Marketing is a constantly evolving subject, and this is reflected in the dental industry over the decades.

30+ years ago, many dentists didn’t even consider that they should engage in marketing at all. They’d put up a sign and be involved in the community, and that was about it.

Then in the 90s, postcards (and direct mail in general) took the industry by storm.

In the early 00s, having a website for your practice started to become a must.

In the mid to late 00s, we started to see more forms of online marketing—Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Google “pay-per-click” ads, etc.

And nowadays we are firmly entrenched in the “social media age.”

At each stage of this evolution, the biggest rewards are reaped by the “early adopters” (people who start using a new product or technology as soon as it becomes available—as opposed to people who only catch on later, after it’s become generally widespread).

Dr. Greg Winteregg can tell you how he blew the roof off of his practice in the early 90s, going from 8 to 80 new patients per month in a short amount of time, when he started sending postcards for the first time. I’ve seen these postcards—and by today’s standard they’d be the most simplistic and ugliest things you could find! It worked because he had two things going for him: 1) he had the right message on the postcards, which he learned at the MGE New Patient Workshop, and 2) he was the only dentist in town sending mail!

We have another client in a major US city who was an early adopter of online marketing. In the early 00s, he was one of the first dentists in his area to have a good, functional website. Then he was one of the first to invest in SEO, then Google pay-per-click, social media, and (more recently) Facebook ads. So now, in one of the biggest cities in the US, anyone who searches for a dentist finds his practice as the top Google listing, top pay-per-click listing, top Google maps listing, top reviewed on Google/Yelp AND sees his office all over social media. He gets nearly 150 new patients a month without spending a dime on any “off-line” marketing.

So you can see that oftentimes the early bird gets the worm in marketing.

This isn’t a strict rule, though, as success can vary depending on the quality of your marketing campaign, regardless of how early or late you entered the party. But generally, it’s good to get in early.

This is why I’ve been encouraging our clients to start using paid Facebook and Instagram ads for the last three years. (Not simply posting on Facebook or trying to grow your following, but doing actual paid ads through their advertising platform.) When I helped a client pilot this a few years ago, I hadn’t seen a single dental office use these ads yet. It was a big success for him right off the bat.

Now Facebook advertising is becoming a bit more commonplace in the dental industry. You can still get in as a somewhat early adopter—and you absolutely should do it as part of an integrated marketing plan together with Google ads and whatever other forms of marketing you do—but it isn’t quite as easy pickings anymore. You’ve got a little more competition.

So what’s the next dental marketing trend?

I don’t have a crystal ball, so I can’t tell you what the next hot trend that sweeps the nation will be, but I try to keep my finger on the pulse of the industry and I’ve noticed a few interesting things recently—although nothing on the major game-changing level of Facebook or Google ads.

We cover this much more at the MGE New Patient Workshop 2.0. In fact, if you’re trying to decide what type of marketing you should be doing and what will work, I highly suggest attending it. There are several factors that determine which type of marketing will be right for your practice, including your location, budget, age of your practice, dental marketing trends, and more. We’ll help you with that at the New Patient Workshop 2.0. More information here.

(If you’ve attended the New Patient Workshop in the past, particularly before 2015, the 2.0 version has been revamped for modern trends and you can attend the new version free of charge. Just give us a call at (800) 640-1140 and let us know you’d like to attend again and we’ll get you scheduled.)

Having said that, here are some interesting things I’ve observed recently in the dental marketing world:

Text message (SMS) marketing on people’s phones has been around for a few years now. There are softwares that will send automated messages. Many dental offices use this for appointment reminders and confirmations through companies like Lighthouse360, SolutionReach or DemandForce. It’s also possible to run marketing campaigns, special offers, etc., through text.

This can be highly effective, but it hasn’t quite taken off as an amazing marketing avenue because, let’s be honest, it’s pretty annoying to get constant text messages from a bunch of random companies. So if you do this, make sure you have very specific approval from every patient to receive these text messages, and don’t send out promotional texts more than once or maybe twice a month. Text message marketing is really only for your existing patients, not for new patients.

Direct mail (including postcards) is actually making a comeback. Dental marketing trends, like fashion trends, are often cyclical. Since direct mail “died” in the late 00s, many companies stopped sending mail and started focusing exclusively on online marketing. This had two effect, 1) the amount of competition in direct mail dropped, and 2) people have gotten used to ignoring online advertising as much as they can. These two factors mean that when you send direct mail, you’re more likely to reach a person and get noticed, compared to a few years ago.

So direct mail and postcards are not dead.

There’s a piece of advice I have for making it a profitable activity for you, though, and really this applies to all marketing you do:

Have a strong patient referral program and word-of-mouth to back up any external marketing you do.

If you aren’t asking for referrals properly or implementing a good referral system, it makes your external marketing efforts seem way too expensive.

Think of it this way:

Let’s say you’re sending out postcards and tracking the number of new patients that called in as a result. From this, you calculate that you’re spending $300 per new patient. That’s a little expensive. Sure. (It’s actually a lower than the national average for new patient acquisition through marketing, believe it or not.)

But then you get that new patient’s spouse to come in, too. Well, you just lowered the cost to $150 per new patient.

Let’s say their two kids come in, too. Now it’s $75 per new patient.

Then they refer two more friends a few months later.

…You get where I’m going with this.

Even relatively ineffective and expensive marketing can be worthwhile in the long-run if you are good at asking for referrals and have good word-of-mouth.

This is something to consider when evaluating your practice’s marketing and deciding whether or not to continue it. I’ve seen dentists say, “Geez we’ve been sending out mail and we’re not getting enough phone calls from it. It’s not worth the cost.” Then they stop sending out mail and all the sudden their new patient numbers crash completely. They didn’t factor in the word-of-mouth and referrals that was generated from it indirectly.

This isn’t to say that you should send out mail if it’s not working. In fact, many of our clients don’t send out mail at all—they just do online advertising or some other forms of marketing—but think about this before you make any major decisions with whatever type of marketing you are doing.

As far as how to maximize referrals, see this blog post from MGE Senior Consultant, Chris Menkhaus: Not Getting Enough New Patient Referrals? Here’s Why.

So that’s my coverage of the latest dental marketing trends in dental marketing. I hope this helps. I’ll keep you posted in the future.

And again, my number one recommendation is to attend the MGE New Patient Workshop 2.0 so you can determine the best course of action for your practice.

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