The idea of ‘marketing’ is often approached with great caution in dentistry. It is an area many principal dentists are unsure about, and the masses of information and advice available on the internet, in media and through colleagues, can make it seem even more daunting.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Marketing is simply the act of showcasing your practice and the services it provides, ‘spreading the word’ of the care that is available to the public.
It’s all about connecting your brand to a product or a service the public wants. That means utilising all forms of both internal and external communication, from posters to bespoke in-practice TV loops, referral cards, special offer incentives, local media avenues, websites and social media.
Each of these can promote your practice as a provider of effective, safe and desirable treatments. You can also highlight the unique selling points of your practice – what is it that makes your services better than the practice down the road?
Not fully understanding the difference between marketing and advertising is a common mistake. While the latter is simply an announcement, promoting products or services, the former is a much longer process that serves to not only attract potential patients, but to nurture them, too.
It is important to remember that marketing should not only be limited to the general public, but should also be used to engage and motivate existing patients.
Just because someone has been visiting your practice twice a year for the last couple of decades, it doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t now be interested in additional services to improve the aesthetics of their smile. They might want to enhance their oral health with new products for a better quality of life.
These are the patients that tend to get neglected when it comes to marketing, but they can turn out to be a huge untapped source of further marketing opportunities and income.
Widely recognised as one of the most effective methods of marketing is word-of-mouth or patient recommendations. These will only be achievable if you provide a consistently high standard of service to your existing patients, creating a positive experience for every patient at each appointment – including offering them new services or products to help them further improve their smiles.
Regardless of the size of your practice, how well established it is or where it is located, creating a 12-month strategy will help you make the most of the marketing opportunities available to you.
Each month, your plan should demonstrate what you’re going to do, and when, how and what you’re hoping to achieve as a result. It should detail who your target groups are for the month, the channels you will be using, the topics or trends you will be focusing on, and which products or services these link to, as well as any seasonal campaigns you will be running.
Realistic budgets need to be set for each month, with the predicted return on investment also calculated and recorded.
Professional studies indicate that around 5% of your gross revenue should be spent on marketing activities, although it seems that many UK practices currently spend closer to 2%. It is crucial to invest adequate money in your marketing in order to maintain your patient-base, as well as to attract new business.
The targets you set for return or future income will depend greatly on what your overall aims are – are you looking to expand your business from two surgeries into three, with 1,000 more patients? Or are you hoping to build a much bigger four- or five-surgery practice? Your budget, as well as your predicted return, will need to reflect this.
What you will do each month, and which services or products you will promote, should then be further tailored to the type of practice you run and the demographics of your usual patients. The most important element to bear in mind, however, is that you need an effective method of monitoring and measuring the success of your marketing plan.
You need tangible results to show whether you are achieving the necessary return on investment, if you are falling behind or (for the lucky ones) racing ahead.
A little creativity
The ultimate purpose of a functional and effective marketing strategy is to support and promote your business objectives and values, and to help you meet them.
Having a 12-month plan in place is a great way of ensuring that you don’t miss any marketing opportunities, and that you can plan ahead in order to minimise costs of materials, for example.
What’s more, it really doesn’t need to be that complicated – you just need to sit down with the numbers and some creativity and plan it out.
Chris Barrow is a founding partner with 7connections business coaching. He has been a consultant to the dental profession for more than 20 years and offers high-end coaching expertise to take advanced practices to the next level.