a facility for them to refer to can be complicated
- They may be limited in what they can so or do to help
- They might already have a treatment referral partner
- And, well, with limited resources, sometimes they have other priorities
Start out with a letter, like an actual piece of mail. Introduce your facility, the services, that you provide, and your commitment to the community. Follow up with a phone call, reference the letter, and determine if there is value in starting a conversation or not.
When you're on the phone with a school, determine whether they conduct drug testing and on whom and what do they do when a student tests positive or they suspect that a student is using drugs or alcohol. Depending upon those answers, there might be a fit. If there is room for some more serious discussions, please give you attorney a ring as well. You and the school want to be on the right side of the law.
Putting on my marketing hat, whether you have an official referral relationship with a school or not, there's no reason why you can't work with the school to produce and distribute marketing materials to students and parents. What if you were the speaker at a school assembly, wrote a letter that the school paid for to send to parents about prom and substance use, or created a flyer that the school posted on all of their bulletin boards about what students can do when they know or suspect a classmate is using drugs or alcohol?
Counselors and therapists are either your competition, a referral source, or just a non-factor depending upon what the type of treatment that you provide. If you have some notion of completed care like a detox or rehab, they are a great fit as providers that focus on medications like Suboxone and Vivitrol.
The challenge with this referral source is that they may already work with someone, because the relationship is a win-win-win. You and the counselor will both be referring patients back and forth to each other, so it's an easy ask and at the same time, you're providing better care for your patients since you are finding counselors that will reinforce you treatment and continue to work with patients throughout their recovery and in the event of relapse, will be able to re-refer back to your program.
Starting the conversation with a therapist is relatively straightforward in the analog world with mail and phones, but I recommend starting out by reaching out based upon the contact information on their website or messaging on social media. The process will not only be faster but more effective for a lot of independent counselors and small practices.
Last but not least, pastors and the church more generally. Especially if you're a Faith-based treatment facility, they are a can't ignore referral source. Not that it's impossible, but secular addiction treatment providers will have a harder time because they just can't compete with the theological alignment of a Faith-based provider.
Either way, this referral source isn't for the faint of heart. All of the initial challenges outlined in the section apply to church referrals except the first one, at least for a good chunk of them. Here's the rub from this study:
Findings showed that more than half of all clergy encountered persons with MH or SA problems in their churches monthly or more often. Almost two-thirds believed church members usually felt more comfortable receiving pastoral counseling than going to a professional helper.
Now this study is from 2012 and I think that the opioid epidemic is changing this to an extent, but the marketing challenge is a messaging one. There is an innate challenge in communicating your value to clergy. No wait, communicating how you can leverage and reinforce the spiritual counseling that clergy is providing to their parishioner.
The latter positioning, augmenting their care versus replacing or being superior to it, is better!
Employers and Coworkers
Admitting weakness here, I'm not as familiar with how to leverage employers and coworkers as a referral source. Here's what I know.
- According to a 2016 SHRM study, 77% of employers who responded offer an Employee Assistance Program or EAP.
- 40% of the people covered by an EAP aren't even aware that they have one.
- Only 3.5% of employees take advantage of an EAP.
Of that 3.5% of employees who do use their EAP, of course, just a fraction of them are using it for addiction treatment. It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that that's slim pickins', so we know that working through an employers benefits office or HR in general to find referrals is a fool's game.
Side note: this is one of those, there is the world that I wished existed and then there is the world that does. As marketers, we need to live in the real world or we lose.
Maybe I'm pivoting a little here perhaps because of greater familiarity with my marketing comfort zone, but my suggestion is to take more of a (healthcare buzzword ahead) "population health management" approach here. Go back to your buyer persona and let that guide your outreach to employers.
Here's an example: fishermen. Probably not your buyer persona, but it's someone's! If you know these people and know their employers just as intimately, in the abstract not personally, you can make inroads.
Here's some context and some thoughts on messaging to this population. Fishing is hard work and it's a young man's game, but even young fishermen are self-medicating to keep up with their work or working to keep up with their medicating if you will. The captain isn't your mother; he's their to put you to work and so long as you can work everything else is secondary sometimes to include turning a blind eye or just not knowing the signs of drug use.
Is there a way that you can convey to independent crew captains that what you provide can mean the difference between a crew member coming back next season or not? That you have the tools and resources to ensure that they are getting real pain management treatment, so that they come ready to work physically and clear-minded too? Can you do it in a way that doesn't make them feel like their weak or a mark on their pride?
If you can answer those questions you have the makings of compelling outreach to employers in the fishing industry. To put a bow on this example, they are a captive audience at a port, you better believe that a 100% of their digital communications happen on a mobile device, and you know a slew of other things about your target audience because you created a buyer persona for these employers, so you are able to determine the right marketing channels, the right timing, and so on with your compelling messages.
Alumni and Others in Recovery
Something that I see again and again from successful, both clinically and in a business sense, is that they build community especially among their alumni network supporting them in recovery and also encouraging them to tell others about their positive experience.
Here are a number of ways to keep in touch with your alumni:
- Monthly email newsletter
- Annual picnic or other regular event
- Private Facebook group
- Direct mail
If you aren't building community, start there. You will find that by doing so you will naturally get more referrals from people who have successfully completed your program or are long-time patients for those of you who continue to provide treatment indefinitely.
The second step is to be intentional about asking for referrals and positive reviews. In the digital world, a word of caution, patient privacy and ethics is paramount. Your approach to soliciting reviews and referrals will vary depending upon the campaign, discussions with your legal counsel, etc.
Online reviews have the biggest impact on Google My Business and also your website. Don't just tuck away testimonials on a page dedicated to them, include them on other web pages like your:
- About page
- Location pages
- Service pages
Putting testimonials on those pages provides powerful "social proof" increasing the likelihood that people will pick up the phone and call, complete the form, or whatever your desired action is on that page.
You can encourage referrals through your newsletter naturally by sharing a story of someone who was referred to your treatment center, how that referral changed their life, and how important referrals are to you and to the lives of the people that are referred to your facility.
Another way is to strike up a conversation at the in person event. Ask about their experience at your facility, what they've been up to since, and if it's a compelling story, ask them if they know of others who would benefit from treatment.
A lot of treatment providers just plain 'ole pay for new patient leads through lead gen sites, paid calls, and other sources. The quality of these leads varies and one thing is for certain, they are expensive. If they are working for you, have at it, but there are a lot of treatment providers who feel like they are paying too much low quality leads.
On the other hand...
But chances are it's baroque.
Court Ordered Treatment
There are pieces of getting patients from court ordered treatment that are outside of my control as a marketer, but there is a lot that you can do to position your treatment facility well if and when someone is ordered into treatment and they have agency as to where they go.
The long and short of it is to have helpful information about court ordered treatment on your website. Friends and family have often at least looked into forcing their loved one into treatment, so providing information about that process, how effective it is (or isn't), alternatives, and so on just might be their introduction to your treatment center that ultimately leads to a new patient through drug courts or otherwise.
Traditional Marketing Strategies
Events and sponsorships
My dirty little secret as a digital marketer is that I leverage good, old-fashioned events whenever possible. First, it's a lot easier and more natural to invite someone to an event then to go straight to transacting money in exchange for services, so more people say yes. Then, people who you have had a real, personal interaction at the event are on board, it's just waiting for the right time to refer their colleague, loved one, etc. or to get treatment themselves.
Oh, and events lend themselves to a lot of other marketing activities in a natural way. Struggling to come up with content for upcoming social media posts, hey, you're hosting an event! You can document information about the event as you are organizing it, promote people who are working with to put it on, etc.
What's the downside? Events are a lot of work. Even if you're sponsoring an existing event if you want to make it a success, it's going to take time and effort. I get into the nitty gritty of organizing events for addiction treatment providers and more on this event marketing post if you're so inclined.
For now, the key is determining what event is going to yield the best results for your facility and go from there:
- Alumni and family reunions. Reunion events are a fun time. It's got to feel good for family members and alumni to reconnect with your treatment center, the place that turned their life around! The people who attend your reunion are your best advocates. They are a great source of referrals and staying connected with them with an event is a great tool to generate more referral leads.
- Narcan trainings. Family, first responders, community activists, and other potential referral sources for opioid addiction treatment providers, will show up to such an event and with increased awareness about the opioid epidemic, you can get some earned media at the same time.
- Addiction awareness events. An "awareness" event takes a lot of forms. If you're not a nonprofit treatment providers, 5ks, benefit concerts, you name it are awesome opportunities to get the word about addiction and how you can treat people with it. For profit providers should consider seminars with other community leaders and addiction experts and focus on referral sources. There are also a number of nonprofit events that for profit providers can sponsor.
- Health and wellness fairs. Here's a time-tested event. It's not the most glamorous and you're only going to get so many leads from showing up at health fairs, but hey, most treatment centers can get some admissions or good leads from these events. Like the rest of these events, promotion is half of the battle. Even if you don't talk a soul the whole time, you can get traction from a health fair by promoting it on other channels off and online.
- Addiction task force meetings. This is a long-term play, but this is a great way to position your treatment center as the authority on addiction in your region, build relationships with referral sources, and otherwise win.
If I could beat a dead horse for a second, what media do your buyer personas' consume? Do they trust the media that they consume? And so on. The answers to these questions will determine the effectiveness of earning media for your addiction rehab, detox, halfway house, or outpatient treatment program.
Here's where I'd go from there.
Put together a list of the appropriate contacts at these media outlets and start consuming what they produce: their blog posts, TV news spots, etc. You want to have a feel for the kind of stories that they present and how they present them. Most people take the spray and pray approach with earned media. Don't be that guy.
The other side of the equation is having something newsworthy. Sorry, no one cares that you have re-branded or launched a new website (don't I know it) or hired a new employee. Those kind of stories might somewhere in one of those newspapers that are basically classified ads or in the local business journal, but they won't put in front of the people that need to know more about the services that you offer. A patient or owner might have a compelling story they are willing to share, you compiled stats about the opioid crisis in the area that you serve, you name it.
Pitching them sounds like the hard part but you know everything you need to do to be able to do so effectively at this point. Go ahead and Google press release template or whatever else you need for the logistics of this process at this point, but that's all secondary. The media will often work with you, and sometimes, being a little homespun and naive can help you.
- Determine whether earned media is an effective strategy
- Create a list of people you would like to pitch
- Learn more about the media they produce
- Identify your newsworthy stories that align with the media that your targeted list produces
- Pitch 'em
And it can only help if you started to created a relationship with the media contact before you pitched them by commenting on their blog post, emailing them with softer pitches (ie. "Great story about blah. Did you ever think about X? Whenever you do a story on addiction treatment, I'm happy to provide a quote with a fresh angle."), and so on before the pitch.
Radio and interviews
I'll spare you the reference to whether this matters to your buyer persona each and every time!
Radio, podcasts, interviews, etc. All of these can be great ways to get your treatment centers' name out there. Some of this falls under your earned media strategy that we just discussed unless you are embarking upon your own, most likely, podcast.
There are some great resources out there for starting your own podcast. Here are a few that I'd suggest checking out (FYI that I don't get compensated for any of these recommendations):
- Entrepreneur on Fire: free on up options for learning about podcasting. Though I haven't take read / taken any of his podcasting resources, I have seen him at a conference and read the Freedom Journal. Overall, good stuff.
- Smart Passive Income with Pat Flynn: $695 course. Good guys finish first at least with Pat. He's first and foremost concerned with his audience, so I can't imagine him producing anything that isn't top notch. He's got some freebies too.
- Podcasters' Paradise: $850 or $1,950 depending upon the level you choose. This is the grandfather and granddaddy of all podcasting courses. They were podcasting for before it was hip.
Depending upon who you serve, your buyer persona can be transient so sending direct mail to their last known residence isn't going to reach them, their access to the internet can be dicey, and so on. Alas, there's often not a marketing channel digital or otherwise that's a silver bullet and layering in something like signs can add a brand awareness and lead generation boost to your existing efforts.
Marketing budgets for signs range from $5 to print off some flyers to $1,000s for billboards, so it's a really flexible marketing channel
Like real estate, outdoor and signs in general, it's all about location, location, location.
Here's some locations to think about for paid signs:
- Sponsoring sports facilities and other places
- Transit stops
- Buses themselves
- Flyers at retail locations and nonprofits
- Posters in bathrooms
Don't dismiss direct mail. I've talked to companies in the addiction treatment industry who have told me that direct mail didn't work for them, and in some cases they were right but sometimes they were just doing it wrong. Though direct mail was never my full-time vocation I've done enough to offer these best practices:
- One isn't enough: either integrate direct mail with other channels or mail several times to see results.
- Personalize: there's so much technology available to make a compelling direct mail piece that's personalized to the person receiving it, that if you're not doing this, you're getting lost in the shuffle.
- The patients are in the list: first, make sure that you're targeting the right people and second, list accuracy matters. If you have a bad email address here and there, oh well, but even infrequent bad addresses can really eat at your advertising budget and reduce the overall effectiveness of your direct mail efforts.
- Presentation is paramount: compelling design, offers, and CTAs are a must. Or, think about the other extreme and consider hand-written letters or homespun mail that looks different enough to get a second look.
In addition to direct mail in search of new patients, you can also use mail to build community awareness, find referral partners, and keep in touch with alumni.
Online Marketing Strategies
You could write a whole blog post on paid advertising for addiction treatments... wait, we did! In fact, for a lot of these online marketing strategies, I'm going to go over the highlights but then suggest that you check out the dedicated blog post for the details.
The paid advertising landscape for the addiction treatment industry is evolving, and while that can complicate things, where there's change their's opportunity. If you're willing to adapt you can win with paid.
The primary paid advertising channels that you should invest in are:
- Google Ads
- Facebook Ads
There can be some sticker shock with paid advertising, but once you crack the code it's a sustainable source of new patient leads. I'm kicking myself for not remembering who I heard this from, but be the business that's willing to pay the most for your customers. Sure, you need healthy margins to grow, but all other things being equal the treatment center that's willing to pay more gets more.
Let's take a simple example way out of addiction. Say you say $15 t-shirts and your competitor sales $15 t-shirts. They limit their bids to 50 cents. You're willing to bid 51 cents and still keep the profit margins that you need to sustain and grow your business. Guess whose going to sell a heck of a lot more t-shirts on paid advertising channels?
Of course, the art and science of paid advertising is that there is more to that. Google Ads, for example, uses something called Ad Rank. Ad Rank is simply the cost per click times your quality score. What is your quality score? I'm glad you asked.
Your quality score is comprised of:
- Your CTR or click-through rate
- Keyword relevance to the ad group
- Landing page quality metrics
- Ad text relevance
- Historical Google Ads account performance
The better that each of these factors are in the eyes of Google the higher your quality score. The higher your quality score the lower your bid can be to still get the same Ad Rank. To my earlier point, you can also have a great Ad Rank and still bid as aggressively as you can accounting for the conversion rate on your landing pages and get a great impression share and maintain a high position in paid search rankings.
There's some industry specific things that you need to keep in mind. First, a lot of ad networks won't allow you to retarget people who have visited your site. If you've ever shopped for anything online you have probably noticed that many of those companies follow you around for days, weeks, or even months depending upon their sales cycle. So there goes remarketing ads in Google Ads and using retargeting networks like AdRoll...
If you treat patients with medication, you will probably need to tell Google a million times that you are not an online pharmacy in the process to get ads approved. Also, Methadone and Suboxone are trademarked terms, so while you will be able to bid on those terms, alas, you won't be able to put them in your ad text.
For more, check out our paid advertising post here.
First, you really, really need to have your buyer personas built out, because you're not always writing to the person who will be in treatment and even when you are, the motivation to get help is all over the map. Are they getting help for their kids? Because they hit "rock bottom?" A moment of clarity?
I also want to preface this section by saying that your content needs to be really, really good too. You might have just one shot at this, so your content needs to spur your buyer persona to action and keep them engaged until they get into your program.
Here's an effective strategy to approaching content marketing for the addiction treatment industry:
- Awareness stage offer
- 3 follow up emails and/or text messages with benefits of treatment
- Phone check in
- Consideration phase call to action
- Consideration stage offer
- 3 follow up emails and/or text messages addressing patient objections
- Phone check in
- Decision phase call to action
- Decision stage offer
- Immediate phone follow up
Here are some common or possibly valuable offers at each buyer's journey stage.
- Awareness stage
- Signs that your child is using drugs or alcohol
- How to get your kids back
- Consideration stage
- Treatment option comparison guide
- Questions to ask a potential before entering treatment
- How to pay for addiction treatment
- Decision stage
- Facility tour
- Enroll in treatment
It's hard to overdo opportunities for a prospect to convert in addiction treatment. Don't be shy about adding forms and call to action buttons throughout your website and blog.
In addition to obligatory pages like your home page, contact, and location pages, there are also some key pieces of information to ensure are on your website:
- Insurance you accept and/or payment information
- Disorders that you treat
- An overview of your program and the benefits of your particular program
- Buyer persona specific resources such as pages for veterans, teens, etc.
- After care program if appropriate
- Family resources
- Tools to assist referral sources like "how to stage an intervention"
The good news is that is that once you have these pieces in place, there aren't many adjustments necessary. If you're getting enough traffic to parts of your website to allow for split tests, definitely take advantage of the opportunity.
Blog posts are a little different. There are always new patient success stories to tell, regulations to report on, and local happenings to share. But that doesn't mean that you can't dust off a number of your blog posts each year, update them as needed, and repost them. If you're written "10 Tips for Avoiding Alcohol at Christmas Parties," that's worth posting on your blog and social media channels each and every year.
Just barely behind paid ads, SEO is often brutally competitive. Do yourself a favor and download a Chrome plugin called Moz. Turn it on and search for the following phrases:
- Addiction treatment near me
- Addiction treatment in (city)
Replace "addiction treatment" with something more specific as you need to:
- Inpatient / outpatient
- 12 step
- MAT / medication assisted / medication
If the page and domain authority of the websites that are ranking for those terms are blowing you away and the titles of those pages are aligned with the phrase that you searched for, SEO is going to be an uphill battle.
Now, since you have made it this far, I'm going to assume that SEO is a viable strategy based upon that back of the envelope research or you're going to move heaven and earth to make it happen.
The goal is different for every facility, so it's difficult to get into specific steps that you should take. I can provide some general tactics to help you rank for key search terms.
- Write the content outlined in the content marketing section paying special attention to you location pages.
- Claim your Google My Business page and other update other key directories.
- Encourage alumni, families, and community partners to leave reviews. Be sure to reach out to non-alumni review sources since it's often difficult to get people who have been in your program to write a review publicly.
- Encourage vendors, community partners, and local news sources to link to your content.
Also, look for opportunities to hack your way into good positions on a search engine results page.
If by some small miracle a non-pay to play lead gen directory is ranking well, you should optimize your listing there in hopes of showing up well on the third party site that is already ranking.
Are there other types of results other than paid, organic, and local listings like questions and answers, images, or video? This is a good opportunity as well since chances are those types of results are going to be less competitive.
Social media marketing
Alas, many addiction treatment providers use their social media channels to plaster an endless number of empowering memes. I like positive messages as much as the next guy, but there's a lot more opportunity than that. If your heart skipped a beat reading the first sentence of this section, no shame, you're not the only one.
There are a few ways that social media can help you meet your census goals. Ironically, here's a quote fit for a meme:
“All things being equal, people do business with, and refer business to people they know, like and trust.” - Bob Burg
Social media is a great tool for branding. It can shape the opinion that your referrals sources and future patients have about your treatment center. What kind of content helps your audience know, like and trust you more?
- Your values
- Spotlights on your team
- Alumni stories
- Virtual tours and images of your facility
- Sharing an accreditation, award, and stats
People may follow your social media accounts for months or even years before resulting in one more person helped by your treatment program, so make sure that these kinds of posts are regularly featured on your social media accounts.
Social media might not be your biggest lead source, but you will get some if you're posting lightweight offers like event invites or links to your blog.
Social media is also a good tool to build community among your alumni. You may want to create a private Facebook group or encourage alumni participation on your company page. Provide aftercare resources and support. Responsibly encourage engagement from your alumni to help keep your success stories successful and an important referral source engaged.