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Acupuncture Today
November, 2013, Vol. 14, Issue 11
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On Marketing to the Mainstream

By Christian Nix

The biggest shift you can make in your career that results in the biggest increase in income and success happens when you embrace marketing. Fundamentally, this means an internal transition from thinking of yourself as an acupuncturist or holistic medical professional to a marketer of acupuncture / holistic medical services.

To some, this shift seems like mere semantics. To others, the term "marketing" is odious or intimidating. But perhaps the most important lesson you can ever learn comes when you break through to the realization that the market (i.e., your customers) doesn't care about your degree(s), your decorations, your technical expertise or anything else you care about and have labored so long and hard to bring forth.

So, what does the market care about? This is fundamentally the only question any business person need be concerned with. And the answer is ... The market cares about what the market wants and is willing to pay money to obtain. So much of the frustration of LAc's and holistic professionals stems from this willful ignorance and almost belligerent apathy regarding what the market really wants.

Finding what your market wants and is willing and able to pay for, and then designing your service around that desire, is the dynamic I seek to highlight here. Let's review some of these questions:

  • What are some of the other unmet needs of your market?
  • Who really is your market?
  • Do you have one market or more than one?
  • How can you investigate all of this, and what do you do to tailor your product or service to your market?

Your Markets

If you consider specialization, then we could break our patient market down into many niches. The common ones are well-known: fertility, pain management, women's health, digestive diseases, weight loss, pediatrics, etc.

But there is a second market in the era of healthcare reform that too many holistic professionals – and LAc's especially – are overlooking. I refer, of course to mainstream and hospital settings. This market is where the real opportunity exists during this era of healthcare reform.

Essentially, all marketing is marketing. The challenge and goal are the same. But how you market to the mainstream requires some investigative diligence and somewhat different tactics if you are to achieve success.

Why YOU need to be in Information Marketing

Before I go into the specifics of how to market to the mainstream, let me first tell you the aspect of marketing that all holistic professionals should get into with a will. This area of marketing is especially rich in potential for LAc's since acupuncture is by far the front-runner and low-hanging fruit for inclusion on a wide scale during this era of healthcare reform.

The most lucrative area of marketing to enter and the one area that is essential for LAc's and holistic medical professionals in general is information marketing. When you think about, this is the purest of no-brainers.

Acupuncture is so utterly bizarre and frightening to about 98 percent of the population that no one really understands how it works; and certainly only a tiny sliver of the population has had any really positive experience and can relate to it as the tremendous "medicine" it is.

Learning to teach, to communicate, to present about acupuncture and other holistic services is not only an essential part of driving interest in and patients to your services; it is what the market is crying out for.

But I will go a step further and propose that the real opportunity now lies in information marketing to mainstream professionals and hospital settings. This, is essentially no different than marketing to patients or other practitioners; i.e., the process is the same. But the particulars of marketing to the mainstream require you to craft your marketing message in a manner that allows them to "get it" and get on board (i.e., pay you).

Information Marketing: The How and the Why

There are fundamentally two elements that make information marketing the place to be if you are an LAc or holistic medical professional. First is the historical moment. Never before in history has information been so highly valued and never before have there been so many effective ways to purchase, consume and sell information.

Form e-books to print material, video and podcasts, live webinars and teleseminars; from e=mail to conference calls and of course, seminars and conferences; all of this allows you to broadcast your information and get paid for it.

Before I say more about getting paid for your smarts, consider also that this kind of teaching promotes and requires mastery of your craft or subject. Furthermore, one of the little known "benefits" (actually, it starts out as an inconvenient truth and only becomes a benefit after you embrace the reality of this fact) is that teaching and information marketing demands that you appropriate ideas from other businesses and industries.

This is a hard one for some information marketers, but once you learn to see and adapt parallel concepts from other industries into your business, then the whole journey and the whole of your experiences and interrelations become fuel and material for your own growth, profit and market dominance.

The real "gem" of information marketing is that you get paid while you sleep. There is no feeling quite as gratifying as the one you get when you wake up and – after breakfast and a shower - check your in-box to find orders for your information products and money in your account. Nice.

The move beyond lowly, wage-slave drudgery is what information marketing is all about. Once your information product is together, you are free to move on to the next and to monetize your time in other ways.

Tactics for Marketing to Mainstream Medical Professionals

Here is the topic I have wrestled with for several years: Who are the specific "customers" in mainstream and hospital settings? Well, physicians are a segment of that market. Without their "approval," we cannot really expect much impact. So, we have to know how to market to physicians. The other obvious segment of the mainstream market is administrators. The c-level contact is our goal here. The hospital administrator is fundamentally different than the physician because:

  1. He/she cares about the management of the operation far more than the technical performance (which is the domain of the physician);
  2. He/she will "speak" a different language and must be spoken to not about the medical angle of your service so much as the impact your service will have on the organization's efficiency and overall service to patients.

In other words, the dialog going on in the CEO's head about how to improve performance is different than the skepticism of the physician who is using her medical training to sniff out any pretense or illogical inconsistency in your proposal. You must speak to each of these parties differently and successfully market your skill to each in a manner that addresses their concerns. This cannot be overstated.

The common pitfall is that LAc's and holistic professionals all want to come in, guns blazing, about concepts from another very old culture –a culture whose transition to the modern Western way of thinking  and operating is not yet complete. Furthermore, the principle that underlies science of the Western type is essentially contrary from the Oriental notion of inner and outer reflectivity – i.e., holism.

"A singular premise guiding Western (conventional) science and clinical medicine (and one, we hasten to add, that is responsible for its awesome efficacy) is commitment to a fundamental opposition between spirit and matter, mind and body, and (underlying this) real and unreal."1

So, your tactics for successfully marketing to mainstream physicians and administrators must be somewhat more circumspect than merely spouting-off about qi and meridians and the Five Elements. I have sat, stone-still in such talks, cringing with discomfort and glancing around the room while doctors reached for their smartphones and began checking e-mail and sending text messages. Not very comfortable and not very effective. This topic of correct presentation and communication skills is so important that I have dedicated an entire module of learning to it in my training program.

Once you learn how to successfully reach these two groups where they are (and not bludgeon them with nonsense about archaic concepts from a foreign culture), you are ready to craft your marketing message. From this point, your process is the same as any other marketing process or campaign. Show value!

The value of what you offer is to help physicians help their patients. Patients with nonspecific complaints are the least favorite for physicians to deal with; and they are simultaneously the ones acupuncture and holistic medical professionals can help best.

This must be a main feature of your marketing message! The reason the CEO cares about such a service is obvious. Patients with nonspecific, chronic and functional complaints cost the hospital money, and reflect badly on patient satisfaction and the hospital's overall image within the community. Image may be less easy to measure; but it is a real and powerful motivator.

Patient Satisfaction

One of the reforms now coming from the new healthcare legislation is that hospital reimbursement will be tied to patient satisfaction. Any acupuncturist or medical massage professional knows that holistic therapies are like patient satisfaction in a bottle. Patients, love what we do and will gush about their experience if you are any good. My advice, to you is that when they do have something positive to say, capture it on video. Patient testimonials are the best proof and you cannot have too much of it.

The rule with testimonials is: "If you say something positive about your service, it is an empty boast. If your patients/customers say something positive, it is a fact!" This kind of social proof holds a lot of weight with the administration and physicians.

What Are You Really Offering To The Hospital?

The best way to position yourself is as the purveyor of a "system solution." Think of McDonald's. No one eats there because the food is so wonderful. They eat there because it is an experience. It is regular and predictable all over the world. In other words, the customer knows what he/she will get.

What you offer patients is an experience. What you need to offer hospital CEOs, physicians and medical staff is a system solution for managing patients with chronic functional illness and nonspecific complaints like pain, stress, anxiety, depression, etc.

The more effort you put into creating and proposing a system solution, the better you will be received and the more likely you are to find inclusion. Marketing to the mainstream is well worth the effort. At this exact historical moment, you have the best chance you will ever get to break through to mainstream medical practice. The work required to make this breakthrough is its own reward.


  1. Scheper-Hughes N, Locke M. "The Mindful Body." Medical Anthropology Quarterly. Volume 1, Number 1, March 1987.

Christian Nix has launched the first Hospital Based Acupuncture Residency Training program in North America and his Community Pain and Stress Center is the first private model of community-style practice to be integrated into a major hospital system. His new book, Tao of Integration is a fresh look at much of the misapprehension hindering professional quality integration in medicine. Christian travels and teaches throughout the world.


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