This year has already seen some of the biggest changes in dentistry yet. As the economy slowly lifts, the move towards Direct Access has shaken up the traditional business model and altered the relationships between, not just dentists and patients, but principals, associates and their teams.
This year is also the year that more Google searches will be made globally from mobile devices such as phones and tablets than traditional desktop computers. The masses now have instant access to the internet on-the-go.
In 2014, 'perfect smiles' on TV and film continue to encourage patients to up their game, and the cosmetic side of dentistry is predicted to rise by up to 21% in the next five years (www.dentistry.co.uk/news/strong-growth-predicted-dental-sector).
Crucially, patient loyalty is at an all time low due to increased consumer power. Consumers do more research on the internet, where first impressions really do count. Take the story of Mike’s teeth for example.
I have a good friend, 'Mike'. Mike had always wanted straighter teeth and his unhappiness had made him determined to get a straighter set of pegs. Mike had a few thousand pounds saved up, and he mentioned he had been waiting for two years to make his decision.
Mike had initially found a Groupon deal, skipped his traditional local family dentist and Googled the practice on the voucher. Since he was already online, he continued his research and came across another dental practice that he liked the look of and made an email enquiry. He went for an initial consultation at the practice and afterwards Mike called me up. While he was concerned the price was higher than average, I assured him if he trusted the dentist, to go for it!
And he did… And there’s more than one moral to Mike’s story for any forward-thinking dentist. There has never been greater competition for your patients’ hard-earned dollar, as well as no better opportunity for dental practices to meet their new patients 'halfway' on the internet.
These combined factors make for an interesting industry climate. In this environment, with reduced loyalty, increased online searches and with the right marketing, savvy new dentists could go from a squat practice to a £500k+ turnover business within a couple of years, with minimal investment.
How, you ask? For starters you must make a good first impression that engages with your ideal patient. You must present yourself well online, and then build on the relationship in-house every step of the way with quality email marketing, emotional branding and a well-tailored dental plan that builds a commitment to lifelong patient value.
In the coming years I predict that there will be two types of dentist: those who know exactly where their patients have come from, and those who don’t know where their patients have gone.
Just take a look at your customers’ online behaviour. Ninety per cent of consumers in 2014 look online before making any buying decision, 77% of the traditional word of mouth referrals will look at your website before a visit, and on average, 50% of your patients will spend over an hour a day on Facebook.
'But word of mouth is the core of my dental practice!' I hear dentists say every day, and I completely agree. However it should be noted that word of mouth happens more online than offline in 2014 (ie Facebook and other social media). Plus, word of mouth, good or bad, stays online forever for your patients to read. Most practices don’t even monitor and respond to online reviews… maybe it’s time to Google your practice and interact!
If long-established high-street behemoths can be toppled by this shift in consumer behaviour, then any dental practice without a good online presence in 2014 is surely gambling with its future.
Securing your future
So what can you do to secure the future of your business? There are two parts to the online puzzle;
- Be found
- Convert interest to action.
It’s the second point here that’s really important. For example, let’s compare two websites: 'website A' gets 200 new visits per month and converts 15% of them, meaning 30 new patient enquiries a month. 'Website B' gets 1,000 new visits per month but converts less than 0.5%, meaning only five new enquiries per month despite the high search volume.
From this we can see that the most important factor in any marketing campaign is a website’s conversion rate, that is the number of new enquiries received in relation to the website’s overall search traffic.
In a nutshell, website conversion is based on:
- Passing the eight-second test (50% will leave within eight seconds)
- Emotional engagement (emotions drive our decision making)
- Covering concerns (there are eight major patient concerns)
- Good user experience (ie responsive for mobile/tablet)
- Value (well-presented and perceived by the patient)
- Content (expertly written, engaging and relevant copy)
- Pricing (clear pricing, well explained will protect your margins)
- Call-to-action (subtle or not, if you don’t have an outcome in mind for your website visitor you are wasting your efforts)
- Functionality (online booking, click to call and e-consultation, as well as social media integration).
Finally, a professional appearance on mobile devices is essential. Why? Well, as the graph illustrates, they now account for more than 50% of your website visitors. But more importantly, a recent survey revealed that over 70% of mobile searches carried out within a local area resulted in a purchase within two hours.
In the second half of 2014, we will see more consumer choice, many new dental start-ups, high-street hygienists competing with traditional dental surgeries, vastly increased competition online and the rise of social media as the most powerful marketing tool a dental practice has. As the industry changes (and indeed the world) so must we.
Alfie Jones is the digital marketing guru at Dental Focus. Look out for more articles on the blog: www.dental-focus.com/marketing.
You can contact Alfie directly via the following: Alfie@dentalfocus.com, www.dental-focus.com and 020 7183 8388.