Under the Marketing Umbrella
Defining and demystifying marketing, public relations, and social media.
By Naomi Cooper
Marketing has been called many things: Branding. Advertising. Public relations. Social media. These terms are thrown around constantly—and when it comes to marketing a dental practice, sometimes it is hard to know the difference.
Marketing is the super-category. It encompasses just about anything done inside or outside of a dental practice that communicates who the practice is or educates patients and prospective patients about the services the practice provides. Here are some key words to consider when unraveling this very complex category.
It is often said that marketing is a process, not an event. What does that mean? That marketing has to be a part of the culture of a dental practice. Either a commitment is made to market the practice on an ongoing basis or it is not. If the commitment is indeed made, marketing should be a driver of every decision made thereafter. By its very nature, marketing is a planned and sustained effort that is effectively never complete. Having said that, today could absolutely be the day to begin to put together marketing goals and start implementing the first marketing tactics.
Interest is what it is all about—attracting clients, or in the case of a dental practice, patients. But remember, marketing all by itself is not going to magically put patients in the operatories. Marketing can help generate curiosity about the practice, but the real question is, what is the dental team doing to capture the interested patients that all of its marketing efforts have produced?
Recognizing that marketing is a long-term commitment will help keep the focus on approaches that are likely to bring the practice long-term success, rather than those that promise short-term results. Offers that promise to bring hundreds of new patients to a practice's doorstep overnight are usually one-hit wonders at best—and reputation-management nightmares at their worst.
Buying an ad in a favorite charity's dinner-dance program or sponsoring the local little league team may feel good, and supporting the community is a worthy endeavor, but dentists should not pay for charitable contributions out of their marketing budget. While marketing activities will not always have a tangible return on investment (ROI), there should be a strong marketing objective behind any marketing expense. For example, a robust, feature-rich website is a necessary part of any practice's marketing strategy. Keeping up with technology by developing an updated website for the practice is kind of like painting a house—it is necessary every so many years in order to maintain the value and integrity of the asset—and to display "pride of ownership." So even if a new or updated website does not immediately generate trackable revenue, it is a calculated marketing decision with a qualitative benefit, if not an immediately quantifiable result.
Branding is the practice of being deliberate and consistent about communicating the name of the practice. What a dentist puts on the shingle should be a conscious decision, and it should be carried through in all of the marketing materials, both online and offline. But keep in mind, "John Q. Smiley, DDS" is not the only option when it comes to a practice name. It is important to consider that even for solo practitioners, the dental practice name does not have to include the dentist's last name. If the dentist is 40 years old, involved in local politics, and planning to practice for 25 more years, then perhaps his or her name should be on the door. But a 60-year-old dentist looking to transition the practice in the next 5 years should probably reflect on whether keeping his or her name out of the practice's brand could potentially help make a practice transition more seamless—and maximize the value of the practice to prospective buyers.
A logo is the graphic representation of a brand. For dentists, the logo may include the dentist's name, practice name, and possibly some kind of icon or imagery that represents the dentist and his or her brand—but it does not have to be a literal representation of what a dentist does, eg, a picture of a tooth or a cartoon smile. Most importantly, a logo should be designed by a graphic designer who specializes in logo development. Just as a general practitioner would outsource complex endo to an endodontist, it is worth it to outsource the design of a logo to a professional.
Advertising is a sponsored communication in a specific medium (eg, yellow pages, magazine, online directory). The publication generally does not have editorial control over an advertisement's content; the advertiser controls the message. Advertisements, or ads, are designed to gain attention, create brand affinity, and motivate people to action. What does this mean for a dental practice?
Advertising is a part of the marketing mix, so it is important to consider a few things. First, what is the annual advertising budget? A hint: it should be a subset of the marketing budget. Next, what is being done in the ad to gain attention, create brand affinity, and motivate action? In other words, how is the ad going to catch people's eye, make them appreciate the services the practice has to offer and, most importantly, get them to call and make an appointment?
Public relations is a discipline within marketing that differs from advertising quite dramatically. "PR" is an intentional and ongoing effort to get the media to tell your story to the public for you. The goal is to make the message so compelling and newsworthy that the powers that be decide to actually repeat and broadcast it as news.
Social media is leveraging the power of the Internet to transform online communication, which until recently has generally been a one-way street, into a genuine dialogue. The most remarkable part of social media for dentists is that social media is essentially online public relations. In other words, rather than having to pay for advertising online, social media gets people talking about you. This means that by using social media, you are using the power of the Internet to leverage the most potent type of marketing: word of mouth.
Just like major corporations use public relations to convince the editors of major newspapers and magazines to run stories about them, you can use Yelp, Facebook, and Twitter to enable and encourage patients to tell your story to their friends and followers. But you have to help them make the story interesting, timely, and specific—so that it is worth passing along.
The great news for dentists is that you are not in this alone. Just like a graphic designer is the go-to specialist when it comes to logo development, there are reputable companies that serve the dental professional for all areas of dental marketing. Do your homework, and let the experts be your guide. When it comes to marketing your practice, having a handle on the vocabulary is half the battle, and getting professional help to determine your marketing strategy will help you and your practice go the distance.
About the Author
Naomi Cooper | Naomi Cooper is the president of Minoa Marketing, a dental marketing and social media consultancy based in Los Angeles, California, and also serves as chief marketing consultant for Pride Institute. She has over 15 years of marketing experience, and a 10-year track record of helping dental practices and dental companies to achieve their marketing goals. Naomi is also a published author, a sought-after speaker, and an industry opinion leader. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.