New regulations, emerging technologies and changes being implemented by insurers mean that addiction treatment and behavioral healthcare marketers can’t rely on the same few pages of their playbooks from years ago if they want to drive new business and referrals.
At the upcoming Treatment Center Executive & Marketing Retreat, June 10-12 in New Orleans, Christian De Oliveira, chief operating officer at Transcend Recovery Community, will discuss strategies for diversifying referral sources and fine-tuning patient acquisition efforts.
Ahead of his session in New Orleans, De Oliveira spoke with Behavioral Healthcare Executive.
(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
What factors within the industry are driving the need for behavioral health and addiction treatment companies to diversify their referral sources?
There is great need in this country to provide services. The rates of addiction are going up, not down. There is a whole host of new things we didn’t have to deal with a few years ago—fentanyl, designer drugs. Every other month it seems like there is something hitting the streets with the consequences being greater. The need is greater than ever.
With the need, there is now a bunch of factors making it more difficult to operate in this landscape. With the ever-changing insurance landscape, no one ever really knows what is going to happen in the next few years with regards to portable healthcare, what insurance companies will be covering as far as services go. If you take out-of-network as a provider, you don’t know what the rates are going to be one year to the next. That makes it hard to create a financial model. There are a lot of laws coming down—and rightfully so—pertaining to unbranded marketing, meaning call centers, people buying lead gens and paying in volume for a block of calls. There is really no branded marketing or identity for what you’re calling into. Anybody that has the money can buy those leads and place people. Because of that, there is a lot of scrutiny and a lot of laws being passed preventing that, but people always find workarounds. Another thing making it difficult to operate is the host of unsavory players in our space—patient brokering and kickbacks creating negative PR industrywide.
For people operating ethically and morally, you have to persevere and work through that. There are a lot of pitfalls and traps that the uneducated or semieducated might fall into, such as doing lead gens or believing any sales call you might receive. “I can increase your revenue by X percent” or “I can bring in five or 10 clients.” There’s a lot of that in this industry.
In terms of organizations that are trying to do things the right way, operate above-board and play by the rules, are you seeing mistakes still being made or missed opportunities?
I see some opportunities not being fully utilized or pursued. We are looking at things like case management, mentoring and boosting your alumni program. Our alumni program is responsible for 20% of our clients who come in. It’s a great way to create brand ambassadors for your program throughout the country. The least you are going to spend on a customer acquisition cost is through a client you’ve already had because they are already familiar with the program. There are a lot of mom-and-pop operations in this field. Not that we’ve reinvented the wheel, but there are a lot of things with a little bit of work that can go a long way toward bringing in clients, diversifying revenue streams, case management, mentoring, tech platforms that are able to track accurate outcomes. That will go a long way toward what insurance providers will be looking for in years to come.
Is there another tactic or strategy that you have found to be effective recently that you may not have employed in past years?
Creating a branded identity for us—we’re a lifestyle brand, a young adult brand. We’re very active on social media. For our age demographic, that’s Instagram. But we’re also marketing to the families and loved ones of clients coming into our programs, so we are heavy on Facebook because that skews to an older demographic, usually the mom and dad of the client who comes in. We’re created branded videos and a strong branded identity that is specific to us on social media platforms.
Another thing that has been extremely effective is creating a brand ambassador. We have a specific former NFL player who works with the organization. At the time, he had just finished treatment and had a publicized bout with addiction and was incarcerated. Being able to help promote recovery and healthy lifestyle choices with someone as your brand ambassador, we were able to get on different media outlets and promote recovery and healthy living. Not everybody is going to have a former NFL quarterback, but you can create brand ambassadors. If you’re smart about it, you can get on different media outlets and promote with these spokespeople for your companies. That has been really effective and enabled us to get a national footprint without having to spend the huge amount you would otherwise need for media buys to advertise on national TV and radio. That has been effective and has gotten our phones ringing.
What also has been effective has been a message of positivity. Traditionally, you see commercials and it’s a fear-based call to action. “Are you sick? Do you need help? Call now.” We have done a different spin on that. It’s more positive. It may sound corny, but it’s people being happy in recovery living full lives. Not a message of fear, but a message of hope.
The big thing is not having all your eggs in one basket. A lot of people were heavily reliant on Google PPC or SEO. At the drop of a hat, Google stopped allowing treatment companies to place ads for a while. Now they’re going through a vetting process. Overnight, a lot of programs had no clients coming in because they were solely reliant on that form of marketing. With SEO, you could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to get a high placement, and then overnight, Google could change an algorithm and you go from first page to third or fourth page just like that. If you are solely reliant on one thing, that thing could change, and you could be in a lot of trouble very quickly.
The Treatment Center Executive & Marketing Retreat, June 10-12 in New Orleans, provides CEOs, CFOs, COOs, directors, senior marketing/business development/admissions leaders, and other executives with the tools they need to effectively and ethically grow their services in a rapidly changing market. For more information, visit executiveandmarketingretreat.com.