Increase Your Flow of New Patients
Eight external marketing efforts that go beyond word of mouth
Richard P. Gangwisch, DDS
Ever since the Bates v. State Bar of Arizona decision in 1977, professionals have been allowed to advertise their services. In a perfect world, all of our patients would walk into our practices as a result of word-of-mouth advertising. Unfortunately, many practice owners do not experience that luxury. If the hard reality of empty chairs is staring you in the face as you continue to write check after check to cover your overhead, it is probably time for you to advertise. Here are 8 ways to go about advertising your services:
So, where do you begin? If you don't already have one, a nice website is an important start. Even for those who are squeamish about outright advertising, a website is considered acceptable by everyone in this day and age, and many patients expect a practice to have one. Maintaining a website is very inexpensive, allows you to expound on the services that you provide, and introduces potential patients to you and your staff. You can add before and after pictures of your work, videos, and blogs-all things that other advertising media can't deliver for you. A good search engine optimization company can help move your listing toward the top of internet searches. And if you pursue other types of advertising, people will be able to check you out on the internet before making that magic call, which is another plus of having an informative and distinguished-looking website. Practice owners who already have a website, especially an older one, should consider updating it to appear more modern and be as informative as possible in order to attract new patients.
This is another way to subtly advertise. Facebook offers a wonderful way for your name to be spread exponentially. Encourage your patients to post about their wonderful experiences at your office and share them with their Facebook friends. And don't forget to ask them to tag your office so that their friends can check out your page.
OK, so you have tried the subtle approaches and still have some free time in your office-looks like it's time to truly advertise. Internet advertising can come in a number of forms. Google Ads is a popular way to spread the word. You choose certain keywords that best describe your practice and the services that you provide and bid on them. It is pay-per-click, so you don't owe anything until users actually click on your advertisement, and you set a budget so that you can keep control of what you spend. Because you only have a couple of lines, it's important to have an appropriately worded message to entice users to check out your website. And it is crucial to have proper content on your website in order to coax them into picking up the phone and making an appointment.
There are other search engines such as Bing and Yahoo that accept advertising. In addition, there are dozens of other websites such as Yelp or YP (ie, the Yellow Pages) where you can test the waters. The key is return on investment (ROI). If it works, keep doing it; if it doesn't, drop it like a hot potato.
If you think that print advertising has gone the way of the horse and buggy, it's time to think again. It is true that the last time I picked up a Yellow Pages directory was before the turn of the millennium, but there are still opportunities out there to get your name noticed. The over-50 crowd-the ones who break teeth and have periodontal disease-have a tendency to read newspapers and magazines. By narrowing your advertising down to local papers, you can target your audience and get more value for what you spend.
Signs can provide an effective way of obtaining new patients. Oppor-tunities include highway billboards, subway stations, bus stops, park benches, and more. The key is to target the audience that is appropriate for your practice. If you treat a significant number of Medicaid patients, then signs at bus stops may work well. If you like to do cosmetic dentistry, then a well-placed billboard on a major thoroughfare leading into a city's business district may help attract patients.
Direct Mail Advertising
Solo mailers can be very effective. These can range from postcards and letters to full color brochures. Depending on your comfort level, including an offer can provide a call to action. Offering a free bleaching treatment or a discount for the first visit can be very productive in enticing a prospective patient to pick up the phone. Newcomer letters can be successful by targeting people who have recently moved into your area and, of course, will be needing a dentist. Co-op direct mail can also give you a reasonable ROI. This involves sending a coupon in a mailer with other local businesses. Although your coupon will probably be sandwiched in between ones for a dog groomer and a hairdresser, if someone is in the market for a new dentist, they will still take notice.
Radio and television can be extremely successful; however, they can also be extremely expensive. To help lessen the financial burden, you can collaborate with other dentists. Many stations will allow for rotating advertisements. Media advertising can also include things such as press releases or editorials. It never hurts to call up the editor of a local newspaper or magazine to see if they would consider writing a story about you and your practice. Local media outlets are always looking for content.
Sponsoring local sports teams, schools, charities, and community events can be a great way to help the community as well as an excellent way to obtain name recognition. This gets your name out in front of people who are actively involved in their communities and are more likely to become good patients and, even better, refer others.
Internal marketing is the best way to gain new patients, but that doesn't always work in today's competitive environment. Once you decide what your comfort level with advertising is, you need to develop a strategy and pursue it. If you aren't realizing ROI, then you may need to adjust your strategy; however, the key to success is to commit.
About the Author
Richard P. Gangwisch, DDS, a master of the Academy of General Dentistry and a diplo-mate of the American Board of General Dentistry, is a clinical assistant professor at the Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University and maintains a private practice in Lilburn, Georgia.