Doctors often wonder when and how to start incorporating marketing into their long-range business plan. There’s no argument that it is a necessity – the questions are more about the process.
Ideally, a practice should start marketing from its inception. Whether general, cosmetic or another type of specialist, the sooner you market, the easier it is to develop your brand as a quality dentist in your market. However, as more and more doctors are transitioning from a general practice to one with a greater aesthetic focus, the need to create a source of pre-qualified patients with an interest in aesthetics grows.
Far too often, doctors turn to marketing once they realize their practice is in trouble. Perhaps they have dropped insurance too quickly, or the competition has landed in their neighborhood. The number of new patients each month has declined, and panic mode sets in. It must be time to stop stalling and start marketing.
In reality, successful marketing efforts are built over a period of time. The practice needs a plan. The practice needs a brand identity (ie – logo, tag line/positioning statement and consistent “look”). The practice and associated brand need several months of consistent advertising before they can even start to grab hold of a position in the mind of a prospective patient. Using marketing to turn a practice around within a month is like trying to stop a flood with a single sandbag.
So when is the best time for the non-advertising practice to start incorporating marketing into their practice? From the moment you take your first course at LVI. Start with the internal projects first – developing a long range plan, a logo, determining your position in the market, a stationary package, new patient welcome package, etc. Make sure you’re your case presentation and case closing skills are well practiced. Then, as you continue to take more courses and further develop your skills and confidence, you’ll be ready to jump into external marketing without waiting.
Patience = Patients
When asked how long the process takes, I often refer to the history of my husband Larry’s practice. Before he even opened his doors, we had created a logo and communicated his opening with print advertising and direct mail. As his interest in aesthetic dentistry grew, print ads about aesthetics began appearing in our advertising schedule.
But it was not until he had completed several LVI courses that we pulled the trigger focusing on aesthetics in our advertising. Gradually, more patients began asking about these services. In his estimation, it took over a year of consistent advertising about aesthetic dentistry before our market came to regard him as the premiere choice for those services.
As a general rule, the more saturated your market, the longer the process takes. We were fortunate with Larry’s practice because we live in a rural area with virtually no established competition for aesthetic dentistry – and it still took a year. Of course, now the competition has caught on and competitive ads about cosmetic dentistry are infiltrating the market. But since he was established in his position, his brand has remained consistently strong. As a general rule, you have to spend twice as much money to achieve half the result if you’re trying to occupy an established position. Find a niche message and stay with it.
In a metropolitan area such as Philadelphia or Houston, advertising for aesthetic anything can be seen in every medium. Cosmetic surgery, LASIK, permanent makeup and salons are all competing for your prospect’s expendable “health and beauty” income. A myriad of ads for smile makeovers pepper the magazines, radio and TV. Your prospective patient now has to sort through all this clutter to get to your message, and with enough frequency that they remember you when the time comes to make a decision.
There is skill involved in knowing when to start promoting your talents. An old saying in advertising goes “Nothing can kill a bad product faster than good advertising.” In other words, have your clinical, case presentation and case closure skills refined before you unleash your message on the public.
Where Do I Start?
Once you’ve made the decision to market your practice, you’ll need to do a little homework. First, carefully evaluate the competition in your market area. This includes anyone promoting out of pocket health and beauty services as well as other dentists.
Look in the local paper, lifestyle magazines, yellow pages and check your mail. Watch the ads on TV and listen to the radio. Cruise the web for your market. Try to gauge the message and frequency over a period of several weeks. Rip out ads and make notes about what you see. Are these advertisers consistent or just looking for a quick fix? Those with a consistent and clear message are your competition.
Next, determine the best person to help you guide the marketing of your practice. There are many independent consultants who can help create a long range plan and schedule for program development. Give them appropriate insight into your business and plans, but make sure they do the homework to learn the nuances of your industry. There are also a number of excellent full service agencies who can execute the plans as well as develop them.
Unless your office manager has credible past experience, don’t frustrate her and make her learn a new industry. Work with an experienced marketing professional who looks at the whole picture. You or your chosen point person should act as the VP Marketing does in a corporation – manage the consultant or agency, but let them do what you hired them to do.
It Worked For My Best Friend, So…
We hear it often – “I’ve been hearing that radio worked really well in “X” market. Let’s give radio a try.” The key to marketing a practice lies in understanding the principles behind marketing strategy. Every market and message is unique. What you say and how you communicate it will not have the same results in Lewisburg, PA as it will in San Francisco. It totally depends on who your target demographic is (family age women, professional men, blue collar, Hollywood, divorcees, etc.) and where they are located (holistic S. California, power-driven D.C, health conscious mid-west). There is no single right answer for everyone. That’s why package marketing solutions work well for some people and totally bomb for others. The more your marketing consultant knows about your target market and competition, the more specific – and targeted – the message can be.
Pulling the Trigger
While you may have hired a consultant or agency, remember that ultimately, it’s your business. The agency has an obligation to give you recommendations based on their knowledge and experience. But everything you approve – logo, ads, website – will all reflect on you and your practice. Make sure you’re not only comfortable with what you approve, but that you love it. A good agency will keep working until you get a product that simply thrills you, as well as one that gets calls from patients.
Once you’ve made the decision to add marketing to your practice, be prepared for a long term commitment. Remember that it takes time to get results, but with good direction and a unique creative message, you will get the attention of your prospective patients. Don’t change directions after only a month – give it time. Keep an eye on the future. Strategies to market aesthetic dentistry will change as our society’s trends and needs continue to change. Evaluate the competition, track your results, and most of all, keep learning. Continual improvement will help to define your success.