The definitive guide to marketing your dental practice
Marketing dentistry poses some unique challenges to dentists that aren’t faced by other small businesses, and aren’t well-served by traditional marketing practices. As an essential health service, dentistry faces marketing restrictions that other businesses don’t. But the majority of practices operate in a very competitive local environment. They need to attract and retain new patients to survive.
This page is designed to help you understand some strategic and tactical solutions for marketing your dental practice. It will give you a framework for understanding what a practice can achieve with marketing. It will cover:
* How to identify audiences and determine goals
* How to target marketing messages to your audience
* Advertising a dental practice
* SEO for a dental practice
* Social media for a dental practice
* Ideas for marketing campaigns for your practice
* Marketing services
Setting goals for your marketing
One of the first tasks of any marketing strategy is setting goals. Without a goal it’s impossible to determine if your marketing is successful. The goals you set need to be:
Specific—you’re not just after new patients, but ‘X’ number of new patients;
Measureable—you need to be able to recognise new patients and how they found you;
Attainable—it is pointless setting up your own marketing campaign to fail;
Realistic—using benchmarks from your own practice, you can work out if your goals can be met;
Timely—a time frame needs to be placed on your marketing so it can be evaluated.
If you haven’t given a lot of thought to marketing before, some of those goals might be difficult to determine at first. One way to figure out specific numbers is to start with an idea of your current caseload, and work out a rough percentage growth number. Doing this helps you grow in a sustainable manner.
For example, if you’re already seeing ten patients a day, seven days a week, then growing by 15 per cent doesn’t seem like a good outcome—you just won’t have time to see the new patients.
Only a small percentage of people who see any given promotion will act on it. So to reach that percentage growth number, you need to communicate with a much larger group of of people. The following calculator will help you work out some specific numbers to set goals for your marketing.
Setting these goals is the first step in creating a marketing strategy. Once you have them in place you can start to investigate the cost of achieving them.
Choosing a target audience for your marketing messages
The second step in creating your marketing strategy is choosing a target audience. A target audience is different from your patient base.
Your patient base comprises of anyone who turns up and needs your help. Of course, you will treat any person who fits that category.
But a target audience is made up of the people you get the most benefit from treating. That may be the greatest financial benefit, but doesn’t have to be. You may enjoy treating families, or middle-aged men, or guitar players, or sportspeople. You may have a strong belief in helping low-income people, or people from a particular religious or ethnic background.
Choosing a target audience, or a group of ideal clients, is half the task of creating your ideal practice. The type of people you treat will determine the type of work you do—which defines the type of practice you have.
When marketing to this ideal group, you develop a marketing persona. This is a fictional representation of this ideal customer. More than a description of age, gender and income, a marketing persona helps you imagine the problems this individual is trying to solve by coming to the dentist. You, as a dentist, can’t solve all those problems. But you can offer some services that can help to solve them.
Working out the maximum marketing spend for your dental practice
The third step in creating a solid dental marketing strategy is working out the lifetime value (LTV) of a patient. Knowing the LTV for your patients helps you understand the return-on-investment you are getting for your marketing.
There are a number of formulas for working out your patient’s LTV. A simple one, as expressed in this blog post, is to multiply your average revenue per patient by the average number of years they will remain as a patient, by your percentage profit margin, by one plus the number of customers they will refer to you.
So for example, say your average revenue per patient is $250 a year. They remain a patient for five years. Your profit margin is 25 per cent. And on average, each patient refers one other patient. So their LTV is $250 x 5 x 0.25 x (1+1), which equals $625.
All of those numbers will be different for each dental practice. But by multiplying the LTV by the number of patients you’re aiming for from the calculator above, you will get your expected revenue from those patients minus the costs of treating them.
Divide that number by three to work out the maximum amount you want to spend on acquiring new customers.
So if your target was the get 20 new customers over the course of the year, your maximum marketing spend for the year should be ($625 x 20)/3, which equals $4,166.67.
This is your dental marketing strategy
Once you have performed the calculations above, you have all the raw data you need to create an effective dental marketing strategy.
You have specific numbers to meet to reach your goals.
You have a specific target audience (or audiences) you want to speak to.
And you have an idea of how much you are prepared to spend to reach them and get a result.
Your next step is working out tactics to meet those numbers.
Want to read more about formulating a solid marketing strategy?
This article will explain more about setting SMART goals for you dental practice
This article looks at ways to attract new patients to your practice based on gaps in the market
This article looks at choosing a specific target audience, but is applicable to any target audience
marketing tactics 1: Advertising
Advertising in local newspapers, magazines, phone directories and on billboards is a well-established way of introducing new patients to a practice. More contemporary media used by advertising includes popular search engines and social media sites.
Advertising works by interrupting the largest possible number of people to find the small group who will potentially become patients.
The aim of advertising is either to drive a sale directly, or to drive awareness of a brand. In either case, it works by trying to establish some kind of emotional connection with the people seeing it. That emotional connection is perceived to be a point of difference for the advertiser. As such, the content of an advertisement has to be emotionally arresting, visual, and easily understood.
Advantages of dental advertising
The advantage of using traditional display advertising is it is familiar, and product-based, so easy for you to understand. If you find someone who can supply you with the right audience for you to interrupt, and you are interrupting with a compelling message, you will get a return from your investment.
Disadvantages of dental advertising
High cost and low relative effectiveness are the first two problems with traditional advertising. While your first impression may be that it’s expensive creating an advertisement, the greatest expense is in getting that ad in front of a large enough group of people. That cost rises as traditional media fragments, as you need to ‘buy’ your way in front of a number of audiences to achieve the audience reach you need. Each time you advertise your practice, you pay the same (or more) to reach the same audience. Because only a small percentage of that audience will respond to the advertisement at any given time, the ratio of cost-to-return will always stay the same. You can’t get a relatively better result by doing more advertising.
marketing tactics 2: Letterbox drops
Letterbox drops, also known as direct mail, have been a very common promotional tactic for dental practices. It involves creating some kind of promotional card or flyer, and delivering it to as many letterboxes in your local area as you can. The cost of direct mail is easier to control and determine, because the reach of your message is entirely controlled by the number of flyers you can make. Direct mail has traditionally been used for special offers or sales, because the costs and revenue from a campaign can be closely aligned.
Advantages of letterbox drops
One of the greatest advantages of letterbox drops is they are easy to track and understand a return-on-investment. Each promotional flyer can have a unique code which lets you know where and when it was delivered and used. It is also less intrusive than advertising. Advertising is meant to interrupt, where direct mail is meant to deliver information to the home in a less intrusive manner. Direct mail campaigns tend to have a response rate of between one and 5 per cent, which means you can reasonably guess your financial returns.
Disadvantages of letterbox drops
It’s hard to track the deliverability of a direct mail campaign unless each piece is personally addressed. Direct mail is also easier to ignore and discard. As with traditional advertising, because you don’t own access to the intended audience, you pay the same amount (or more) each time you do a campaign.
marketing tactics 3: Search engine optimisation
Search engine optimisation, or SEO, is the practice of trying to appear at the top of organic search results in Google or Yahoo or Bing. Most people focus on Google when talking about SEO, because Google accounts for about 77 per cent of the search market at the time this article was written.
SEO is different to buying ads through Google AdWords. While the first three or four positions on any search-engine-results page will be paid ads (and marked as such), those paid ads don’t attract as many clicks as the organic results beneath them. There are generally ten organic results on any given search page, with the earlier results receiving proportionally more clicks than the later ones.
The assumed promise of SEO is that there will be a direct correlation between the number of clicks you get and the number of customers you will get. To get maximum benefit from SEO, you should strive to get a first-page result for a large number of different search phrases.
Advantages of search engine optimisation
Two of the advantages of SEO for dentists is that it has a relatively low cost and a relatively long shelf-life. Unlike an advertisement or a promotional flyer, which may only get attention for a day, it’s possible to remain at the top of a search engine result for upwards of a year. A search engine result is also an implicit endorsement—because there are quality guidelines that determine where your page sits on the results page, a high organic result indicates a high level of trustworthiness.
Disadvantages of search engine optimisation
The disadvantage of SEO is that much of it is outside of your control. You can structure a web-page to make it easy for search engines to find and easy for people to understand. But there are famously many factors that go into determining the final result, and the majority of them are not things you can control easily. Even if you achieve a high result, it’s impossible to know if a competitor is about to create content that will beat it, and knock you down to a lower listing. For that reason, one of the keys to getting good SEO involves producing new content regularly.
marketing tactics 4: Social media
Although there are many popular social media platforms, like Instagram, Linkedin, Twitter and others, the biggest and most powerful of all is Facebook. While platforms other than Facebook focus on a particular part of your life, or particular interests—Linkedin is for your professional life, Instagram for images—Facebook is a more general platform. As such, we tend to use Facebook as a proxy for all social media.
Certainly, if you’re planning to use social media for marketing, a Facebook presence should be a part of your arsenal. Other platforms you may use will depend on who your target market is.
There are three ways to approach social media marketing for dentists. The first is to buy advertising targeting a particular group (this is discussed in the tactic on advertising, above). The second is to post updates on your own social media timeline, to inform or educate followers. The third is to ‘boost’ posts, which is a hybrid of advertising and regular updates. A boosted post is the same as a regular post, except you pay to have Facebook show it to more of your followers, or to more people like your followers.
Facebook distinguishes between pages for people and pages for companies. You can ‘friend’ people, but can only ‘like’ or ‘follow’ companies. This helps the algorithm that drives the platform determine what to show users. A common misconception about Facebook is that a post on your company page will be seen by everyone who has liked or followed it, but in reality, your company posts may only be shown to about 1 per cent of your followers.
Advantages of social media
Ironically, even though social media is popular and seems to be everywhere, its real strength lies in the ability to target your marketing to a very small group. With any other form of media, you can’t know anything about your audience for certain. However, people give up an enormous amount of information about themselves on their social media profiles.
That information isn’t directly available to you—but Facebook, for a fee, will put your messages in front a specific audience that you identify. This ability to ‘micro-target’ audiences makes social media a very cost-effective way of reaching people.
Also, because social media remains free to use, there are very few barriers to stop people using it. As a result, social media can be a powerful and effective way of finding audiences of people who may become patients.
Disadvantages of social media
The disadvantages of social media are that, as a company, you are Facebook’s customers. Individuals who use Facebook are its product. All social media platforms will slowly increase the fees they charge you to get access to individuals using the platform.
Also, those individuals who use the platform are not your audience, even if they have liked or followed your page. They belong to the social media platform (whether it’s Facebook, Linkedin, or whoever). On any day, the platform can decide to block or restrict your access to that group, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
If you plan to use social media to market your dental practice, you should do so with a view to getting audiences back to your website. When they are on your website, you have the opportunity to form a relationship with them. And no-one can restrict your access to that individual.
marketing tactics 5: Email marketing
Email marketing remains a very common tactic for dental practices because it’s cost-effective and easy to do. Email marketing involves sending a regular email to a list of current or former patients, letting them know of any special offers you currently have, or of any news or advice you can offer.
We recently did an analysis of 2,735,416 email newsletters from 820 campaigns for hundreds of companies sent through our email marketing software. The purpose of the analysis was to determine the click-to-open rates (CTRs) of different types of content (informational, transactional, navigational, standardized) in an email newsletter.
Informational content was content that was meant to educate readers, or give them information for its own sake (ie: an article on the right way to brush your teeth).
Transactional content was content that was meant to push a sale of a service or product (ie: an offer for a discount on teeth whitening treatment).
Navigational content was content that was meant to send you somewhere (ie: information on how to get to the surgery, or where to park).
Standardized content was content that remained the same all the time (ie: your contact information, or Unsubscribe buttons etc).
We have worked on the assumption that a click indicates author intent matching reader intent. That’s because open rates for emails are an imperfect measurement—just because someone has opened an email, it doesn’t mean they have read it. But click-through rates, or CTRs, involve an action on the part of the reader.
While the total CTR across the whole sample was 23.41 per cent, the CTR of informational content was 58.32 per cent. By contrast, the CTR of transactional content (offers, vouchers, or anything explicitly trying to sell something) was 18.87 per cent—less than a third of informational content.
Also, having a MIX of content (having both articles and vouchers or offers) did NOT influence open rates, which stayed steady around the 24 per cent mark. But having a mix DID influence CTRs. If the newsletter had ONLY informational content (no sales messages or ads) the total CTR was around 20 per cent, and that dropped to 5 per cent if it was ONLY transactional content.
Advantages of email marketing
The advantage of email marketing is that you own access to your audience. Individual people within that audience can choose to not hear from you. But that is fine. As long as it’s the audience member who is choosing—not someone else choosing to not send your message to them.
Email marketing is a very cost-effective way of communicating with patients and potential patients regularly. It’s also a great way to keep patients informed about their oral health, and educate them as well.
Although it is tempting to see email as a mass market medium, it is most powerful as one-on-one communication. For that reason, and for reasons listed below, it’s better for your practice to have a small, highly engaged email list than a large list who mostly ignore your emails.
Disadvantages of email marketing
Email marketing has some disadvantages from a marketing point of view. The first revolves around the issue of privacy. No-one likes being spammed, and very few businesses like to be seen as spammers. If the people receiving your emails haven’t opted in to hearing from you, you may be breaching privacy laws by sending messages to them.
If a patient opts out of an email list, and it’s the only list you have their email address on, you can’t keep emailing them.
Also, if your practice regularly sends out emails that are marked as spam, or that only a small percentage of your patients engage with, you may be flagged as a spammer by other email providers. This can happen even if your email is just ignored—it’s called “graymail”, and indicates that you are sending content people don’t want to read. Once you are tagged as a spammer, email providers won’t deliver your emails at all, so all your effort is wasted.
Ideas for marketing campaigns
A successful marketing campaign starts with specific goals, and a strategy to achieve those goals.
It helps you understand whether your marketing is working if you understand the goals you have at each stage of the process.
As you experiment with different ways of promoting your practice, you will come across tactics for meeting or improving goals at different stages of your marketing strategy. For example, a strategy for increasing inbound links to your website can greatly benefit search engine optimisation, which in turn can have a positive impact on the number of potential patients who see your content.
Alternatively, setting and chasing goals for conversion between the stages of a marketing process can lead to better results. Many practices find it cheaper and more cost-effective to convert a small percentage of ‘leads’ into customers than it is to always chase new customers.
As a general rule, it’s important to be aware of the rules governing dental practice marketing as set out by the Dental Board. While those rules sometimes seem restrictive at first, they are there for a very good reason, and will protect both you and your patients.
To learn more about dental marketing, download our free ebook on Getting Started with Content Marketing for dentists by clicking on the button below.
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Creating a coherent marketing strategy for your practice can be tricky. Many dentists have some of the elements in place that we've written about. But it's only when you have an overall plan that you really start to see the benefits.
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