Making peace with marketing as a therapist or counselor

Aug 29, 2014 by

CarWash2But first, a few marketing horror stories.  Just because.

A couple of months ago, I was in a car supply shop, trying to get a large sponge and some buckets.

The birds in my neighborhood have a thing for my car, and I needed to give it a really good washing.

It was only after I returned home with the goods that I realized I can’t give my car a wash when Austin is in stage 2 water restriction.

(But that’s a tangent for another time.)

So when I got into the store, I made a beeline for the supplies.

I was in a hurry, I knew what I needed, and I wanted to get home.

I went up to the checkout counter.

The guy rang up my items, and then grabbed some sort of special microfiber drying cloth and wagged it in front of my eyes.

“You can get this free,” he said. “And the second one is five bucks.”

The way he worded it gave me pause.  I had to think for a minute.

And then I said, “So what you’re saying is that it’s two for five dollars?”

A bit deflated, he replied, “Yeah.”

And I said, “No, thank you.” And I paid for my stuff and left in a hurry.

Getting out to my car, I realized I was feeling a bit annoyed, a bit pressured by that confusing, hasty sales pitch.

And then when I got home, I checked my mail and was immediately grossed out.

OMG, go to this dentist or you will lose all your teeth!#$%^& (aka, what not to do)

creepy dentist

It doesn’t inspire confidence, does it?

A brightly colored flyer arrived for me in the mail from a local dentist.

On the cover was an attractive blonde haired, blue eyed woman with a broad smile.

Except one of her front teeth had been photoshopped out & just left a big ol’ hole in her smile.

In large lettering, the flyer announced.

“Don’t worry about your teeth.

If you ignore them, they’ll just go away.”

I actually made quite a bit of noise and exclamation when I read that.

Granted, most pieces of mail I get are unremarkable.

I don’t care enough to exclaim anything—they just go in the trash.

And I’ve written before about the pieces of mail definitely do get my attention.

And, this piece of mail also did get my attention. It accomplished part of its goal in that way. But it surely did not earn my business.


You had better believe I’m not going to a dentist who uses fear tactics in their marketing to earn new business. That message doesn’t build trust at all!

Avoiding gross marketing

car lotI really don’t think I need to tell you guys not to do this kind of gross marketing.

You already know that. So, why am I writing about it?

Because gross marketing is why some of you avoid marketing activities in the first place–
because you associate practice-building and marketing with weird two-for-five specials,
or attention-grabbing, threatening messages that play on your fear,
or stereotypes that don’t bother to get to know the person at all.

Like when I went to go buy a car and the man who demo’ed me the floor model showcased where all the mirrors were, “so I could easily check my make-up”—

(Any of you who’ve spent an hour with me would know how silly it was to point out this particular feature of the car and not, say, the gas mileage.)

It’s okay to speak to people’s feelings in your marketing.
It’s certainly fine to speak to a particular audience. In fact, I recommend that.

You just have to be ethical about it.

Imagine if you were on the receiving end of the message.

Would it seem like a microfiber cloth waved in front of your face or a veiled threat?

Making peace with marketing

No doubt you have many ideas in your head about what not to do when it comes to marketing.

But let’s hop over and look at the other side of things—how do you approach outreach in a way that’s thoughtful, ethical, and dare-I-even-say-it, fun?

1.) Let yourself care for your clients (& your prospective clients).

phoneCaring about others is at the heart of your work.

So, let this extend to your marketing efforts also.

Care about your future clients enough to really get to know them & their concerns. Don’t be afraid to craft your message to speak to a particular group.

Because if you talk to everyone, you speak to no one.

This is why it’s important to know your ideal client inside and out—so you can have a real, authentic conversation with them.

Be courageous & be specific in your outreach.

This is one form of caring—narrowing the conversation and focus so your chosen people know that they are your chosen people.

And so they can find you when they’re ready & in need of help.

2.) Speak to feelings & needs, but be ethical about it.

judgmentIf you’ve gotten a clear picture of the people you’re meant to serve, you’ll know their biggest worries & fears.

That’s an important piece of information to have.

But you have a big responsibility in holding those worries & fears responsibly when you craft your marketing message—just the same as you would gently hold those feelings in the middle of a therapy session.

The ethics code for counselors in Texas clearly spells this out: you cannot make a representation that is designed to take advantage of the fears or emotions of a particularly susceptible client.

I’m sure your state licensing board has similar stipulations.

We must be sensitive to the dynamics of power in the therapeutic relationship.

This means that we don’t solicit our clients for testimonials.
We don’t make exaggerated claims about what counseling can do.
We don’t offer guarantees or quick fixes.

If a client asks a question we can’t answer, we say so.

So, speak to needs & feelings, but be ethical about it.

3.) Be honest. Be genuine.  

Be honest and transparent in your outreach efforts.

It’s like when people say that something is free, but it isn’t.

That’s just annoying and it destroys trust.  (And it isn’t ethical.)

So—be honest, be genuine. These are key aspects of practicing with integrity.

And if you practice with integrity, you’ll feel better about the whole process & will be less likely to avoid it that way.

4.) Come from a place of service.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the reasons that content marketing is so popular is because it is so well-received. (People like free stuff!)

When it’s done right, I think it’s really fun to do, too.

Content marketing is the notion of providing something of value for free. It’s also been called pink spoon marketing—after the notion of those little pink spoons you see in Baskin Robbins, where you get to try before you buy.

Content marketing has many benefits.

It offered as a service, something for nothing.

It’s an opportunity to grow trust & relationships with the public.

It’s a chance to build interest in what you offer.

There are loads of other reasons why content marketing is an effective form of outreach.

Notice which one I listed first, though. A service. A generosity-based model of marketing.

Given that we’re all in the helping profession, doing something as a service is a natural extension of what we do all day long.

So, come from a place of service in your marketing efforts. Put a little blood, sweat, and tears into something for your readers. Give something away for free, just because.

Let this attitude extend to your marketing efforts. It will be a lot less painful if you do it this way, I promise!

Kick gross marketing to the curb!

Back to the marketing horror story I mentioned earlier.

The fact is, many people are afraid of going to the dentist.

But, rather than preying on people’s fears of their teeth falling out, what if the flyer I had gotten said something like,

Are you afraid of going to the dentist? Hey, we get it. Dentists can be scary. But we’re not! —check out our ratings on Yelp!/ our award for best dentist in Austin in 20xx/ our testimonials page!

Or, Dental work can be stressful– that’s why our patients get free backrubs during routine cleanings!

(I’ve seen it done in certain practices before—so awesome.)

That’s a flyer that would have gotten my attention in a good way.

I might even consider changing dentists with a flyer like that.

So, learn to love your marketing and outreach.

Make room for it in your heart and your schedule.

Do it in a way that feels good.

And remember:  it’s another chance to take care of people you care about—your future clients & referral sources, not to mention your current clients, too!

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