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Inside Dentistry
May 2009
Volume 5, Issue 5

The 7 Biggest Marketing Mistakes

Fred Joyal

Dentistry is a great profession for many reasons, not the least of which is this: You can do all sorts of things wrong from a business standpoint and still make a decent living. What’s even better, you can significantly improve your practice and add to your bottom line by just correcting those business practices and making little changes to your marketing.

Now when I say marketing, I don’t mean advertising. Sure, great advertising is important too. But marketing is much broader. It refers to all the things you do in your practice to communicate who you are and what you have to offer—intentional or unintentional. Your advertising might be what brings patients to your door, but marketing is what will get them into your chair and keep them coming back.

I’ve worked in advertising and dental marketing for over 25 years and I’ve seen practices that excel, and those that struggle to stay afloat. In my experience, here are the seven biggest mistakes dentists make when it comes to marketing their practices.

1. Not getting patients in within 48 hours

New patients, particularly those who come in through advertising, have a fairly short “half-life.” They are generally procrastinators or avoiders who have suddenly felt the need or urge to start taking care of their teeth—and this urge can just as easily go away. The longer you wait to get them in, the greater the chance of a no-show. I know dentists who get every new patient in within 24 hours—no matter what—and their results are fantastic.

If you are booked out a month in advance and you won’t see a new patient, even for just 15 minutes, then you are wasting the majority of your advertising dollars.

2. Targeting the wrong neighborhood

Many dentists would prefer to attract new patients from an area of town that is different from where their practice is located. The fact is, the farther you go beyond a radius of about 5 miles, the less likely your advertising is to draw in new patients. If you are in a middle or lower middle class neighborhood and you’re trying to attract patients from the upscale suburb 10 miles away, you’re not going to have much success.

Your radius will vary based on whether you are urban, suburban, or rural, but the important thing is to work your own neighborhood. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting a lot of advertising dollars.

One more note about trying to target high-income areas: Those people generally already have a dentist. Unless you’re trying to grab the new movers, there is a lot more opportunity with the avoiders and procrastinators in your own area.

3. Not tracking your advertising results

You have to enter the source of every single patient into your practice management software. If the patient came from Yellow Pages®, or 1-800-DENTIST®, or direct mail, you need to know that so you can determine which medium is paying for itself and which one isn’t. For word-of-mouth patients, you absolutely need to know who referred them.

Without this information, you are forced to rely on the anecdotes and opinions of your team about what approaches are working. That is simply not a reliable tracking system.

4. Writing your own ads

This also includes designing your own Web site. Where did this expertise come from? Advertising isn’t anywhere near as easy as it looks. It involves a set of skills that includes copywriting, art direction, media buying, and analysis—and with the Internet, it requires an up-to-date knowledge of search engine optimization and keyword buying. I don’t recall ever hearing of these being taught in dental school.

If you are outsourcing your endo, ortho, and lab work, why are you trying to do your own advertising? Get a specialist and refer out your advertising.

5. Not running your advertising often enough

In the ad world, we refer to this as frequency. Dentists often believe that if they’ve run an ad a few times, everyone in their area has seen it, knows who they are, and remembers all the services they offer. That couldn’t be further from the truth. With the amount of advertising messages people see every day, it takes something very important to get them to pay attention. Usually it means that the message coincides with a need that they are experiencing at that moment.

This is why advertisers are out there week after week with the same message. People are only paying attention when the ad is relevant to them, and only then will they act upon it. Your message has to be persuasive, but it also has to be repeated.

6. Doing what is convenient for you, not the patient

You are in a service business. You are not purely a healthcare provider, because people have a range of options when it comes to treatment—and in many cases they can easily avoid seeing a dentist at all. So make your hours convenient: early mornings, evenings, Saturdays. And look for technologies that save the patient time or offer an enhancement to standard treatment, like CEREC® or oral cancer screening with VELscope®.

7. Letting someone untrained answer the phone

The person who answers your phone controls your income. It’s that simple. In my experience, the greatest diminishing factor of the effectiveness of your advertising occurs right there during the first phone call. It is not uncommon for a dental practice to lose 50% of new potential patients at that moment, which means you have to spend twice as much in advertising to get the same results.

At 1-800-DENTIST we train our operators for a week before we let them take their first phone call, because we know how crucial that first phone call truly is. You should adopt the same philosophy. Try calling your own office to see what the experience is like. How long does the phone ring? Are you put on hold? Rushed through the call? If the average dentist heard what was being said on the phone in his office, he would be shocked and dismayed.

The good news is there are very specific techniques and scripting that will instantly increase your success at bringing new patients in over the phone. Get some professional help with training your front desk team, and make sure that every call gets answered—and answered well. The difference will be hundreds of thousands of dollars of production.

Now you may have noticed that while a few of the mistakes I’ve pointed out relate to your actual advertising messages, most have to do with policies and behavior within the office. That’s because in my experience with dental practices, it’s usually not the advertising itself that is failing, but what happens after. It’s the marketing.

Fixing these common mistakes is a great start, but it really should just be a jumping off point. Start to think about the entire experience of your practice—the sounds, the sights, the smells, how you answer the phone, how you present treatment. These all communicate who you are to your patients and have a subtle effect on the way they see you.

Dentistry is a great profession—but with effective marketing, it should also be a highly profitable one. How you approach each aspect of your practice can either diminish or improve your effectiveness. Start to make these little changes. Trust me, the time and energy it takes will be well worth it, both in the growth of your practice and the enjoyment of your day.

Fred Joyal is CEO of 1-800-DENTIST and author of Everything is Marketing: The Ultimate Strategy for Dental Practice Growth. As the industry’s foremost expert on dental consumer marketing, he has lectured at dental tradeshows nationwide and is a regular contributor to Inside Dentistry. He can be reached at

About the Author

Fred Joyal
Chief Executive Officer

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