Rituals and Campaigns – how some clients get their marketing ladder up against the wrong wall

When I get up in the morning I have a bathroom ritual, simply summarised as clean teeth, shave, shower, dress.

If you were to ask me to change the order of these actions I would find it very unsettling – shower, shave, clean teeth? 

Not possible.

Equally, there’s a ritual when I arrive at my desk, whether that’s in The Barrow Bunker, a hotel bedroom or hot-desking in a cool Melbourne artisan coffee shop.

  • write daily journal (I mentioned that I’d rediscovered writing my journal by hand whilst on the bike ride and intend that to continue – somehow, not typing seems far more personal) – 15 mins;
  • check social media accounts for overnight activity – 10 mins;
  • send birthday wishes via Facebook – 1 min;
  • write and post blog – up to 30 mins;
  • check overnight emails for urgent and important – 10 mins;
  • complete daily schedule, goals and most important tasks in my Full Focus Planner – 10 mins;
  • Total 1hr 16 mins.

Wherever possible, somewhere in that morning ritual will be a break for exercise, hopefully a short run when I’m not prevented by injury or travel schedule.

Knowing that I want to do this helps me to set my alarm and my travel plans. I feel secure and confident in the knowledge that these rituals will set me up for the rest of the day, ready for the unexpected.

If the rituals are changed (as today – an 05:00 alarm and straight across the road from my hotel room to check in for my early flight from Southampton to Belfast City) it destabilises me for the rest of the day. 

I’m typing this post on my flight and know that I will not be able to publish until later in the day, thus upsetting me and those who tell me that the Barrow Blog accompanies their morning coffee – sorry.

Before we took off this morning, my Flybe stewardess was obliged to go through her ritual of showing me where the exits were on the aircraft, how to fasten a seatbelt, put on a life-jacket and prepare myself in the event that we land on water.

I’m sure that when you arrive at your place of work, whether you are a clinician or support team member, you have your own rituals to get started in surgery or at your desk.

In his book “Black Box Thinking” Matthew Syed pointed out that establishing those rituals saves lives in the aviation business and that, until recently, assuming that human intellect (Doctor is always right) was more important than ritual in the American hospital system was costing lives.

A very tired client recently confessed that he had forgotten to pass protective glasses to a patient at the end of a long day and dropped etching fluid into her eye, resulting in a trip to A&E and the added stress of waiting for her ultimate response. That’s what happens when we are burned out and forget our rituals.

So rituals create a stable base from which we can deal with the roller coaster that each day brings – if we don’t get our rituals completed, we feel destabilised and we are more likely to make mistakes.

Which brings me to marketing.

Effective marketing is a ritual. 

Ineffective marketing is often a campaign.

Let me explain.

You’ve been listening to me rattling on about the benefits of internal human interest marketing for some time now and, equally, tolerated my outbursts on the relative financial expense and low ROI from external advertising. Remember the wise words of Dan Sullivan from Strategic Coach (as respectfully amended):

“all the money that you need for the rest of your career is the pockets of the patients that you already know and the family, friends and colleagues that they can introduce you to”

Interesting that I first heard him say the original version of that in July 1993 – 2 years before the world wide web was switched on.

The rituals of internal human interest marketing have been well documented in this blog and summarised in my low cost marketing mind map, available in the resources/infographics section of my web site.

Daily rituals

  • A morning huddle to identify potential patient ambassadors;
  • Social media channels to collect check-ins, reviews, hash-tagged selfies and videos;
  • An effective End of Treatment Protocol;

Weekly rituals

  • A human interest blog;

Monthly rituals

  • A human interest patient newsletter;
  • Your recall system as a marketing touch point;

Quarterly rituals

  • a VIP patient video testimonial session;
  • a review of all systems with your marketing team and business coach;
  • A web site review to check bounce rate, white-paper downloads, newsletter sign-ups and new patient enquiries;

Annual rituals

  • a leaflet drop in your post code (this has worked very well for one of my clients, now in their 10th consecutive year of sending a mini-practice brochure to surrounding residencies);
  • a complete review of your marketing plan for last year – what worked and what didn’t with your team and business coach;
  • the creation of your marketing plan for the next year with your team and business coach.

Which brings me to an observation on campaigns.

I’m going to define a campaign as a one-off or short-term activity, often in the following formats:

  • we are going to organise an open evening;
  • we are going to invest in a paid digital advertising campaign to promote a specific treatment modality;
  • we are running a Christmas campaign on tooth-whitening;
  • we have been offered a chance to advertise in a local B2C magazine;
  • we have the chance to create a radio advert;
  • we are sponsoring a local sports team;
  • we can take a stand at the county show;
  • we can attend and speak at a local B2B networking event.

I can appreciate that some of these campaigns have a part to play in your overall strategy and may be influenced by other factors, e.g. I support the local rugby team and like the idea of using tax-deductible money to secure a good seat and special privileges.

Campaigns consume huge amounts of time, can cost big money and will undeniably distract your team.

So, forgive me if I respond with three questions:

  1. Just before we open the business cheque book to pay for this campaign – and just before you dump a load more work on your support team in getting the campaign organised, could I please ask how you are getting on with your rituals?
  1. Have you budgeted for the expense of this campaign in money, time and people?
  1. How do you intend to monitor the ROI from this campaign?

From experience, it’s the first of these questions that usually has my client looking sheepish.

The lesson of this story is simple and yet powerful.

How are you getting on with your marketing rituals?

Don’t get distracted by campaigns unless your rituals are in place.


Published by

Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. In 2014 he appeared as a “castaway” in the first season of the popular reality TV show “The Island with Bear Grylls”. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry.