High-Yield Strategic Marketing

Every medical meeting's direct marketing campaign has four strategic elements: the right offer to the right people at the right time-the right number of times. Or, as is said in marketing parlance: offer, reach, and frequency. In past columns, we've discussed such elements of the offer as the opportunity to obtain access to peers and receive education and credentials. This column, the first of two parts, will focus on reach and frequency, while December's will address accuracy, which is the refining of reach and the quantifying of the potential value of an attendee.

Reach: Getting Your Message Out Reach is the percent of the defined target market-those people you believe to be potential attendees-that is exposed to your offer at least once during a relevant time period. Defining the target market is a critical task, because reach is also relative. For example, an ad in The New England Journal of Medicine announcing a regional conference may reach a large percentage of all physicians in the U.S. But if the conference's target audience is cardiologists in the Southwest for whom the Journal is known to have a lower subscription penetration, then the ad has not done well in reaching the defined target market. It's the same when using a mailing list. You must evaluate it by asking whether it is going to reach the target market.

Reach is calculated by multiplying the number of exposures (how often a potential attendee is presented with the opportunity to see or hear about the conference) over time-the standard measure is four weeks. I recommend measuring reach using time horizons of eight, 12, and 16 weeks for local, regional, and national conferences, respectively.

Frequency: How Many Messages? Frequency is the average number of exposures received by a member of the target market during the relevant time period. If the size of your marketing budget is fixed, you must sacrifice reach to get frequency, or frequency to get reach. In other words, you can reach a wider audience less often, or a smaller audience more often.

How do you decide which strategy to follow? By looking at your marketing goals. For example, if you are launching an executive education program in a field where your organization is well known, and thus have general awareness among your target market as your goal, you might prefer to emphasize reach.

By contrast, if you are entering into a particularly competitive market where your organization isn't well-known, then you will probably want a high level of repetition. Why? Because you must not only build awareness from scratch, but motivate potential attendees to switch to your conference from the one they've previously attended.

The Nuances Reach and frequency are also inversely related within a specific marketing vehicle over a time period. To return to our advertising example, if you purchase ads in multiple issues of The New England Journal of Medicine, your reach is ultimately limited to the magazine's subscribers. Similarly, if you mail brochures repeatedly to members of a professional society, you limit your reach to that particular mailing list.

By contrast, if you advertise in a weekly magazine sold at newsstands, then to some extent, different people will buy the magazine in different weeks.

The lower the readership loyalty factor, the greater the reach and the lower the frequency. Your sensitivity to each market segment's unique needs for reach and frequency will enable you to devise tailored marketing strategies.

Methods for calculating such key variables as duplicated and unduplicated reach, effective reach, gross rating points, and cost per rating point can be found in most standard marketing texts. Marketing Communications by M. Rothschild (D.C. Health and Company, 1987) is a helpful text that explains these calculations and their significance in greater detail.

Next: Accuracy In the the second part of this column, we will consider a recency/frequency/monetary formula as the most effective model for achieving accuracy: zeroing in on those individuals most likely to register for your programs. This will help in deciding how to allocate your time and marketing dollars. Never again will you be satisfied with the standard shotgun approach to marketing medical meetings.