Shaz Memon explains how to change habits and boost profits with subtle suggestions.

As a health care professional you understand the power of gentle persuasion. Achieving patient compliance can sometimes feel like an uphill struggle. But with artful coercion, together you can achieve lifelong results.

It is widely believed that incremental health changes are sustainable. By lessening or tweaking behaviours, rather than eliminating poor ones or expecting patients to commit to healthier ones overnight, you make it easier for them to adhere to the new habits you wish them to implement.

By viewing a healthier lifestyle as a destination, they can consider the measures they take as the journey. Mostly, they will hog the middle lane and present with re-occurring but manageable oral health issues, or they may step it up and accelerate a little. But, sadly, some may take the foot right off the pedal – and you’re left wondering when they will next book an appointment with you.

So, let’s consider the case for applying behavioural ‘nudge’ strategies to your dental marketing, which still allows for freedom of choice but can prevent patients dropping off your books.

Sometimes, it’s the quiet voice that’s heard in among all that ‘noise’ of social media. Subtle messaging can provide a competitive edge – it’s not always about bells and whistles! Here are some ideas.

Nudge one

Woo them with statistics – there are many surveys and polls to draw on that tot up handy and easy-to-share statistics incentivising people to seek your services. Recent surveys have revealed the number of Brits who love their smile thanks to their healthy teeth, have had their confidence boosted by orthodontic treatments or teeth whitening, declare that teeth are the first thing they notice about others or have paid the price of skipping the dentist appointment with their health.

A simple tweet or post, such as: ‘Still a smoker? Love a beer? Two thirds of mouth cancer cases are linked to smoking tobacco, and drinking alcohol to excess is linked to around a third of all cases. Quit smoking. Drink moderately. See your dentist regularly’ can serve as a gentle reminder to book a check-up with you.

The Oral Health Foundation is a great source of fun figures as well as more serious statistics. Do mix light-hearted messages with the heavier ones. Companies such as Invisalign, Oral-B and Philips often carry out their own research on the dental habits and desires of the great British public and may highlight specific treatments and products available at your practice. Use these as a call to action, but just be sure to namecheck your source to ensure maximum impact.

And, when it comes to quoting numbers, if you happen to have a big following on Twitter or a milestone number of likes on Facebook, be sure to let everyone know in your social media posts. It will encourage others to follow and like you too, to see what the fuss is all about because, as we know, nobody likes to miss out.

Nudge two

Fire them up with envy – although do try to err on the side of good taste. Envy is inextricably linked to social media – the fear of missing out (FOMO) an inevitable by-product of the online sharing of all those good vibes.

Share some recent ‘before and after’ pictures and tell the story behind the treatment. Did they get fast braces or teeth whitening just before a wedding? Does their new smile make them appear younger?

Consider putting together some informative ‘Did you know?’ blogs or fact boxes and amplify them on all social media channels to plant a seed, which may blossom into inspiration for them to have treatments. For example:

‘Brace yourselves! Why adults seek straighter teeth…

  • To improve their dating prospects
  • To improve confidence and overcome shyness
  • To be able to smile more in photographs
  • To improve career prospects
  • To improve their smile for an impending wedding.

If you are keen to straighten your smile, speak to us!’

Nudge three

Edge them into the chair with the embarrassment factor – alongside the FOMO factor, we have the fear of not fitting in and there is leverage here for your dental marketing. Nobody wants to be the one with the crooked teeth or discoloured smile and many marketing companies use this to their advantage. You too can use the embarrassment factor to get patients into the chair, but keep it subtle. A simple post, such as: ‘Suspect you have stinky breath? There’s a quick test for that – lick the inside of your wrist, let it dry and sniff. If the smell is bad, you have bad breath. Brushing regularly and using a tongue scraper can eliminate smelly bacteria build up’ serves as advice, a helpful reminder – and even a call to action re: a dental visit!

Nudge four

The power of product placement – the artful positioning of products is an age-old advertising ploy – evidence of which dates back decades. Think how James Bond and Aston Martin remain forever synonymous.

Undercover marketing doesn’t mean underhand. Remember, your role is about educating patients to better oral health. Offer those who may benefit by swopping their manual to an electric toothbrush a trial clean with a demo model. Explain the benefits and reiterate the message at the front desk by having the brush prominently displayed at reception, mentioning any discount on this and other in-house products.

Nudge five

Dress up dentistry – the profession has had its own makeover of late and is now very much part of the cosmetic and image-maker industry, so mirror your aesthetic medical colleagues’ marketing techniques. Use words such as ‘male grooming’ or ‘beauty regime’ in the language you use with patients face-to-face as well as online. Talk about a ‘suite of treatments’ and a ‘gallery of new smiles’. Use the word ‘promotion’ rather than ‘prevention’ or ‘solutions’ rather than ‘fix’ when discussing oral health or aesthetic concerns. The ‘framing effect’ enhances content, so make dentistry appealing with carefully chosen vocabulary.

Nudge six

Get designer digital – on your practice website, keep your prose to the point and your images high quality. Ensure a clutter-free dental website design and consider using a series of eye-catching and unique images to entice visitors to linger and look around. Nobody wants an unnecessarily complicated or time-consuming experience. Embedded nudges can be a useful addition to your strategy, too ­– but keep these unobtrusive by adding a message such as ‘Enjoyed these tips? Register here to access more’ at the foot of your blogs rather than have them pop up mid-read.

By using some of the suggestions above, you can gently nudge potential patients towards the choices you wish them to make. Subtle cues can encourage patients to take that next big step. The strategy is deceptively simple but can reap benefits as well as add value to your patients’ experience of your brand.