Marketing is an ever-changing issue, and this has been reflected in the dental sector over the years.
Many dentists did not think marketing to be necessary more than 30 years ago. They’d put up a sign and participate in the community, but that was it.
Then, in the 1990s, postcards (and direct mail in general) took over the industry.
In the early 2000s, having a website for your practice became a requirement.
We began to see more forms of internet marketing in the mid to late 2000s, such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Google “pay-per-click” ads, and so on.
And we are now firmly established in the “social media age.”
The “early adopters” (those who begin utilizing a new product or technology as soon as it becomes available—as opposed to others who only catch on later, when it has been widely used) reap the greatest gains at each stage of this growth.
Dr. Greg Winteregg can tell you how, in the early 1990s, he blew the roof off his clinic, going from 8 to 80 new patients per month in a short period of time when he began distributing postcards for the first time. I’ve seen these postcards, and they’d be the most simplistic and ugliest things you could find today! It worked because he had two advantages: 1) he used the correct message on the postcards, and 2) he was the only dentist in town sending mail!
Another of our clients in a big US metropolis was an early adopter of web marketing. He was one of the first dentists in his area to create a good, functional website in the early 2000s. Then he was among the first to invest in SEO, followed by Google PPC, social media, and (most recently) Facebook advertisements. So, in one of the most populous cities in the United States, anyone searching for a dentist finds his practice as the top Google listing, top pay-per-click listing, top Google maps listing, top reviewed on Google/Yelp, AND sees his business all over social media. He receives approximately 150 new patients per month without spending a single penny on “off-line” promotion.
As you can see, in marketing, the early bird typically gets the worm.
However, this is not a hard and fast rule, as success might vary depending on the quality of your marketing strategy, regardless of how early or late you arrived at the party. However, it is best to arrive early.
This is why, for the past three years, I’ve been encouraging our clients to begin using paid Facebook and Instagram ads. (Not just posting on Facebook or attempting to develop your following, but really running paid ads through their advertising network.) I hadn’t seen a single dental business employ these ads when I helped a customer pilot them a few years ago. Right away, it was a huge success for him.
In the dental profession, Facebook advertising is becoming more common. You can still get in as a slightly early adopter—and you should absolutely do it as part of an integrated marketing campaign alongside Google ads and whatever other types of marketing you do—but it’s not nearly as easy pickings. You now have a little more competition.
So, what will be the next dental marketing fad?
I don’t have a crystal ball, so I can’t predict what the next hot trend that sweeps the country will be, but I try to keep my finger on the pulse of the industry, and I’ve observed a few fascinating things recently—though nothing on the scale of Facebook or Google ads.
Having said that, here are some recent observations in the dentistry marketing field that I found interesting:
SMS marketing on people’s phones has been around for a few years now. There are programs that can deliver automatic messages. Many dental practices use this for appointment reminders and confirmations via businesses such as Lighthouse360, SolutionReach, and DemandForce. Text can also be used to run marketing campaigns, special offers, and so on.
This can be quite effective, but it hasn’t taken off as a fantastic marketing channel because, let’s face it, getting regular text messages from a variety of odd firms is rather annoying. So, if you do this, make sure you have very specific permission from each patient to receive these text messages, and limit promotional text messages to once or twice a month. Text message marketing is primarily for existing patients, not new patients.
Direct mail (including postcards) is actually on the rise. Dental marketing trends, like fashion trends, frequently follow a cyclical pattern. Since direct mail “died” in the late 2000s, many businesses have stopped delivering mail and have instead focused solely on online marketing. This had two effects: 1) direct mail competition decreased, and 2) individuals become accustomed to disregarding online advertising as much as possible. Because of these two elements, direct mail is more likely to reach a person and get seen now than it was a few years ago.
So direct mail and postcards aren’t extinct.
But here’s some advice I have for making it a profitable activity for you, and it truly applies to everything marketing you do:
Maintain a robust patient referral program and use word-of-mouth to supplement any external marketing.
If you aren’t properly asking for references or developing a robust referral system, your external marketing efforts will appear far too pricey.
Consider the following:
Assume you’re sending out postcards and keeping track of how many new patients phone in as a result. You figure that you spend $300 on each new patient. That’s a little pricey. Sure. (Believe it or not, it is lower than the national average for new patient acquisition through marketing.)
But then you bring in the new patient’s spouse as well. You just reduced the cost per new patient to $150.
Assume their two children also arrive. It is now $75 for each new patient.
A few months later, they refer two additional friends.
I’m sure you see where I’m heading with this.
Even poor and costly marketing might be useful in the long term if you are skilled at asking for referrals and have positive word-of-mouth.
Consider this when reviewing your practice’s marketing and determining whether or not to continue with it. “Geez, we’ve been sending out mail and we’re not getting enough phone calls from it,” dentists have said. It is not worth the money.” Then they stop sending out letters, and their new patient numbers vanish totally. They did not account for the indirect word-of-mouth and referrals generated by it.
This is not to advise you should send email if it isn’t working. In fact, many of our clients don’t send out mail at all, instead opting for internet advertising or other types of marketing but consider this before making any major judgments about the type of marketing you’re doing.
That concludes my examination of the most recent dental marketing developments in dental marketing. I hope this was helpful. I’ll keep you updated as things go.