Why LifeStyle Lift Failed — A $186 Million Clinical Marketing Lesson on the Rise and Catastrophic Demise of a Facelift Franchise

Maybe it was the siren song of celebrity Debby Boone waving her arms about on a beach, touting the benefits of looking as young as you feel. Or perhaps it was the promise of facial surgery without general anesthesia — or the lure of an extremely low price tag (facelifts beginning at $4500 in some markets). Whatever the reason, there’s no denying the meteoric rise in popularity of the Lifestyle Lift — and its equally catastrophic fall. This month, the 14-year-old company laid off over 400 employees and shut the doors of about 50 cosmetic surgery centers across the country. At its peak in 2013, the company had annual revenues of $186 million and performed 18% of all facelifts done by board-certified physicians across the country.

So why did Lifestyle Lift fail?

In my opinion, for three simple reasons that are as important and relevant to your cosmetic medical practice as to theirs:

1) You can’t put lipstick on a pig.

According to James Phillips, a former outside financial adviser to the Lifestyle Lift chain, the company was investing $1 million a week on its marketing to the masses. Yet its conversion rates were extremely low — fewer than 2% of people responding to their ads actually became patients. Right there, that’s a giant red flag that, first, the media they were advertising in wasn’t properly targeting the right audience and, second, that their conversion process had holes the size of the Grand Canyon in it. But, in my opinion, their biggest hurdle to overcome was in the results themselves. Terribly low reviews on Yelp combined with large numbers of patient complaints made at the State and Federal level certainly hindered their conversion rates. Or perhaps it was the fact that you never knew the surgeon who would be operating on you — a revolving door of physicians whose levels of expertise and experience varied enormously. The bottom line is simple. Be strategic with your marketing dollars and don’t take an untargeted “blanket” approach — hoping that if you spend enough your phone will ring enough. And second, if you can’t consistently deliver good results to your patients and make them happy, no amount of marketing can save a sinking ship.

2) Being a low-cost aesthetic medical provider is not a sustainable long-term position.

This business truth has been proven again and again. Unless you’re the 800-pound gorilla in your market (like WalMart), being the cheapest provider in your market is an extremely dangerous and precarious position to take because:

  • People who buy on price (especially in cosmetic medicine) are the most demanding, highest maintenance and least appreciative patients there are.
  • There will always be competitors who are more hungry and more desperate than you. Overnight, they can undercut your prices and drive you out of business.

Just this week I was shopping at Nordstrom and was shocked to look at the price label on a shirt I was about to buy. It was one penny. One penny! Clearly, this is not a sustainable market position to be in, but bigger competitors can afford to run at a loss for a period of time to run you out of business.

Bottom line: don’t ever be the cheapest in your market and don’t ever position your practice in your marketing message as being a low-cost provider. If this is what you’re having to rely on to attract patients, your marketing needs some urgent CPR and a new position for your practice needs to created — quickly.

3) Aesthetic medicine is not a commodity, and should never be marketed as one.

Lifestyle Lift shot itself in the foot in its marketing by making it appear that all its physicians were just the same: i.e. they turned each and every one of them into a medical commodity. It changed the entire patient experience of investing in a facelift into, basically, a trip to the dollar store. You might be thinking, “Well, that would never happen to my practice,” but the sad truth is that most physicians in aesthetic medicine are also being marketed as a medical commodity — without their realizing it. Marketing agencies are using templated websites and advertising copy and “me too” logos and branding that make your practice look virtually identical to your competition. Bottom line: you are the most unique and most valuable asset your practice has. Your marketing has to be as unique and as good as you are, or your prospective patients will presume, like Lifestyle Lift patients did, that aesthetic medicine is just another commodity which should be shopped around for, to find the best price.