By Mina M. Larson, MS, MBA, CAE, Deputy Executive Director, NCCAOM
Many years ago, when I entered the credentialing profession, certification and certificate programs were offered mainly by established credentialing organizations. Providing results that could be defended as valid was the main (and sometimes only) focus of these credentialing organizations. Fast forward to 2019 — educational institutions, continuing education providers, and others offer a multitude of certificate programs while using concepts such as microcredentialing to document completion of requirements and competence in a particular area. Younger generations are more attracted to these abbreviated forms of learning since they are less expensive and easier to achieve.
This change in the landscape of credentialing can add responsibility to traditional credentialing organizations to offer more. In order to be sustainable and promote maintenance of certification, credentialing organizations can offer valuable services and products to enhance the certification experience and increase the value for certificants after they are credentialed.
At the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), our mission is: “To assure the safety and well-being of the public and to advance the professional practice of acupuncture and Oriental medicine by establishing and promoting national evidence-based standards of competence and credentialing.” The core function of the NCCAOM is to build examinations that assess practitioners about acupuncture and Oriental medicine (AOM), resulting in valid certification decisions. NCCAOM’s certification is usually not required by all states that regulate acupuncture, which affects recertification numbers. We can influence those numbers by working with regulatory bodies who can require our certification, but this is not always successful. The recent political and legislative landscape has made this more difficult. We also cannot influence or control certification application numbers; however, we can influence the number of those who maintain or recertify their certification. This is where mission-based marketing came in to promote the value that our certification programs can create.
According to the Non-Profit Times, mission-based marketing is a strategic approach using an organization’s core mission as the foundation and focus of its communications. This type of marketing, which is popular with nonprofit organizations and nongovernmental organizations, focuses on the needs of certificants and creates a plan to satisfy those needs.
According to Harvard Business School Emeritus Professor Robert Kaplan, developing a value proposition is based on a review and analysis of the benefits, costs and value that an organization can deliver to its customers. The simple formula is Value = Benefits – Cost. The value proposition must also be clearly identified to stakeholders and measured regularly by the credentialing organization.
One method to identify products and services that are of value is to survey certificants and offer multiple options that are achievable by credentialing organization. At the NCCAOM, we survey all stakeholders about satisfaction every other year. Both qualitative and quantitative data from this survey are gleaned to create our marketing strategy to implement services and products that are of value, such as a discount on insurance services, a job board for recent graduates and marketing materials to promote their practice. Remember that there must be strategic intent from staff and the board of directors to focus on the needs of certificants and to understand that there will be costs that should later result in both tangible and intangible return on investment (ROI). This can range from an increase in recertification numbers to more visits to your social media pages or website.
Listening to the needs of our NCCAOM certified acupuncturists, the NCCAOM embarked on a public education campaign to promote our Nationally Board-Certified Acupuncturists and invested in hiring a PR and media consultant group to create a marketing plan for this endeavor. In addition, we recruited Washington lobbyists to increase federal recognition of our certification programs and NCCAOM National Board-Certified Acupuncturists™. The retainers for these professionals was a little jarring for our board members, especially as boards are usually not used to expenses that are unrelated to the costs of exams and certification. However, the outcomes were worthwhile. The advocacy initiative resulted in more federal agencies, employers, hospitals and insurance companies requiring NCCAOM certification.
The result of the public education campaign was an 86% increase in media articles covering NCCAOM certified acupuncturists and NCCAOM. Those that were NCCAOM certified saw their colleagues and their credentials featured in prominent publications and local news channels. Those that were not certified became more interested in finding the path back to certification. It is important to note that NCCAOM exams and/or certification is required for licensure to practice acupuncture in 46 states plus Washington, D.C., but maintenance of certification is required in less than half of those states. This prompted the board to create a reinstatement of certification path in 2015 for those who had let their certification terminate.
After the NCCAOM conducted the public education campaign and our very successful Advocacy program, our recertification numbers increased to 16%, as compared to the time before our advocacy and marketing campaigns and more acupuncturists that are no longer certified are inquiring about reinstating their certification. Board members and staff must realize that the ROI from these type of initiatives does not produce direct or fast results, as one might see by increasing the costs of exams or application fees. However, as this is a steady and more strategic initiative that results in greater confidence and value for the certification program and credentialing body, the ROI will be achieved through an increase in recertification and more value for your brand.
Through this process, we have experienced greater recognition of the NCCAOM credentials by the public, employers, lawmakers and the media, which prompts a greater demand for our certificants. Costs associated with services that are deemed valuable for certificants (such as marketing, public relations and advocacy) is an investment that will pay off in future budgets.