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By Sarah C. Threnhauser

The perennial marketing question—how effective is your online marketing strategy?—has gotten a bit more complicated for addiction treatment provider organizations.

In September, Google embargoed addiction treatment search advertising in the U.S. after news articles reported fraudulent patient brokering and deceptive marketing practices—a move they expanded worldwide in January (see Google Suspends Addiction Treatment Referral Ads Worldwide).

Google’s ban is focused on specific practices of deceptive marketing, such as hijacking the names and reputations of notable addiction treatment provider organizations, and rerouting online searches and 1-800 number calls to “the highest bidder.” But the Addiction Treatment Marketers Organization, an association of marketing professionals from addiction treatment provider organizations that joined to together to raise awareness about unethical marketing and offer guidance on marketing practices, also recognizes a broader criteria; they label lead selling, misrepresenting services of information, and inappropriately using consumers in promotions as unethical practices (see Unethical Marketing Practices). Their practice guidelines note:

…unethical addiction treatment marketing practices are those that may diminish the ability of people in need of treatment, their families, professional referents, or others to effectively identify and be directed to the care best suited to their needs, or in any way leads to the mischaracterization, misrepresentation, or misdirection of addiction-related issues, treatments, practices or organizations.

In the $36 billion addiction treatment market (see The Addiction Treatment Market: $36 Billion In Spending In 2015), marketing can make the difference when it comes down to an organization’s position in the market and financial sustainability. But as this move from Google shows – the playing field is far from level.

Over the past several years, the opioid crisis and new treatment dollars made available through parity and health care reform, have spurred new investments in addiction treatment (see Investors See Big Opportunities In Opioid Addiction Treatment); new treatment models developed in local communities (see City of Addict Entrepreneurs); and the emergence of new lean, outpatient medication-assisted treatment-focused models of care (see The American Fix: How a Startup Hopes to Treat the Rural Opioid Epidemic — At a Profit).

Faced with new competition, marketing teams of many provider organizations are faced with the question of how to maintain their ethical responsibilities in a market that is becoming more competitive (see Ethical Culture Needs Ethical Leaders and Creating An Ethical Environment: Best Practices In Building A Culture Of Ethics). So how to move your digital marketing strategy forward?

Kristi Hamilton

OPEN MINDS Senior Associate, Kristi Hamilton, offered three keys to keeping your marketing strategy moving forward in the era of new competition – assess your online marketing strategy, establish your clinical integrity in your messaging, and diversify your promotion and referral channels. Her take:

While this does impact marketing strategy in the short term, there are specific steps provider organizations can take while awaiting Google’s efforts to eliminate fraudulent and misleading communications:

1. Now is the time to conduct assessment of your brand communications and online marketing strategy. Evaluate your website, search engine results, email communications, mobile and text platforms, video streaming, social media, and digital advertising. Over 70% of consumers do research about provider organizations online before they make decisions about their health care (see Running A Best Practice Digital Marketing Program: Using Online Marketing & Social Media To Your Advantage). Your digital reputation can make or break you when it comes to building relationships with consumers.

2. Pay particular attention to brand positioning and key messages online. More than ever, your messaging needs to assure the consumer of your credentials and the quality and concern in which you deliver treatment services. Make sure that your online presence is consumer-focused — easy to find and navigate; informative about your organization, staff, and services; and clear about your mission and program expectations. In this era where there are questions about service provider organization integrity, you may want to double down on transparency that makes it clear who you are, how you serve consumers, your credentials, and how to contact your organization.

3. Ensure that you have diversified your promotion and referral channels. Online marketing is important and will continue to be a large source of referral generation for provider organizations, but don’t forget to look beyond Google as a referral source and put some effort into strengthening other channels. Past recipients of your services and other health care provider organizations in your community can be the greatest referral sources for provider organizations.

With greater access to treatment for many consumers and new competition crowding the field, addiction treatment provider organizations need to build a marketing strategy to gain the competitive advantage and stand out. For more, check out these resources from the OPEN MINDS Industry Library:

  1. The Framework For A Marketing Strategy For Addiction Treatment Programs
  2. Want More Referrals? Step Up Your Web Marketing Game
  3. Marketing Is Dead! Long Live Marketing!
  4. When Consumers Find Your Organization Online, Will They Pick You?
  5. Marketing Is Strategy In Action
  6. Therapists & Online Reviews – Where Is The Ethical Line?
  7. Jumping The ‘Strategy-To-Execution Gap’?
  8. Financing Innovation & Business Development Amidst The Mergers
  9. Engaging Your Team To Make Organizational Change A Reality (Coffee Break Case Study)
  10. Untangling The Access Issues For Addiction Treatment

Looking for more info on how to stay on top of your online marketing game? Join Ms. Hamilton on August 14 in Long Beach, California, for her executive seminar, “How To Develop A Successful Marketing Plan: The OPEN MINDS Seminar On Marketing Strategy,” during our management best practices week at The 2018 OPEN MINDS Management Best Practices Institute.

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