Marketing Your Dental Practice is Not the Same as Advertising

Dentists often talk about new patients and how they just need more of them. This raises lots of questions:

  • Why are you not getting new patients?
  • What percentage of your new patients are referrals?
  • What are your marketing benefits?
  • Are your social media profiles and website optimized?
  • What do your current patients think about your practice?
  • Are you delivering poor quality service?
  • Can you actually fit new patients into your hygiene schedule?
  • What is your new patient experience like?
  • Is your practice marketable?
  • What is your net new patients? (That's a topic for a different post.)
  • What kind of new patients do you need for your practice? Who is your target market?

marketing is everythingYour practice needs a lot more than advertising to be successful. Advertising is just one (small) component of marketing. Let's make sure you have identified what you want your brand to mean. To us, marketing is everything and everything is marketing. It includes the “4 Ps” of marketing: product, price, place, and promotion. It includes your colors (did you know that color theory would come into play when you went to dental school?), logo, marketing materials, website, check-in station, the uniforms team members are wearing, signage, and much more.

As a side note, we highly recommend dentists do not use their own name for their dental practice for a few reasons. First, when it comes time to sell your practice, it makes it impossible to transfer any brand equity – it's simply a name. In fact, most likely you are hurting the new doctor buying your practice because patients will definitely know and miss their old dentist – and you are not him or her. Second, having a practice brand makes it easier for your team to actually feel like a team – and that you are a team player. Ego makes teamwork harder. Finally, a brand is likely to be a lot more memorable, assuming you focus on creating a brand identity.

Great marketing can effectively and efficiently hurt your dental practice if it's delivering poor service.

Keep It Simple: The Senses Test

For now, let's focus on simple things you can do immediately in your practice. In our Elevated Patient Experience system, we go over a “Senses Test.” This means your practice should at least not look or smell like a dental practice. There isn't anything particularly appealing about the smell of dental supplies and I don't know any Scentsy products that offer that smell. Patients don't like and it makes a lot of them anxious.

dental practice smellYou can learn a lot from other businesses who understand this idea. Fast food restaurants will use products that smell like their food, and hotels typically have a dispenser with pleasant smells as soon as you enter the hotel. The goal is to have smells that patients will like and surprise them when they first enter your practice. The means may be wax warmers, sprays, or anything that achieves the goal. This is especially important when patients first enter your practice. You will know you've got it right when patients remark that it smells great and want to know what the great smell is called.

Another aspect of the senses test is the look of your practice. Make sure your reception area is modern and tastefully decorated, using soothing and calming colors (for example, blues, greens, grays) that reflect your logo and brand identity. The test would be whether your target market (typically moms who book appointments for their families) could walk in and see a modern living room as opposed to a dental practice.

For example, among other things, have a nice mirror, good seating, proper lighting, a 40″ or greater TV, and your logo on the wall in brushed aluminum letters. You don't need to be over the top or spend lots of money, and this typically comes across as your practice being expensive, which is fine if your target market is high-end patients looking for cosmetic dentistry or full-mouth reconstruction.

Marketing and Operations

Operations cannot be separated from marketing. You must build your branding into the day-to-day delivery of your service. What many small business owners don't understand is that what separates successful businesses from mediocre is a focus on systems and processes, with an intention towards branding the business in a way that delivers a wow experience, and not simply a great product or service. It must be a complete business model. Every business has branding, systems and processes, but some are more efficient and effective than others. The results you are getting now are because of the systems you have in place, and good results may actually be despite poor systems and could be improved even more.

In other words, a great crown prep is insufficient, and must be a given. When the practices we work with get Google reviews, patients rarely mention the dental work – they talk about how they were treated, that the doctor worked with them and was patient, the front desk helped them with financial options, etc. These are the reasons why you need checklists in place – so that your team can focus on delivering great service that is replicable and repeatable every time.

Advertising is Easy: Just Spend Money

You may be outsourcing or delegating advertising. It's actually the easiest (and often laziest) part of marketing. All it takes is time and/or money, and that amount can be high or low, with the only true measure being return on investment. This means your marketing must be tracked. If you have branding in place, you can advertise with confidence, and you should budget between 2-5% on marketing (this is different if you are a startup). When you spend more on marketing, this can actually lower your other expenses as a percentage of revenue by increasing revenue, with some of your other expenses being fixed.

If your service is great, you should expect two-thirds of your new patients to come from referrals. We have had great results from advertising on Facebook, but we also post every day on social media so that when we advertise on Facebook, prospective patients see we have a great Facebook page with photos, likes, reviews, and comments. By combining our social media system with advertising, we make our advertising extremely effective.

Advertising Comes Last

dental marketingAdvertising is actually often one of the last things we put in place for the practice. You first need to make sure your practice delivers a wow service with a wow team. Once your branding is in place, advertising becomes both effective and fun. Get your team involved with a budget each month. We use a 12-month marketing plan and make sure the right expenses get classified as marketing (this includes business cards, t-shirts, our flower budget, and traditional forms of advertising like radio, mailers, etc.) All you have to do is take your previous month's collections and multiply it by 2-5%. Subtract some of your fixed marketing expenses (website hosting for example) and then give your team some money to do local advertising such as health fairs, community events, etc. This gets them excited to market your practice and their mentality shifts more towards ownership and a desire to make your practice great.

Focus on the big picture and make branding and marketing your goal, of which advertising is only a small part. Remember, to some extent, everything is marketing.

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About the Author


Chris Brown, MBA, PhD, is the CEO of Elevate Practices and enjoys helping dentists understand the business side of their practice. He brings real-world experience, working in dental practices for multiple years, while also adding his academic experience and advanced education in entrepreneurship and small business management.

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