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Removing the fine print
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  • 1. TODAY’S PRACTICE Marketing Mishaps Removing the Fine Print How asterisks and miniscule fonts in LASIK print ads continue to hurt the refractive surgery market. BY SHAREEF MAHDAVI For the first time in a long while, things are looking up in refractive surgery. Cus- “My challenge to every provider who tomized procedures are gaining accept- uses the low-price tactic to attract ance, safer alternatives to traditional patients is simple: Get rid of the microkeratomes are proving their worth, and the first accommodative asterisk. Delete the fine print.” lens implant (albeit as a replacement for cataract surgery) has been approved. That’s the good per eye. But those providers whose advertising leads news. with the low price in LARGE BLOCK TYPE hide behind All is not rosy, however. The bad news is that the en- a veil of reasoning that says, “If I do a few cases at this tire refractive surgery industry continues to live with low price, then that’s the price I can advertise.” the stigma of low price as In a recent review of 50 the means by which con- ad clippings from last fall sumers view refractive (provided by Refractive procedures. Despite a AdWatch of Memphis, clear lack of correlation TN), I counted that near- between price and the ly half of the ads touted demand for refractive low price as their main procedures (except per- feature, and all but one haps for an inverse corre- of those had an asterisk lation), many providers (*) right next to the out there continue to price. That asterisk ap- “tease” consumers with parently is intended to low-price advertising. inform the consumer that not everyone will THE TRUTH qualify for that price. But ABOUT LOW-PRICE when the exception be- ADVERTISING comes the rule, we’ve got Let’s be honest. No- a problem. It’s time to body is doing procedures remove the asterisk and with prices averaging the fine print that goes $149, $299, or even $499 along with it. per eye. Undercover news reporters have verified H O N E S T PR I C I N G that one of the largest My challenge to every touters of “$299 LASIK” provider who uses the in reality quotes $1,799 low-price tactic to attract60 I CATARACT & REFRACTIVE SURGERY TODAY I FEBRUARY 2004
  • 2. TODAY’S PRACTICEpatients is simple: Get rid of the asterisk. Delete the fine deal. All but a small percentage of the population wantprint. Perform every one of your cases at the price you a bargain. They don’t want to feel that they are overpay-advertise. Turn the confusion in the market into a sim- ing. Savvy service providers know that they cause tur-ple, easy-to-understand proposition for the consumer. moil by advertising their fees (much less broadcastingYour staff won’t have to hem and haw when explaining their desire to discount them). If ophthalmologists hadfees to consumers or try to educate them on the mean- never taken the low-price path, it’s fair to say that mying of dioptric power and astigmatism. friend would not have that price anchor in his mind. He You see, every refractive surgeon and industry mem- wouldn’t have had a direct benchmark that caused himber is suffering from the low-price seeds planted in the to feel the stated price was “expensive,” whatever thatminds of the consumer. Doctors are surprised that means.prospective patients shop among various providers;many confess privately to despise having been put inthe role of salesman. This is exactly the cost of the privi- “Many surgeons have awakened tolege of advertising low prices. Furthermore, the asterisk the fact that higher fees for cus-used in print advertising has only made matters worse.That icon—as small to the eye as the numbers preced- tomized and all-laser proceduresing it are large—has created a perception similar to the have attracted more interest, notweight-loss claim, “individual results may vary.” What less, and consumers associate thosethat phrase says to most people is, “this product won’twork for real people like me.” In the world of LASIK, the improved fees with a better proce-asterisk and its associated fine print say to the con- dure and better outcomes.”sumer, “there must be some catch to this thing.” Andthey don’t trust it. This mistrust has a big effect on the vast majority of TRENDS FOR 2004consumers who don’t respond to this particular adver- The trends in procedural pricing and volume in thetising tactic. Believing that the offer will get even better past 6 months are encouraging: both are going up.the longer they wait, they sit on the sidelines. These trends are healthy for the industry and all its par- ticipants. Many surgeons have awakened to the factLOW- PR I CE CO N SU M E R I S M that higher fees for customized and all-laser procedures Personally, I find low-price advertising and the associ- have attracted more interest, not less, and consumersated fine print embarrassing and degrading to the pro- associate higher fees with a better procedure and betterfession and the procedure. I witnessed their effects outcomes. But these arrows on the chart will continuerecently when a good friend of mine was discussing to move upward at only a moderate pace until theLASIK and debating whether or not the fee being insanity of low-price advertising is long behind us.charged by the surgeon was worth it. The profession has unwittingly performed it’s own Friend: “So, is this customized wavefront really worth A-B-A experiment (with A representing higher pricingthe extra $500?” and B being lower pricing), as evidenced by statistics Me: “You bet. Even with your low prescription, there monitored and reported by MarketScope (St. Louis,seems to be a lot less halo and glare, so it’s safer.” MO). Isn’t this evidence enough to help the discounters Friend: “Yeah, but the fee he’s charging is already change their behavior?expensive.” Finally, a note about the economy. It’s improving, and Me: “Expensive? Relative to what?” some will point to that improvement as the cause for Friend: “Well, I keep seeing those ads for $499 an eye.” increasing refractive volumes. Although the economic The exchange continued, and I had the opportunity upswing is indeed a factor, it’s not THE factor, and nei-to tell my friend the truth: nobody really gets the low ther is price. Fear continues to predominate the psycheprice. And if they do, their eyes probably didn’t need of the ammetropic consumer, and all that fine print outcorrecting in the first place. there only serves to feed that fear. ■ That scene probably occurs all the time. My friendhad heard many great stories about LASIK. He knew the Shareef Mahdavi offers marketing counsel to refractiveprocedure worked, and he asked me for a referral and surgery providers and medical device manufacturers. He isthen acted upon it. But in the back of his mind was an based in Pleasanton, California. Mr. Mahdavi may be“anchor” that convinced him he wasn’t getting the best reached at (925) 425-9963; shareef@sm2consulting.com. FEBRUARY 2004 I CATARACT & REFRACTIVE SURGERY TODAY I 61