always thought “marketing” meant picking up eggs, bread and milk every week at the supermarket. I never thought about marketing as something that would be used for attracting patients. I assumed patients would just have to call you when they inevitably had non-broccoli related concerns—although there is, I hear, an ICD-10 code for an ocular broccoli burn. 

Turns out, this thing called marketing is a big deal. There are millions of books, articles and gurus dealing exclusively with marketing. There’s even a science behind the placement and lighting of eggs, bread and milk in the market where you’re “marketing” so these staples can best be marketed to you. 

But do we optometrists need to think that way? If we are good at what we do, what does marketing mean to us anyway?

50,000,000 Velvet Elvis Fans Could Be Wrong

In the ’70s, Pennsylvania College of Optometry was on the cutting edge of medically training optometrists, but we only had one measly practice management course in which the teaching doctor merely showed us slides of how he had redecorated his optometric office. It was very, uh, velvet Elvis meets samurai. This was what I learned about marketing and it took my wife 10 years to convince me not to bring in dragon lanterns and hair pomade as my marketing plan. (OK, I still use the pomade.)

When I graduated from PCO, I went back home to West Virginia and joined a 40-year-old practice. Our marketing plan was simple: everybody in St. Albans knew Dr. Bodie. After all, his folks owned the jewelry store there on Main Street. 

Unfortunately, my dad was only a lawyer, so the St. Albanian/Bodie mystique never rubbed off on me. I had to come up with a way to market my practice. 

Ther She Blows!

So, I spent several years doing eye screenings and giving speeches at schools and organizations. I spent countless hours in preparation so I could show everyone in town that I was “The Area’s Best Eye Doctor,” which we had printed on probably a thousand glasses cleaning cloths that I handed out to anyone who crossed my path.  

It was a good marketing idea, marred only by the fact that the cloths actually read, “Ther [sic] Area’s Best Eye Doctor,” which was considered correct English only by the two guys I worked with at the grocery store when I was a teenager. Everyone else who read it figured I was a nincompoop. 

That’s probably why my colleagues—who wondered how I became the area’s best—just let my unfounded pronouncement stand without challenge. If someone asked, they could say, “Him? He can’t even spell ‘the!’”

Over time, my techniques grew more sophisticated. We handed out T-shirts that read, “My eye doctor loves me” and coffee mugs reading, “Our patients are special,” which we had delivered to patients’ workplaces so their co-workers would also want to see “ther” best around. That’s right—THER—heck, I had tons of the cloths left, why throw them away?

I tried big tri-color spreads in the yellow pages, got a website and a Facebook page and was very appreciative of the 17 patients I acquired through them over the next 10 years.

Now, as an associate in a Texas practice, I am proud to say we’re easily “Ther Area’s Best Eye Doctors.” Why reinvent the wheel?