The role of marketing in dental practices is occasionally misunderstood and often under-estimated. Pigeon-holed as purely concerned with advertising and promotion, marketing in fact is a discipline that should pervade every part of how a practice is structured and organised. The mistake that many people make is to think that marketing is solely concerned with attracting new patients, or promoting services to existing patients. Whilst in itself this is an important element, it is not the only consideration. To think about marketing in isolation is to ignore the way in which every aspect of practice life is delicately intertwined, with the potential to impact on every other aspect.
One part of the engine
A practice is a little bit like an engine, which relies on each of its individual parts in order to work efficiently as a whole. The engine has gears, which in turn have wheels, and each wheel has cogs that fit together, making the wheel turn and the engine run. Every cog is essential to making the engine run – it is an instrumental part of the whole.
The difficulty with having so many cogs is that each one is dependent in some respect on the others. It’s important to understand which areas need more attention than others in your particular business, and indeed, which need to operate effectively before employing others.
For example, promoting your practice, or a specific treatment without first ensuring that the ‘product’ itself is of sufficient quality, can lead to a situation where you are in danger of creating expectations in the minds of patients that you then fail to meet. This normally only happens once and can quickly destroy a practice’s credibility.
So before promoting a practice, dentists and managers must consider the other seven ‘Ps’, which are generally accepted as creating what is referred to as the ‘marketing mix’. Originally, the marketing mix was defined in terms of 4 ‘Ps’; ‘product’, ‘price’, ‘place’ and ‘promotion’ but this list was extended to take account of the service sector and now includes ‘people’, ‘processes’ and ‘physical evidence’.
The seven Ps
Far from being theoretical jargon, the application of this idea within the dental practice market enables us to work through all the elements a practice requires to be successful. It helps us take account of every cog, large and small, and the role each one plays in helping to turn the practice wheel that generates revenue.
- Product: the ‘product’ that a dental practice is delivering must be fit for purpose, compliant with regulations, and importantly, should meet patient expectations. Ensuring your product ‘does what it says on the tin’ will save you making some very costly mistakes. Don’t try and be something you are not. Define your target market, identify your competencies, improve those areas in which you are weak and always try to gain the support of your practice team
- Price: price might seem an irrelevance for practices delivering NHS treatments as they have no influence over the actual price of their service, but for those offering fully or partially private care, and for those with dental plans, fee setting is vital in an increasingly competitive market. The correct price for a product should always be seen as one that delivers good value for money, this does not necessarily mean the cheapest available, but one at which customers are happy to pay for the perceived quality of the product or service they receive
- Place: this aspect of the marketing mix is about ensuring the delivery of the product or service is suitable for your market. In the case of a dental practice you should consider whether you are making it easy for patients to contact or visit you – is there parking or nearby transport links, are you open at times that are convenient for patients – late nights and weekends, and do you close at lunchtime?
- People: all organisations are only as good as the people who work in them. A dental practice’s reputation is not only dependent on the qualifications and personality of the clinicians. The nursing team and front desk staff have a vital role to play in developing relationships with patients and ensuring they have a comfortable and pleasant experience, making them more likely to return and recommend
- Processes: a dental practice’s organisation and processes are now very much under the spotlight as practices seek to differentiate themselves in whatever way possible. Within a practice the delivery of the service is almost exclusively done with the patient present, so how the service is delivered is vital. Review your patient journey and think about how seamless the process is from front door to exit. If there are glitches in your systems, seek ways to rectify them and seek help from third party suppliers if necessary
- Physical evidence: this encompasses the actual treatment that patients are given and includes considerations such as the quality of materials used, the competency of the clinical team and patient outcomes
- Promotion: only when every element of the marketing mix is in equilibrium, should the final ‘P’ come into play. Advertising, PR, sales promotion and now electronic communication, including websites and social media, are all key communication tools for any organisation, including dental practices. These tools should be used to communicate your message to the target audience in the manner they are most receptive to.
Each of these elements is related in some way to marketing in its broadest sense, and within each category is a whole range of smaller facets that require individual attention. To treat marketing in isolation is to ignore its true influence and can result in wasted time and resources. So don’t be tempted to rush into ad hoc promotion before ensuring that all the other aspects of your practice are fit for purpose. There is a myriad of tools available to help you do this and suppliers who can offer comprehensive support across a range of activities and who understand the need to help your practice grow and become more efficient and effective.
For more information on DPAS’ flexible, comprehensive and effective dental plans, call 01747 870910 or visit www.dpas.co.uk.