The majority of home health agencies and physical therapy practices are not using the gold standard for measuring the effectiveness of their marketing plan. This represents a great opportunity for you. When you use the gold standard for measuring marketing effectiveness, you will continuously shape the most effective marketing plan in your region, and gain a stronger and stronger competitive advantage every year. 

To understand the best way to measure marketing effectiveness, we may need to first address the common dependence on less effective measures. Flawed but common measurement techniques include:

  • Asking, "How did you hear about us?"
  • Buzz detection
  • Any census other than annual
  • Waiting to feel busier
  • Counting new referral sources

The specific problems of each of these methods are explored in this article: "Measuring Marketing Effectiveness: The Most Popular Errors" 

For most physical therapy and home health practices, the purpose of marketing is to create new episodes of care. Therefore, this is the most important thing we should be measuring for the purpose of evaluating the effectiveness of the marketing plan. Managers need to be keeping a spreadsheet with a monthly tally of starts-of-care (SOCs). If your SOCs are going up, something is working for you – even if your clients or referral sources can't tell you exactly what it is. 

When measuring SOC growth, keep in mind that changing consumer or referral source behavior requires repetition. A consumer will typically need to see your advertising six times before they are even cognizant of seeing it, and 12 times before it is likely to change their purchasing behavior. When adding a new element to your marketing mix, determine how many months that element will need to be in place before 12 impressions are accrued with the standard audience member. Start looking for the effects of that marketing element in the months following the 12th impression. Cancelling a marketing mix element before 12 impressions is something your competitors will do to sabotage their own efforts and waste money – but not you.

There are obvious exceptions to the 12-impression guideline. Brazzell's Referral Doubling Strategy usually begins producing tangible results after the third impression. There are specific reasons for this difference discussed in the free presentation on how to implement the Referral Doubling Strategy. See also this article on Brazzell's Boiling Pot Model for understanding the 12-impression guideline and the exceptions to it.

The aspect of measuring marketing effectiveness by SOC tracking that vexes administrators across the country is that it measures the practice's marketing mix as a whole. Managers want to know which specific element of their marketing mix is working. Is it the edible baskets? The newsletters? The nice new intake coordinator? Well prepare to be frustrated. You can't do that. Human minds don't work that way. You have probably heard the idiom "That's the straw that broke the camel's back." The saying has endured in English and other languages for centuries because it accurately describes human motivation and behavior. Humans do single things for multiple reasons. The straw that breaks the camel's back only achieves its effect because it is part of a collection. Elements of your marketing mix often work together. The only real way to see which specific methods are working and which are not is to add or delete elements slowly. Give yourself enough time to see what happens to your SOC count months after an element has been added or deleted from your marketing mix. 

Managers who need to make more changes faster than that can look at other marketing metrics such as buzz detection, reach, frequency, audience, and cost per impression. Managing a dynamic marketing mix often requires the art and experience of educated guessing. However, to look at one element of a multi-factorial marketing mix and say, "this is the key to my success" is usually an exercise in denying the nature of human behavior. And it's an exercise that can lead to costly mistakes. 

Now for another twist. Measuring monthly SOCs is the second-best method of measuring marketing effectiveness. It is not the gold standard. The gold standard of measuring marketing effectiveness is measuring the change in SOC rate of growth. Imagine that a home health agency has been experiencing an average 0.583% increase in monthly SOCs per month over the past 24 months. This agency could add a new marketing method every few months and declare every one successful, even if the rate of growth had not changed. Similarly, imagine a physical therapy practice experiencing a 10% decrease in annual census for the past two years running. They could implement a new marketing method that reduces their rate of decline to 5%, but still declare the marketing method a failure because SOCs went down in a straight month-to-month comparison. 

To avoid the risk of new marketing methods being credited or blamed for movement that was already in place, practice managers also need to know their rate of growth in SOCs. They should add two columns to their spreadsheet. One can track change compared to the average of the three or six prior months. The other can track change compared to the same month in the previous year. For a new marketing method to be declared truly successful, it needs to improve the rate of growth. 

It is also helpful for managers to keep a journal of changes to the marketing mix. This will help with practice of going back and trying to compare timeframes between adjustments to your marketing plans and fluctuations in your SOC rate of growth. 

Practice managers routinely continue funding marketing techniques that are not working for them and discard marketing techniques that actually would have worked for them. They do this to themselves because they use flawed techniques for measuring marketing effectiveness – but not you. You, on the other hand, take a little time each month to count monthly SOCs and do a couple of simple calculations to establish two measures for rate of growth. You think about all the straws on your camel's back instead of trying to behave as if each of those straws are acting in isolation. Resultantly, you develop a synergistic marketing mix  that you can continue to make more effective over time – outpacing your competition and continuously improving your competitive position.