My first question is: What do you mean by ‘I’m marketing’? Do you mean:
• I’m running an ad in the local press
• We now have a Facebook page
• We have a new website
• I’ve written a press release.
All of these items can be useful but, without a well-planned campaign, you may be wasting your time. A marketing plan is vital and it isn’t the same as your campaign – marketing isn’t just about advertising and promotion. Without a coherent plan linking your strategy to tactics, you are unlikely to see results.
Seven points to consider
1. Where are you at the moment? Take stock of your current patient base – how many, do they fit a particular demographic or societal group. Do you want more of the same? (The answer may well be no, but now is the time to decide!)
2. How will you position yourself? Remember, this isn’t about positioning yourself against colleagues. This is about positioning yourself against other discretionary purchases and time spent. Many patients may see the hygienist as a luxury for instance – how will you convince them they are not?
3. Keep it simple – consumers love simple! Many people will pay a premium for simplicity. This is why dental plans have seen a big rise.
4. Write down your overall marketing strategy eg: ‘To gain more over 45s for dental implants.’ Also, refer back – are you succeeding? If you don’t write it down, one can always fudge – it is hard to argue with black and white.
5. Your marketing plan should contain all of the following:
• Objectives – the way in which you will achieve your overall strategy goal. In the case of the above, how are we going to achieve this?
• Channels – to achieve this strategy you have probably decided to use a number of marketing channels. For example:
• Local press
• Social media
• Map out what you are going to do and when across all of these channels in a 12-month period.
• It may seem alien to be planning and writing about the summer holidays in January, but this attention to detail ahead of schedule, will mean that when the local paper rings up in June for a last minute story or ad, you can take advantage.
6. Projections. To really make this measurable, you need to estimate/control:
• Costs – all of these need to be accounted for to fit into an annual budget
• Don’t spread costs over 12 months if that isn’t how you’re paying them. Traditionally, marketing plans (and accountants) have split the cost over the 12 months against potential gains. However, as a small business, the cash concerns should override this. You can spilt over the year in terms of marketing response, subsequently.
7. Put some benchmarks into the plan. For instance, if you started in January, then by June, you will gain X new dental implant patients. These benchmarks may create an initial panic, but they do make it easy to monitor performance.
Another vital element
I am often amazed that practices will invest tens of thousands in the latest kit or marketing but then don’t invest anything in the team that will have to deal with a potential influx of new patients. Consider employing an external trainer to improve the skills of your team. They will pay for themselves within three months.
In order to develop your business successfully, you need to know and understand your target market. You begin by identifying what people want from their dentist.
When I start working for a client, I ensure that, in everything they do to promote their services, they portray themselves and their team as professional and caring. This is an essential baseline whether it’s brochures, website, advertisements or social media. That may seem simplistic, but you would be surprised at the poor impression created by some websites and publications.
To assess your professionalism, it may be helpful to see what your patients think. You may find they have some surprising opinions about you and the practice. A patient survey is a good idea and you may have some eye-opening observations.
One dentist I knew carried out a survey and discovered that some of his patients had strong objections to the choice of music in the reception area, and one patient felt the magazines hung around in reception for too long and looked unclean.
A survey is also an opportunity to find out what patients value about the practice. Dental consultant Sheila Scott developed some surveys that are now operated by Snap Surveys. If any areas are identified for improvement, then be sure to act.
Spread the word
So, once you know what your patients think of you, it’s time to spread the word. There are many ways in which you can attempt to get noticed. If you are thinking of creating a PR agenda, you must be sure all your team know what you are doing so they can talk to patients about your activities: whether it’s advertising, giving to charity, writing editorials for local publications, or offering discounts.
Not so long ago, I was called in by a practice that was convinced its marketing wasn’t working. I looked at what their PR agency was doing and it seemed to me all their instincts were good. The problem was the practice owners who were failing to respond to their agency’s activities. They weren’t telling patients about what they were doing on the PR front, they were failing to add press releases to their website and they were not doing any social media. So, the marketing was good but the delivery was poor. In the end, the practice in question retained their PR agency and put more effort into working with them.
I like to have a profile for each of my clients and I try to create a background document that sets out key messages so that consistency can be retained.
Then it’s a question of being persistent. Newspapers won’t always react first time to an approach. Sometimes it can take weeks or even months of trying to get on their radar and sometimes you won’t succeed at all.
If you win a national award, you may just make your mark so you might feel it’s worth entering your practice or your staff into one of the dental awards.
Nowadays, you can cultivate a strong online presence and run with your own news agenda, informing patients of your activities. Case studies and testimonials are usually powerful ways to demonstrate to potential patients that you are a professional and caring practice.
My final bit of advice is to analyse and measure what you do. Unless you know what is working best for you, through talking to patients and finding out why they chose to come and see you, then you will never get the best out of your marketing spend.
Chris Baker has 12-plus years’ experience in marketing and PR. He has advised on and executed plans for clients on ways to expand their business through branding, online strategy and social media, PR, advertising, materials, events and strategic alliances.
With 30 years’ experience in PR and journalism, Caroline has an impressive record in communications. She is dedicated to the world of dentistry and designing strategic campaigns for dental clients.