The Threat That Disability Providers Often Ignore

Before the NDIS came into our lives, my family and I consumed disability supports without having any idea of their monetary value. That all changed with our first Plan. It was not long before I had my first case of ‘sticker shock’- the feeling of dismay that potential buyers like myself can experience when they become aware of the high price of a product or service. For me, the crucial moment was when I realised that the cost of supporting Nicky at home while Mike and I went away for a weekend was a colossal $3,178.37. Suddenly, I was thinking of all the other ways $3,178.37 of Core funding could be spent: centre-based respite; weekly house cleaning; hydrotherapy with a support worker every second Saturday.

It was then that I replaced my Mum hat with my CEO and Marketer hats and thought about how real the threat of substitutes has become in NDIS disability support provision. With the flexibility of NDIS funds, providers now have to justify the cost of their supports in a way that they have never had to before. Just as cruises compete with backyard renos, centre-based respite now competes with house cleaning. 

“Threat of substitutes” is a marketing concept used to understand the environment that a service or product provider is operating in. The concept involves exploring all the other ways that money can be used for a similar benefit. For example, a respite provider’s closest competitor may be another respite provider. But to understand their full competitive landscape, they must also consider the threat of substitutes – that is, how else a Participant might choose to spend their Core supports, where the only limits to budget flexibility are the Participant’s knowledge of how they can use their funds and their imagination. 

Plan and Self Management further exacerbates the threat of substitutes by increasing the flexibility of funds to allow Participants to use non-registered providers. In my Support Coordination workshops, I commonly demonstrate this by using short-term accommodation (previously known as in-house respite) as an example. Three friends who all plan manage their Core supports could choose to pool together their resources for a weekend away. If they were to use the 1:3 rate for short term accommodation then between them they have a budget of $4,570.80 to cover the cost of accommodation, support, transport and food. Because they can use non-registered providers, they can choose to stay at an Airbnb and eat out at restaurants.   

Threat of substitutes is only one of many marketing concepts that providers can use to better understand the disability support market and explore ways to grow, refine, innovate and become more relevant, whatever their business objectives.

Yet in a hangover from block funding days, many providers do not see marketing as useful to their work. Despite it’s reputation, true marketing is about more than an advertising campaign. It is a tool that providers can use to engage with the needs of their customers and communicate their organisation’s values in everything they do.

When providers do seek marketing support they often make two common mistakes: 1) working with people who do not understand the nuances of disability support and 2) working with people who are specialists in specific marketing tactics such as website development or graphic design. A marketer for disability supports understands the social context of the NDIS, specifically the unique needs and ambitions of the disability community. They are then able to guide providers through the minefield to uncover and convey a brand that is authentic, unique and relevant. A brand that is at the heart of everything the provider does. Moreover, just as a neurologist is likely to see all of your challenges as tied to the brain, a website developer or graphic designer will likely to see your marketing challenge as the need for a new website or logo redesign. While everyone likes a pretty logo and website, these elements are what I call the ‘price of entry.’ You can’t operate in the disability support market without them, but they are not enough to help you reach your business goals.

If you are serious about reaching your business objectives, then it is time to take a more meaningful look at marketing. Like me, many Participants across the country are going to be hit with sticker shock when they encounter the monetary value of the supports they are using for the first time. As Participants become more aware of funds flexibility, they are going to become more conscious of looking for alternatives. To remain relevant, your brand is going to need to find a way to speak to this savvy customer. Otherwise, these customers will find someone else who can.