In your dental practice marketing, what image are you trying to create when they think/hear about your practice?

How do you want your practice to be thought of or perceived?

While there’s quite a bit to the subject of marketing, much of your success has to do with the “image” that you are trying to portray to the public.  In dentistry we have taken a crack at this this by creating the ‘dental spa’ or ‘cosmetic center’ concept or even just making things seem “classier” by serving ‘fresh squeezed orange juice.’

If you have purchased a product from Apple, you’ve experienced, firsthand, a great example of image creation for a product or products.  Their packaging is outstanding, their stores are upscale and the customer service is incredible.  All of this is part of their marketing strategy.  There may be cheaper phones and tablets, but it is hard to match Apple in its efforts to market their products and create a favorable image for themselves.

Have you ever shopped at a store where the goods are all generic and sold in bulk?  Cases of goods are opened but not taken out and put on a shelf.  The label on the ketchup bottle is white and has ‘Ketchup’ in black ink.  The same with the salt, pepper and all the other products.  In that store, you expect to pay less because that is what is being ‘marketed’.

The exercise to help with your dental practice marketing

So the question now is “How are you marketing your dental practice?”  What image are you creating with the public?  You can do a little exercise with this by looking through Yellow Page ads (this is not a debate on whether yellow pages still work or not).  Get a Yellow Book and flip through the Dentist section.  Odds are that everyone is marketing (more or less) the same thing:  we cater to cowards, most insurances accepted, there will be the mandatory menu of available dental services i.e. white fillings, braces, bleaching, dentures etc.  Everyone might as well have an ad that just says ‘Dentist’ in big white letters.  Trying to be ‘everything to everybody’ is what most every dentist is trying to do.  You can easily be perceived as the next generic dentist.

When I became a client at MGE Management Experts, I was using a common strategy to stand and get noticed by my community:   Be a good dentist, take great care of your patients, get involved in your community, and everything will be OK.  That is a basic generic approach for marketing a dentist.  I’m not sure if that ever did work, but it isn’t working now.

I did tons of continuing education and learned how to do complex surgical and reconstructive procedures so patients wouldn’t have to drive an hour to get to a specialist.  I did my share of community service and charity work.  We took great care of our patients we considered that we were highly thought of by them.

Marketing surveys

The economy went into a recession, the anchor store vacated our strip mall and all of a sudden I was having a hard time paying my bills.  I enrolled onto the MGE New Patient Workshop, and they had me do something very curious before I arrived—they had me survey forty of my best patients.

They gave me a five-question survey and told me to give it to my best patients as they arrived for treatment i.e. the ones that showed up for their appointments, did what I said and paid their bills. I got exactly forty.   On the first day of the course, I learned how to properly tabulate a survey.  I found out that my patients didn’t care about white teeth or their smiles.  What they wanted was to have healthy teeth and gums and avoid cavities, gum disease and dentures.

I learned how to design a marketing campaign based on what they wanted.  So, I started to position myself with keeping teeth and gums healthy for a lifetime.  No, I didn’t run an ad with ‘most insurances accepted,’ ’24-hour emergencies,’ or ‘we cater to cowards.’  What I did was I marketed myself as the place to go if you wanted to work on keeping your teeth for life.  I took that position in the marketplace.   I applied it to all internal and external marketing.  We worked hard to provide the best customer service possible. I went from five new patients a month to eighty-eight in a year.

It’s too simple.  Survey the people in your area, and find out what they want. Then package and market it to them, and the place fills up.

Marketing strategies today

What is the typical dental practice marketing strategy in use today?  Join all the plans, cut your fees, drive in a volume of patients, run a ‘tight ship’ to keep a low overhead and become the ‘insurance provider’ in your area.  Pardon me, but you might as well stick a white label on your forehead with ‘Dentist’ written with a Sharpie marker.

I’m not saying that you can’t make a living running an insurance driven practice; but doing your dentistry for 25%-50% off a fair fee is kind of like trying to compete with Motel 6 by being cheaper than they are for an overnight room.  It can be done, but it is much more tricky and difficult.

You can also try to carve out a niche based on what you think the patients want.  For example, you want to become known as the ‘High-Tech Dentist’.  You buy tons of expensive equipment, do tons of continuing education, go paperless and have TVs in every treatment room.  I have looked at thousands of patient surveys from patients all across the country and less than 1% ever say anything about wanting a dentist who is ‘high tech’.  So it’s easy to take the wrong position in the marketplace unless you survey your customers.  And it is extremely costly and frustrating to take the wrong position.  Guessing at how to position and market your image is very risky business.

A true story

Along this line I have to tell you a quick story about a client that did just that.  A number of years ago he called and was all excited because he was going to become the ‘Fresh Breath Dentist’ in his area.  There was a new device that the patient would breathe into and indicate their level of bad breath and there was a treatment protocol to handle it.  He paid many thousands of dollars to have the exclusive rights to marketing this program in his area.

I cautioned him in that I don’t see that as something that people want to handle on surveys I’m looking at on a regular basis.  After all, the patient with bad breath is usually the last one to know it.  He was already committed, however, and totally convinced that it was going to be a huge boom for his practice.  Sorry to say, he called me six months later and said it was a complete bust and a waste of money.  Survey first is the rule.

It’s real easy to get convinced that patients want it all for cheap or free.  It’s easy to get the idea to create the ‘dental spa’ or spend a lot of money to be the ‘high tech’ dentist in the area.  You can listen to many different opinions and make your best guess at what image to portray to prospective patients.  But when I surveyed my best patients, not one of them said anything about price, cosmetics, current dental technology or having a hot paraffin wax for their hands during a prophy.  They wanted to keep their teeth.

So the position I took in the market was ‘If you’re my patient then it’s my job to help you keep your teeth for the rest of your life’.   That is the image that I built and promoted.  Within five months of taking that stance, I had to hire an associate because I was so swamped.

The MGE New Patient Workshop takes the guesswork out of dental practice marketing your practice and creating a practice image.  It will help to optimize every aspect of your office that deals with new patients—turning your practice into a new patient machine. It only takes two days to complete, and it can save you a ton of time and money wasted on things that sound good but aren’t what your patients want.  After all, theirs is the only opinion that really counts.  If you have any questions – feel free to contact me at (800) 640-1140.