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Inside Dentistry
December 2015
Volume 11, Issue 12

What Really Works in Dental Marketing?

Best practices for your practice in 2016

Brad Guyton, DDS, MBA, MPH | Matt Hall, MBA

There has been an unprecedented shift in the dental marketplace over the past decade. PPO plans now account for almost 80% of all plans offered and there is urban flight of practitioners complicated by greater supply and demographic shift of dental practitioners. These factors increase competition among dentists.

Two decades ago, dentists didn’t need to worry much about marketing—now it has become a significant line item, ranging from 1% to 10+%, on the profit and loss statements of most dental offices. Patients not only expect us to market the services we offer, but now expect exceptional experiences. We used to compete on service—now we must compete on experience. Consumers will typically remain loyal when experiences exceed their expectations. According to a recent study by Deloitte, less than 25% of consumers are content and compliant with their health care service provider—the remainder are open to changing providers.1

How do we keep our continuing care patients and attract new ones in 2016? The answer lies in coordinated and branded touch points. It takes the average consumer six touches to finally pull the trigger. For example, they might first be referred from a friend, then they go to the website, and make a first phone call to the office. After that, it might be how and by whom they are greeted when they arrive in the office. Other touch points are how they are addressed and treated while in the chair, and how we follow up with them after their appointment. All of these touches must exceed expectations and flow with a common look and feel, meaning if the exemplary website isn’t reinforced with a pleasant first phone call, the patient may find a reason not to say “yes.”

We sifted through all the marketing options out there and summarized what really works for practices in 10 easy-to-implement best practices:

1. Visibility Matters

The location of the dental practice can be one of the best marketing tools to attract new patients. Outdoor retail centers with big box anchors still get the most exposure and foot traffic. If we want or need more than 25 new patients per month, gone are the days of hiding an office in the back of a medical complex. Regardless of location, we must be involved in our local communities. Best practices are routinely supporting community service projects, local charities, and hosting community events at least two times each year. We must make sure to get our entire team involved.

2. Craft a Marketing Plan

Create a targeted marketing plan by first identifying the area where you want patients to come from in your community. Second, determine what types of patients you want to see and where to find them. Third, determine your budget and stay within it.

3. Track Your Spending

We must set up ways to track every touch point so we can guide the patient through the office experience. For example, our friend and colleague, Misty Clark, suggests that when a patient says they came to the office because they liked the website, dive deeper by asking them, “What drove you to our website?” Then, capture each of these touch points. For example, before spending money on a direct mail campaign, consider assigning a special phone number to that campaign. Always seek to maximize the return on investment (ROI). A good rule of thumb is to maintain a minimum ROI of 5:1 on marketing spend. Shoot for an ROI goal of 10:1 or 15:1. Many digital companies have unique ways to measure your campaign ROI through online and offline marketing.

4. Seek Out New Patients

The average value of a new patient over the first 12-month period in a new office ranges from $1,200 to $1,500. At that value, loss leader marketing (free exams or whitening) may be a worthwhile investment.

When current patients have a great experience, ask for referrals by simply handing them business cards and letting them know that “one is for you and the other is for a friend or family member that might be as much fun to serve as it is to serve you.” The fastest way to grow a practice with loyal patients is still from within the practice.

5. Keep Current Patients

Continuing care patients are essential to any practice. The business term “churn” is defined as a hole in the bottom of a bucket. No matter how much water (new patients) you pour into the bucket, if there is a hole at the bottom (churn), you will have difficulty keeping the bucket full (productive practice).

Spoil patients with on-time service, painless same day dentistry, after hour care calls, unparalleled accessibility, and a confident, caring attitude. Continue to evolve customer experience touch points so that patients always have one more reason not to leave—it can be as simple as a birthday phone call or a free gift when they arrive in the office.

6. Wow Them with Your Website

Keep websites simple and current. Consumers want to find a phone number fast and learn more about the practice team. In some cases, they might be interested in some unique content, but only if it is worded in such a way that is all about the benefit to them.

For better SEO results, the website must be “responsive” so that the formatting looks good on computers, tablets, and mobile devices. Unique content (blog, news, articles) will also help improve the organic SEO, but only if it is kept current. Using pay-per-click services on Google, Bing, and Yahoo can also be an extremely effective marketing tool with high ROI when managed properly.

7. Use Social Media—or Don’t

The concept is simple: while there are plenty of services offering to manage the practice social media strategy, only engage in social media if the owner or a team member is willing to keep it current with meaningful unique content for patients. Make sure you separate your practice pages from your personal pages. The content should be fun and educational without being too clinical for a general audience. Facebook remains the most valuable social media site for dental practices; Instagram and Twitter have not proven to be as effective to date.

8. Coordinate Your Customer Touches

Today, phone call reminders still prove to be effective, and email is preferred for adults 18 to 54. Text messaging is now a standard method of communication, as long as the practice follows FCC rules to protect consumers. Direct mail can still be useful but expect only a 1% to 2% rate of return. Printed welcome packets, Yellow Pages, radio, and TV ads are trending down quickly.

The key is finding the right balance to attract new patients and combining that with the right timeline to bring continuing care patients back. Consider partnering with a service that effectively manages texting and recare touch points.

9. Focus on Feedback

Yelp, Google, Healthgrades, and other review sites can make or break a practice. Stop spending valuable time trying to trump or replace negative reviews. Instead, learn from the occasional negative review. Service customers by listening to what they want and act on their requests quickly. It is rare that someone who posts a bad review felt heard and understood. What about responding to negative reviews? The best practice is to send a private message and apologize. Try to work out any misunderstandings privately. A public response should be avoided if possible and if you choose to go this route, remember your commitment to HIPPA and PHI.

10. Roll Out the Red Carpet

New patients are important to every dental practice and retaining patients is even more important. Take the time to understand their wants and needs. Listening to patients and helping them have a positive experience will go a long way in gaining their trust and loyalty. It also promotes organic referrals. Deliver an exceptional patient experience and patients will refer friends and family based on their positive experience.

Put It All Together

By utilizing these best practices, practice owners can maximize their marketing ROI. There is never a shortage of new ideas, consultants, and products in dental practice marketing. While some may work well, none will replace the basic fundamentals discussed here. There are no business principles that can make up for bad dentistry, so it is important to keep clinical skills and quality outcomes at the forefront of any practice strategy. Quality dentistry and exceptional patient experiences still trump any external marketing magic bullets.


1. Deloitte Center for Health Solutions. The U.S. Health Care Market: A Strategic View of Consumer Segmentation. Deloitte website. 2012. Accessed October 29, 2015.

About the Authors

Brad Guyton, DDS, MBA, MPH, serves as VP of Dentist Development and Dean of the PDS Institute for Pacific Dental Services, and as an Associate Professor at UCSDM. He practices dentistry in Denver, Colorado. He can be reached at

Matt Hall, MBA, serves as VP of Marketing for Pacific Dental Services. As the leader of marketing at PDS for 12 years, he’s helped them grow from supporting 30 offices to nearly 500 nationwide. He can be reached at

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