November 1, 2020
By Matt Oerding, MBA
Board Chair, Global Myopia Awareness Coalition
Co-founder, Treehouse Eyes
My first marketing job after getting my MBA was at the food behemoth General Mills. I initially worked on Squeezit, a fruit drink targeted to younger kids. Those who grew up in the 1990s may have had some in your lunchbox or brown paper sack. Once I understood the product’s margins, I was baffled at how we could convince parents to spend 99 cents for a six-pack of what was basically water, sugar and a little bit of juice. Fortunately, I had outstanding leadership at the company and a marketing agency that taught me how consumers think about value and a brand proposition.
Why am I writing about a fruit drink in a myopia article? Because the principles I learned 25 years ago about how to market have not changed and are critically important as you think about marketing a new service such as myopia treatment for children. For the past five years, I have dedicated most of my professional life to thinking about how to market myopia. First as co-founder of Treehouse Eyes and over the past two years as board chair of the Global Myopia Awareness Coalition (GMAC). We have learned some hard lessons about the difficulty of driving awareness and interest in a new category. Ultimately, as I reflect on our learning, it is consistent with my experience long ago marketing fruit drinks.
According to a 2019 CooperVision survey, one in four kids in the U.S. is already myopic. The figures are much higher in many Asian countries, and prevalence appears to be growing in most developed markets. So, managing myopia is clearly a significant need and opportunity.
Why then do we hear, “Why haven’t I heard about this before?” from parents every day in our Treehouse Eyes offices around the country. The answer is relatively simple: poor marketing. To be fair, most eye care practitioners are not marketing experts, so here are the top three mistakes being made when trying to market this new service and how to fix them.
Mistake #1: Poor Messaging
Most service providers do not understand messaging. Put simply, messaging is an approved set of messages that position and differentiate your service to the target audience. What I see most often on practice websites or in the office is a potpourri of messages about myopia management. Not knowing exactly what to say, or what will motivate parents, the strategy is to throw everything at them. The result is a confusing jumble of messages that are hard for any target parent to sort through. Especially for a new category such as myopia management, being very clear about your messaging is critical.
Ideally, your messaging has been validated through customer research to see what works. In 2019, GMAC conducted messaging research using parents to refine our messaging, so when we did market to the public, we knew we had a compelling message. We found that for some parents, the most motivating message was focused on the benefits for their child, such as improved performance in school or activities due to better vision. For others, the message of reducing eye disease risk long-term was more motivating. Either of these can work, but it is vital to have a simple message and be consistent in your communication.
Mistake #2: Ignoring the Power of Marketing in the Office
You have put a section on your website about myopia management, sent an email to your patients about it and posted on your practice social media about this new service – but no one is asking. So, they must not be interested, right? Wrong! This category is not orthodontic braces (yet), so you must work harder to build interest from target parents. Most parents have never heard of myopia treatment, so frequency is critical to delivering your message.
The most impactful marketing you can do is when you see the patient and their parent(s) in the office. Is your whole staff engaged with your key message (see above) about myopia management? When a parent calls to book an annual eye exam for their child, is myopia treatment mentioned? Does your email confirmation have a link to a video explaining how you can now treat myopia? When the child and parent(s) come to your office, does your staff discuss the benefits of myopia treatment? When these things are done, by the time the child sees the doctor for the exam, the parent is primed for the discussion.
Finally, the doctor performing the exam needs to bring up the benefits of myopia management to every parent/child, even if the child is not yet myopic. My dentist started talking about braces when my oldest child turned 8. By the time she was 12 and needed them, it was no surprise, and I needed little convincing. I see too many practices relying solely on external messaging, which is essential, but not engaging the whole staff in this effort.
Mistake #3: Marketing Functional, Instead of Emotional, Benefits
My Treehouse Eyes co-founder Gary Gerber, OD, uses a great analogy. When your kid gets braces, does the orthodontist talk about the rubber bands, metal and glue? No, they talk about straighter teeth, better appearance, more confidence, etc. It is proven that people buy on emotion. Harvard Prof. Gerald Zaltman has an excellent book about precisely this topic, with a good summary here. Even with our Treehouse Eyes partner practices around the country, one of our biggest challenges is getting them to change how they present myopia management to focus on the emotional benefits. Emotionally related benefits such as “doing better in school and activities,” “reducing the risk of eye disease” and “feeling more confident” are much more compelling for a parent than discussions about “corneal reshaping lenses” or “special contact lenses.” Product is just the way you are going to treat a child’s myopia. What you must “sell” is the benefit to the child. Most refractive surgeons are brilliant at this – they focus on the benefits of clear vision without glasses vs. talking about how the laser will ablate the corneal tissue.
How To Get Started
Here are three recommendations to get started to fix your myopia management marketing:
- Align on a simple message that your whole staff can reinforce. Reach out to vendors for help or support on this if you are not sure what works best.
- Talk about myopia treatment with every parent who brings in their child.
- Focus on the emotional benefits and resist the urge to get into the detail of specific product designs.
If every eye care professional consistently applies these principles we can help millions of kids in the U.S. and create a category like orthodontic braces, which is about $15 billion a year!
Matt Oerding, MBA, is an entrepreneur and purpose-driven leader who works with companies and individuals focused on making a positive impact in the world. He is the co-founder of Treehouse Eyes and the current Board Chair for the Global Myopia Awareness Coalition (GMAC). Oerding has extensive commercial expertise in eye care from his almost 20 years in marketing, strategy and leadership roles in the industry.