“Dental marketing is connecting a patient and a practice.” (That’s straight from the Book on Dental Marketing.) Anything you do in your practice to “connect” current or potential patients with your services IS marketing.
Most dentists think of marketing in terms of what new tactics are working (or they hear from their peers are working). Tactics are necessary for dental marketing success, but only when they are in line with the overall strategy for the practice.
Many dental practices’ marketing efforts are random and disconnected at best. Dentists are essentially playing whack-a-mole with marketing schemes that pop up at the latest conference. “Maybe this one will work?” Whack! “How about this one?” Whack! “Ah… this one is the ticket!” WHACK! And so it goes… year after year, trying the next thing in marketing with no rhyme or reason. The assumption from the dentist is, “well if it works for that other dentist, it will work for me.” In short, most dentists understand WHAT their successful peers did to win at marketing, but they often don’t grasp WHY it worked for them.
Consider these wise words from Sun Tzu- “All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.” (The Art of War, Ch 6, para 27)
We’ve tried to keep this guide as comprehensive as possible while still keeping it brief. The linked articles will deep dive into specific topics if you need more information. If you would like the most complete and authoritative resource available on Dental Marketing, pick up your copy of The Book on Dental Marketing. Also, don’t forget to download a free copy of the Marketing Plan Tools to fill out as you work through the Ultimate Dental Marketing Guide below.
YOUR DENTAL MARKETING STRATEGY
A strategy is a high level plan to achieve a large or important goal. Tactics are the specific techniques selected to accomplish the strategy.
For example, you may desire to become the premier cosmetic dentist in your town. You develop a strategy to build this reputation through convincing other medical professionals and consumer influencers in your market that you indeed are the best. Your tactics may then include “lunch and learns” with professionals, recruitment of influencers with attractive trades, and then leveraging the input from these people across all of your platforms.
The strategy guides the selection of tactics.
The following elements must be considered in the development of your practice’s marketing strategy. You are determining what success looks like to you, what you will do and say to match your vision, and then how you are going to consistently say it with style and messaging. The marketing tactics are when you actually execute the strategy.
Your Mission, Vision, and Values (AKA, Your Culture)
Your culture is the shared mission, vision*, and values of your dental practice. It is the very foundation of your practice marketing because everything else builds off it. Your culture’s physical manifestation is the patient experience you deliver. Your patient experience builds your brand. Your brand is people’s opinions and feelings about your practice — determining if they will choose you.
A successful practice will take the time to define their culture with thoughtful, inspiring, and realistic Mission, Vision, and Values Statements. Take this in, your practice has or will have a culture. It will develop either by design or by default. Guess which will give you a higher likelihood of reaching your goals.
Mission = WHY your practice does what it does.
Vision = WHAT you want your practice to accomplish.
Core Values = HOW you will accomplish it.
*Your Vision Statement is the real star of your marketing strategy. This is what should guide all of your decisions about your practice moving forward. How big you want to get. What kind of dentistry you want to do. How much revenue you want to generate. And so on.
Patient Experience (PX)
Just a few short years ago, businesses differentiated themselves from others with the availability of their products, the speed of their delivery, or even their beautiful catalogs. The emergence of the digital economy changed things. More and more, businesses must defeat their opponents with Customer Experience — or in our case, Patient Experience.
- A Gartner survey found that 81% of businesses compete mostly or completely on the basis of Customer Experience. (https://www.gartner.com/en/marketing/insights/articles/key-findings-from-the-gartner-customer-experience-survey)
- A PWC survey revealed that 1 in 3 consumers would abandon a brand they love after just ONE bad experience! One or two more bad experiences pushes that number to about 58%. (https://www.pwc.com/us/en/advisory-services/publications/consumer-intelligence-series/pwc-consumer-intelligence-series-customer-experience.pdf)
Your designed Patient Experience (PX) should foster the best experience you can deliver to your patients across all four stages of their journey with you: 1) Discovery, 2) Visit, 3) Follow-up, and 2) Advocacy.
Identifying Your Target Market (psychology, segmentation, selection)
Fishermen unknowingly offer up to marketers a seemingly bottomless barrel of sage insights. Experienced anglers invest in the equipment and training to survey a body of water, identifying varieties and activity before batigin their hook. The reason? They want to know there are potential catches in an area before wasting time. AND, they will bait their hook for the kind of fish they’re trying to catch.[E.g., if you are fishing for catfish, you smear peanut butter or dogfood on a treble hook and sink it to the bottom of the water. If trout is your prize, a custom fly lure that dances on the water’s surface will increase your odds of success.]
Survey your market to understand its makeup, then segment it accordingly. Once you have a clear picture of who your potential patients are, you can then craft marketing messages that have a much higher likelihood of hooking them.
YOUR DENTAL PRACTICE BRAND
Branding in-and-of-itself is a deep and nuanced subject. Let’s clear it up quickly.
What is a dental practice brand?
Your practice’s logo is not your brand. But it is the face (or smile) of it. Your practice brand IS people’s opinions and feelings about your practice, built by their experiences with it.
What Does Your Brand Say To Your Market?
Know this, you’re already branding your practice. If you’ve hung a shingle, have a website, are interacting with patients, or even answer the phone, you are creating a brand. The problem is that it may not be the one you want. What you think people’s perceptions of your practice are… may be surprisingly different from what they actually are.
Proper branding minimizes this gap and grants you the control to move those perceptions in the direction you desire. Smart, intentional branding requires clearly comprehending who you are and who you best serve, so you can promote your practice in the most advantageous way.
Here’s a quick example. If you are a modest practice, in a modest part of town, and are primarily insurance driven, then an ad in the local luxury magazine is probably not going to reach your target market. And vice versa. A high-end, fee-for-service cosmetic practice shouldn’t be advertising in the Valpak.
Make sure you discern the difference between how you ARE perceived and how you WANT to be perceived. You MUST be who you claim to be, because your brand is a promise you are making to your market. Delivering something different than what you promise is an efficient way to wreck your rep.
The Immense Impact of Your Practice’s Visual Brand
Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy. This is reasonable… seeing that they purchase and consume things every day. Consumers have learned that the way companies present their products and services is how they want a consumer to categorize them. If the design and/or packaging look low budget and cheaply made, a consumer will rightly think that the product or service will be lower quality and less expensive. And that’s OK! IF… that is how you actually want to be perceived.
This should NOT surprise you! Consider your own shopping experience. The appearance of a store, its advertisements, and the area it’s in all coalesce into an assumption of what your experience will be there. Does it not?
Your practice is no exception. People assume the quality of your marketing reflects the quality of your dentistry. Embracing this, the most successful dental practices create beautiful and meaningful visual brands that align with the experience a consumer can expect to have during a visit.
A superior branding process involves aligning the way you want your practice to be perceived (justifiably) with the product you’re presenting to your market. If there is misalignment in your brand, your marketing efforts will most likely fail. And unfortunately, many practices will then point the blame at ineffective marketing tactics instead of looking upstream where the real problem lies.
Before moving on to the tactics selection stage, make sure you have a sound strategy that you 1) believe in, and 2) are confident you can achieve.
DENTAL MARKETING TACTICS – THE 9 STREAMS OF DENTAL MARKETING
Introduce the concept of the 9 streams and why it’s so helpful as a framework.
1) WORD OF MOUTH
Word of Mouth (WoM) is all about enabling and incentivizing referrals. And it is the first of the 9 streams for a reason. It has enjoyed an uninterrupted reign as king of all marketing efforts since products and services began to be sold.
The power and essence of WoM marketing boils down to a single word: TRUST. Sales professionals rank trust as the number one factor in closing deals. Meaning, Word of Mouth is the most highly trusted form of marketing, and trust is the #1 factor in closing sales.
Example Word of Mouth Tactic: Referral Program
A well put together referral program is one of the best marketing workhorses out there. It just keeps plugging away, no matter the season, weather, or location. You can expect a well designed referral program to generate an average of seven new patients per month.
A referral program is all about enabling and incentivizing more referrals. Can this be done comfortably? You bet. Regular people talking in normal conversations bring up specific businesses and brands naturally and often. In fact, consumers casually discuss specific brands 90 times per week. (https://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/30239/71-More-Likely-to-Purchase-Based-on-Social-Media-Referrals-Infographic)
Other Word of Mouth tactics to consider:
- Formal referral relationships with other professional services
- Reputation management (Word of Mouth 2.0)
- Influencer marketing
- SWAG that encourages sharing your practice info
2) MASS ADVERTISING
The purpose of Mass Advertising is to generate brand awareness and interest. THink of mass advertising like booping your market on the nose and making your practice unforgettable. It is interruptive in nature. Therefore it must be a welcome interruption by being enjoyable, information, or enticing. You want positive associations with your practice, so beautiful, enjoyable ads will build your brand in a positive way.
Sort through your local options. Identify the available tactics that show you in the best light, to the most people, for the lowest investment. If the tactic is worthwhile, stick to it. Make yourself a local legend that never dies!
Example Mass Advertising Tactic: Video Ads
The internet enables easy sharing and consuming of video content. And video content is the preferred content type for a growing number of consumers. Would you rather watch a video or read an article when learning about a product or service? If you answered with reading an article, you are in the minority and you must realize this.
You can absolutely dominate your market’s attention with inexpensive video ads on YouTube and Facebook (or whichever platform your target market uses the most)! Make sure to create high quality videos that differentiate you and entice potential patients to schedule their visit with you instead of the other guys.
Other Mass Advertising tactics to consider:
- Digital Signage
- Local Publication Ads
3) TARGETED ADVERTISING
Targeted Advertising is the efforts marketers take to drive action from specific, targeted consumers. Now it is the most complex of the marketing streams, as it leverages so much data and technology.
Posting a holiday-greeting photo on your Facebook page isn’t too difficult. Setting up targeted ads based on data triggers across multiple platforms and then remarketing your targets based on their responses to those ads is a little trickier.
On the bright side, advertising platforms don’t make money unless they make their tools accessible and intuitive to those brave enough to try them. For a tiny, variable-priced investment, you can precisely communicate with your target market.
Example Mass Advertising Tactic: PPC (Pay-Per-Click)
In October of 2000, Google truly revolutionized advertising with the introduction of their AdWords platform. The model empowered anyone to easily run online advertisements, which only need to be paid for when they actually work. Think about that for just a moment.
Risk is the biggest reason dentists don’t advertise. Advertising can’t guarantee results, therefore those dear dollars could potentially leave the nest and never find their way home. Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising completely eliminated the #1 deterrent to businesses like yours from advertising by pulling the risk away from your side of the table.
Other Mass Advertising tactics to consider:
- Specialty mailers for new move ins
- Shared interest or involvement publications (e.g., alumni associations)
4) COMMUNITY MARKETING
Because dental practices are still brick-and-mortar businesses, you are entrenched in a community. Community Marketing consists of the efforts you make to earn recognition and goodwill with those around you.
Community Marketing is definitely the most personal marketing stream. Shaking hands, high-fiving, and tossing candy to kids are very open experiences. It may even be a little uncomfortable for you to be that accessible to people. But guess what? You putting your hands in someone’s mouth may be uncomfortable for them. Meet them in the middle with community marketing.
Example Mass Advertising Tactic: Charity Event
Consumers, particularly millennials and Z’s, are fiercely concerned about the world and charitable efforts. Sure they take knocks for complaining about materialism while wearing designer clothes and typing on their $1,000+ iPhones. But when it comes to their buying patterns, they do back up their standards. It’s not just the young ones, either. Because of the transparency that the modern web offers, people are becoming more aware and concerned about what businesses they patronize.
Consider organizing a charity day in which you offer dentistry to the underserved members of your community. You can even get other local health providers to participate to expand your reach. News outlets love feel good stories like this and you have a good chance of getting a LOT of mileage out of a fairly low cost event.
Other Community Marketing tactics to consider:
- Sports Team Sponsorships
- County Fair
- Holiday Events (Like a Halloween event or Veteran Appreciation Day)
5) SOCIAL MEDIA
Social Media upended the world of relationship creation and engagement. NO ONE knew what it would look like when the dust settled. But it seems for the most part that practices who authentically engage with their followers and seek to deepen their relationships, win.
There are lots of ways to do this, and each platform has techniques that work better than others. Focus on the social media platform you are the most comfortable using AND that has the highest concentration of your current and potential patients. FInd out what works and how to get the most out of your time on the platform.
Example Social Media Tactic: Instagram
The main objective of your social media efforts is to engage your current and potential patients and build stronger relationships with them. And Instagram is the clear winner here.
Understand your practice brand, then give it life on your profile. Take stunning photos that reflect your style and dental interests. Share engaging short videos that emphasize your passion for cosmetic (or sleep, or invisalign, or biomimetic, etc) dentistry. Become an authority on your topic and stay consistent.
Other Community Marketing tactics to consider:
6) CONTENT MARKETING
Content Marketing (AKA inbound marketing) is all about educating your market and establishing YOUR authority.
Content marketing isn’t a new concept; marketers have been employing its principles
for hundreds of years. But the capabilities of software and the Internet have exploded
the prevalence and sophistication of content marketing techniques. In fact, many dentists spent about a decade with content marketing as their highest marketing priority. This is because content is a huge component of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). However, only considering the SEO impact of content marketing is a narrow and constricted view. Content marketing spans many mediums and marketing streams (like social media).
Example Content Marketing Tactic: Blog
Think of a blog as your own newspaper, minus the overhead of a print shop and the short lifespan of each edition. A blog is an astonishingly easy way to rapidly share your valuable content online. And, keeping in line with the objective of your Content Marketing Stream, your blog will be a wonderful way to educate your market and establish yourself as an authority therein.
Other Content Marketing tactics to consider:
- Case Studies
- Email Marketing
7) DIGITAL REAL ESTATE (Dental Practice Website)
The preceding six marketing streams consist primarily of external lead generation tactics. As you employ these tactics you are building a network of inflowing streams that carry new potential patients closer to your practice. But almost always, a potential patient is going to check you out on your website before scheduling. Your practice website therefore is the confluence of these six individual streams. A consumer may hear about your practice through a referral program, billboard, PPC ad, or even a parade. In any case, they will most likely visit your “digital front office” (website) before visiting your physical office.
At this point, when they are on your website, a potential patient wants to choose you. They do! They don’t want to spend hours comparing dentists. They want a great solution, fast. And then they want to schedule. This is the purpose of your website and the purpose of the Digital Real Estate stream. CONVERSION. As in, converting a potential patient in your stream to a scheduled patient in your calendar.
Some Dental Practice Website Best Practices
- A beautiful custom design indicates that your practice isn’t like all the others
- Make your website intuitive and easy to take action
- Fill your website with valuable, unique content
- Make sure the info on your website matches your Google Local listing (and every other major directory site).
- Make a strong and clear local connection in the descriptions of your services
- Make sure your website is fast, optimized for core web vitals, and that it functions flawlessly across all device types
8) PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
Your Physical Environment should entice and welcome new patients into your practice.
The eighth stream focuses on those patients who arrive right on your practice doorstep. They didn’t call in advance. They didn’t schedule their visit over your website. They either heard about you somewhere or noticed you while driving by and decided to stop in. Rain is the symbol in the 9 Streams metaphor because these kinds of patients are like Providence raining blessings down on your practice. Don’t let those precious opportunities run off into the ditch.
Example Physical Marketing Tactic: Office Design
A Harvard Business Review article (https://hbr.org/2012/03/the-mouse-on-the-manhole) highlights the environmental-design thoughtfulness of Disney. The author, Joshua Gans, took his family on a trip to Disney World. During his visit, something in the park just absolutely stole his attention. That something was a manhole cover. What was so special about Disney World’s manhole covers? Right in the middle of the plate was stamped a Mickey Mouse head profile. As the author paid closer attention to his park experience, he began to notice those little details EVERYWHERE. The ceilings of rides. The fixtures in stores. You can’t look in a single direction in the park without seeing intentional detail, lovingly placed by Disney.
Learn from the greats and benefit from their genius. Create an office that consistently reinforces your amazing brand.
Other Physical Environment tactics to consider:
- Building Design
9) INTERNAL MARKETING
Once you have done all the hard work to get a new patient into your practice, should you coast? Absolutely not. Continue with internal marketing by encouraging upsells and repeat business. Current patients can be a much bigger revenue generator than new patients.
Internal marketing can make a strong case for being one of the top, if not THE top, marketing streams. Word of mouth (WoM) takes the cake for new patient generators. But as far as business-sustaining revenue goes, Internal Marketing does, or should, win the day.
Example Internal Marketing Tactic: Membership Plan
Many dental practices have adopted this membership model with great results. You’ve probably already heard of or made an attempt at creating your own membership plan.
But why bother when dental insurance is doing pretty much the same thing? Well, there’s a big difference between your own membership plan and an insurance plan. In your own membership plan, you (the dentist) create the value, and both you and your patient benefit from it (the insurance company does not).
In an insurance plan, you still create the value, but only the insurance company primarily benefits (with the patients sometimes getting lesser quality care and you getting hosed financially). Dental insurance is essentially a broker, taking the lion’s share of the financial benefit and producing no real value.
Other Internal Marketing tactics to consider:
- Becoming a Landmark
- In-office Education (videos are GREAT here)
- Patient Appreciation Events
Not every practice needs to employ every dental marketing tactic. You may only want a little lift in your revenue because your practice doesn’t have the capacity to handle large-scale growth. Or, you may live in an area where some tactics don’t work well, or one tactic is all you need. The 9 Streams of Dental Marketing provide you with a framework to systematically build out the marketing mix that works perfectly for YOUR practice.
If you need help with any, or all, of the dental marketing tactics you want to employ in your practice, schedule a free consult now. We’ll address your needs, answer your questions, and lay out your options. We look forward to speaking with you!