Strangers with Needles: Marketing Acupuncture

marketing acupuncture - photo by  -{thus}-
Lately I’ve been immersing myself into the everyday realities of marketing acupuncture, and it’s been super interesting to look at this world from different perspectives. I have had several treatments here in Portland, interviewed a couple of very inspiring and successful acupuncturists, and read my way through the library catalog and online universe.

Side note: If you know of any awesome blogs, books, or articles on the subject, I’d love to hear about them!

Public Education, a.k.a. Marketing

The book I just finished is ‘Making Acupuncture Pay‘ by Matthew D. Bauer (you can read some of the chapters for free here).

Another side note: That title makes me think that somehow acupuncture screwed up and now it has to pay for it – but that’s of course not the point of the book at all. Acupuncture has been behaving very well over the past millennia, and Dr. Bauer has only the kindest intentions for it.

The book’s main goal is to help recent graduates build a sustainable practice, and it calls for more public education – a.k.a. marketing – to create a nurturing environment for those practitioners:

I keep using the term ‘public education’ but this could also be called ‘marketing.’ Some people seem uncomfortable with the idea of marketing as that sounds like advertising and of questionable ethics. We need to get over this attitude. Educating the public about acupuncture’s potential and the training of Licensed Acupuncturists is a public service and absolutely ethical.

Lost in Translation

Dr. Bauer’s point is that there are plenty of people who could be helped by acupuncture, but they are not (yet) coming to your door because concepts like qi, meridians, yin/yang or Five Elements are just completely foreign to them. To help them understand and trust acupuncture, you’ll need to do some translating.

Some of that education will happen one-on-one, patient by patient. Dr. Bauer mentions the intake as one perfect opportunity:

To them, you are a stranger who wants to start poking needles in them for a fee and with no guarantee about the outcome. […] This first meeting […] begins to establish your working relationship.

Last side note for this post: I love how the deeper I dig into the topic, the stronger the argument for defining marketing as relationship-building becomes.

How to: 4 Ideas for Education

Here are some ideas for integrating education into your everyday marketing strategy:

Wherever you write about acupuncture, get rid of any jargon or technical terms that your people might not be able to follow. Don’t dumb it down, but be as clear and to the point as possible.

Be generous with your knowledge. That might mean offering a free initial consultation, giving workshops in your community, or explicitly inviting your patients to ask a bunch of questions during the first visit.

It’s helpful to have a metaphor or a simple, evocative phrase for the way acupuncture works with the body. For example, Dr. Bauer talk about “boosting the boy’s own natural healing resources.”

Your people might come up with more questions after the first few treatments, but – for various reasons – not ask them. Keep the communication going: update them about the progress you see, what stage they are in, and what to expect next.

As always: Focus on clarity, communication, and relationship-building.

If you’d like my eyes and brain on your website or other materials, or if you’d like to hear about the beautiful marketing strategies and attitudes the acupuncturists shared with me, feel free to say hi!

{Photo by -{thus}- on Flickr. The book title is an affiliate link and will teleport you to Powell’s Books virtual shelves.}