As the fog continues to envelop the future shape of the new NHS contract reform, many NHS dentists and practices are thinking seriously about a future outside of the NHS in private practice. This move, if implemented, will see many changes in the way those practices work, how they engage with patients and also, critically, how the practice is marketed.
Private dentistry is a highly competitive environment and effective marketing is a proven tool in helping practices gain a competitive advantage. Yet for many, marketing remains a mysterious discipline that is viewed more as a cost than an investment.
So, here are a few tips to help you develop an integrated approach to marketing your practice.
Put a value on marketing and include it in your budgeting exercise
Most practices I visit do not have an ‘official’ budget for their marketing. It is generally an activity that is carried out in an ad hoc and reactive manner. This needs to change.
One way of thinking about your marketing budget is to consider it as an additional member of staff. Ask yourself what return or contribution you would want it to make to your practice in return for a monthly investment? And then monitor its performance in the same way as you would any other member of your team.
Be clear on what you’re promoting and what the benefits are
A key principle in marketing that generally holds true is ‘less is more’.
Trying to promote too many services to too many audiences only results in ineffectual marketing and poor results. Keep things simple; make clear offers and focus on the benefits to the customer. Dentistry is, in effect, a means to an end for the customer – increased confidence, the ability to eat without embarrassment, improved health – these are the things that customers are interested in learning about. Speak their language!
Make marketing the responsibility of one person
Too often the marketing side of a dental business falls between the cracks, with no-one in the practice having overall control. This leads to a lack of focus and a disjointed approach. Someone within the practice (perhaps the practice manager) needs to have ownership of the marketing brief. The challenge is then to make marketing a constant part of monthly meetings where past activity can be analysed and reported on, and future activity discussed and agreed.
Do the big stuff first
There are hundreds of ways in which you could market your practice and all will have some validity. However, there are a few areas of activity that you should prioritise above all others:
- Website: In this technological age, an attractive and informative website is an absolute must. All roads lead to your website – Google searches, referrals, adverts, etc. However, consumers are more impatient than ever; if they can’t find what they want or they are not immediately engaged, they’re off to the next website on their list. Your website should be customer focused and tuned in to customer needs – that means online booking, educational videos, engaging content, online reviews and effective signposting
- Signage: How visible is your dental practice to passers-by? Many practices miss out on potential new business because people simply do not know they are there. Take the test – go a few hundred yards down the road and approach your practice as if you knew nothing about it. Is it visible, is the signage saying the right things, is it creating the right impression? Investing in high-quality and well- designed signage is an essential element in marketing your practice
- Develop a consistent brand: Of course, you’ll need some practice collateral to give to potential new patients – brochures, referral cards, welcome packs, etc. This is your opportunity to create an attractive and consistent brand that reflects the core values and personality of your practice. The designs you create should permeate through everything you do, from your interior design, through to your website and your signage. Working with a good designer will help you to achieve the results you want and make it easier and more cost-effective to roll out your marketing over the coming months and years.
Doing the big things well will help you to engage with new and existing patients and provide a consistent return on your investment.
Les is part of the NHS change support team for Practice Plan. With over 25 years’ experience in the creative industry, Les is a professional designer, photographer writer and business speaker. He has been working specifically within the dental industry since 2010 helping dentists increase their profits and sales through simple marketing techniques that engage customers. Contact him for further advice and support on firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.practiceplan.co.uk/nhs.