iphoneUnless you were off the grid last week, you know that Apple launched its new iPhone. You can't do much more with the new model than the previous one. And bigger screens have been around for a couple of years now. So why the big hoopla?

To paraphrase a cliche, it's the marketing, stupid.

Marketing lessons that we can learn from Apple:

1. Sell benefits not features. Before the iPad came out, people didn't go around saying, "Gee I wish I had a tablet computer." So how did Apple create a market for something people never knew they needed? They promoted the benefit: "140,000 apps at your fingertips," rather than features such as size, weight and memory capacity.

Similarly, the original iPod was described as "1,000 songs in your pocket," rather than as simply a device that played music.

How to adapt this strategy in your marketing

When describing your services, instead of naming the type of therapy you do (a feature) lead with benefits, e.g., What kinds of problems can you help people with? How will they be better off after seeing you? Promoting benefits appeals to emotions and more easily influences desire and action.

2. Convey Scarcity. Before the recent iPhone launch, Apple let it be known that the first run of units was limited. Thus people who really wanted an iPhone NOW were prepared to stand in line. Of course, this got media coverage as well, upping the competition and frenzy.

Scarcity in your practice

If you have large blocks of unfilled time, and someone contacts you for an appointment, you might try to be accommodating: "Thursday's wide open for me. Name your time." Don't do it. It might give the impression that with all that free time, you're not in high demand, so you must not be very good.

Instead say, "What's your schedule, and I'll see if we can find a convenient time for you." At that point they'll probably give you a window of time. If you can, offer them one or two time slots within their windows, e.g., "How about 3 pm on Wednesday or 9 am on Friday?"

3. Never compete on price. While other manufacturers are always having sales and slashing prices, Apple has trained consumers not to expect discounts. Their products cost more, and they don't apologize for it. In contrast they focus on the quality and experience of owning an Apple product, beginning with the "unboxing ritual" and extending through excellent customer service.

How to promote quality in your practice

Consider the kind of experience you want people to have when they come to see you, beginning from the first contact. Pay attention to details. Don't skimp on facial tissue, toilet tissue or other consumable products. Furnish your office so that it is comfortable and inviting. Return phone calls promptly. In other words, offer excellent customer service.

4. Get other people talking about it. Apple does some direct advertising, but it gets more mileage from the buzz and conversations among consumers. The company also has a corner on product placement in TV shows and movies. Last year 891 TV shows and 40% of box office hits featured Apple products.

When you see characters on the screen using iPhones, Macbooks and iPads all the time, this is tantamount to celebrity endorsement - except Apple doesn't pay for these placements. They give away the units to be used in the shows.

How to get others talking about you

When someone else talks favorably about you, it carries more credibility than when you talk about yourself. As mental health professionals we can't ethically ask patients and clients to provide testimonials.

However, there are other ways in which you can create a buzz about you and your services: community presentations, participation in health fairs, news and media commentary. If people learn something useful from you, they'll tell their family and friends.

Also, speak up to your referral sources. If a physician thanks you for helping a mutual patient, take the opportunity to say, "Glad to be of help. I'd appreciate your passing along my name to your colleagues."