Respect them or loathe them, the big chains are very good at marketing (especially Specsavers).

Unlike many independents, the multiples have clear systems to get new clients; get them to ethically return more often, and get them to spend more when they are in store.

You see, growing your business has more to do with great marketing than it does with being a great optician.

Yes, you need to be good at what you do to retain clients in the long term. But I visit plenty of practices where there are very good clinicians sat twiddling their thumbs or struggling with a negative cash flow.

Marketing is the battle for people’s perception, not reality. The multiples learned this a long time ago, which is why they pour so much of their resources into taking market share from you.

Here are five marketing lessons from the multiples that we have compiled for our readers after going through hundreds of Entre Institute reviews that will help you with all of your marketing campaigns.

1) They give clear reasons to choose them instead of another optician

Ask anyone in the street what you get at Specsavers and they’ll tell you immediately: Quality at low cost. That’s because the business has been sending this consistent message for years and years.

With both your new lead acquisition marketing and client retention marketing, you need to clearly differentiate your practice from all the others that your clients could choose from.

You can’t do 2 for 1 frame because the multiples already do it. If someone is already famous for something, there is no point trying to find a way to say “me too”. Few people like buying from a me-too business.

So you find all the points of differentiation and you use them in your marketing. If the multiples are seen as the budget end suppliers, you position your business as the premium choice in your local area. If the multiples have lots of different staff you talk about the consistency of the same people looking after your eye care for years. If you have equipment that an independent competitor doesn’t, then you push the healthcare benefits of that equipment.

Remember, the differentiation happens in the client’s head. It’s not what you think; it’s what your prospects and clients think.

2) They operate an open and efficient retail environment

It’s very hard to walk past one of the multiples and not take a quick look. The retail environment is open and inviting which encourages people to just pop in.

There are some key details that make the difference. Brand awareness is one of them – you know what you are going to get inside – and the physical position of the stores in high traffic locations is another.

Small touches such as keeping the front door open all the time also increase footfall. And when people are inside, the environment is a good balance between selling and browsing. A member of staff typically approaches you to segment you – find out why you are in store – and if you are just looking you can do just that.

Typically the multiples’ retail areas are comfortable, safe retail browsing areas. No one has to feel uncomfortable so they can enjoy the experience of looking at frames.

I’ve been in so many independents where browsing frames is not a comfortable experience. You’re stood on your own, in silence, in a cramped area with a receptionist staring at your back. This is not conducive to good retail sales!

OK, you might not get much passing traffic now; but at the very least you want the process of browsing frames to be a pleasant and enjoyable one for the clients who are in for an eye test.

3) The client experience is highly consistent

One of the huge strengths of the multiples is their ability to deliver the same product and service no matter which branch you go into.

You might see that as the homogenization of opticians. Clients see it differently. They see it as consistency. And they love consistency.

If the first time they visit a practice they are offered a cup of tea and the receptionist has a friendly chat; it really annoys them if there is no tea and a frosty-looking reception at the next visit.

Here’s a fact that’s true but often overlooked: People would prefer to have a bad experience all the time than a good experience one day and a bad the next!

The answer to creating a consistent experience is developing something called a systemized franchise model.

Imagine someone was paying you to buy a franchise copy of your practice. In an ideal world, how should they be working? What should they be doing or not doing? What lessons have you already learned that they are going to benefit from?

The answers to these questions – written down – help you develop your systemized franchise model, plus a series of operational checklists. The purpose of this is not to actually franchise your business, but to figure out exactly how you want your existing practice to operate day after day after day.

4) Once someone is a client, they never ever give up on them

It’s impossible to get away from the multiples! Seven years ago my business partner Paul Green visited a multiple for his new glasses (he didn’t know any better, poor lad). He hasn’t been back since, but they STILL write to him.

For the first few years, the letters were all about eye tests. After five years they started pushing the products they stock, or open days. Seven years and they are still marketing to him.

This puts your three-letter recall sequence to shame. The multiples know that the hardest sale to get is the first one. Once someone has visited you for an eye test once, there is a very high chance they will return to you again… but only if you keep marketing to them.

5) Total focus on revenue

Ultimately the multiples remember that they are running a business. Fact: You can’t do brilliant clinical care if you don’t have enough clients or the cash to pay for the equipment.