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Inside Dentistry
August 2020
Volume 16, Issue 8

Is Your Marketing Plan Delivering?

Common mistakes that sabotage marketing efforts and what to do instead

Naomi Cooper

It's no secret. Marketing a dental practice can be a challenge, and finding time to concentrate on marketing can feel like an impossible task, especially because there are always patients to care for and a practice to run. Every dentist understands that he or she should be promoting the practice, but determining what to do, when to do it, and how much to spend isn't always clear.

Truth be told, there is a marketing sweet spot where the right amount of money is spent on the right mix of promotions at the right time and for the right audience, but it's not always easy to find. And to make things more difficult, even an ideal marketing plan can require changes throughout the year, and many become obsolete as years turn to decades. So, what's a dentist to do?

As a marketing professional who has been working with dentists for nearly 20 years, I'd like to say that I have a magic answer to the age-old question, "What should dentists do to market their practices?" But in truth, marketing simply isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. So many elements go into formulating the right marketing mix that no two dentists will have, or should have, the same exact plan. Variables such as location, patient demographics, office staffing, services offered, budgets, and the practice's history will affect the marketing strategy.

Although there is no perfect, universal marketing solution, there are some common missteps that I've repeatedly seen in dental practices of every size, in big cities and small towns, all across the country. The good news, however, is that these errors can be easily fixed, and once resolved, the dentists are in a much better position to move forward with a strategic, growth-focused plan. Here are five of the marketing mistakes that I most commonly see and what dentists can do to fix them.

1. Failing to Define Goals

Marketing is a very broad term. It encompasses external efforts that are designed to attract new patients and internal processes that are aimed at keeping your current patients happy. And today more than ever, there are seemingly endless ways to go about marketing your practice. So before launching any new initiatives, it helps to take the time to formulate a strategy.

Eliminate any confusion regarding your desired outcome. Is it increasing new patients, boosting revenue, or adding a new provider, technology, or service? Do you need more online reviews? Are you readying the practice for sale? Each of these objectives requires a different marketing approach, so it helps to clearly define all of your end goals when creating a strategy.

2. Forgetting to Identify Your Target Audience

When it comes to marketing, repetition is key. Patients, particularly your prospective patients, need to see your messages repeatedly-some experts say 7 to 20 times or more-before they will be inspired to make an appointment. Building that repetition, which is also known as frequency, can become difficult and very costly when the practice's marketing efforts are directed toward a wide audience.

A better idea is to narrow your marketing efforts to a more targeted patient audience. Take a look at your current patient base to determine what types of patients you want to see more of, whether they are people who recently moved to the area, the local retiree population, mothers in your local school district, or business professionals in the nearby office park. Once you have a better idea of exactly who it is that you wish to target, building in the necessary frequency will be much more achievable and cost-effective.

3. Investing in the Wrong Efforts

At one time or another, every dentist has likely felt burned by a pushy salesperson who overpromised and underdelivered. It's often these situations that can leave dentists feeling as though "marketing doesn't work." The reality is that marketing efforts can be expensive, and not all marketing efforts will work for every dentist. That's why it's helpful to first have clearly defined goals and a targeted patient audience.

One way to avoid investing in the wrong efforts is to implement a simple policy of always saying "no" to people on sales calls, which is something that is often easier said than done. Hit pause on any new initiatives until you have a better understanding of what, if any, current activities are producing a reasonable rate of return and until you decide which avenues you want to take going forward. From there, only say "yes" to efforts that are hyperfocused on your targeted patient audience in order to keep your strategy-and costs-in place.

4. Ignoring Budgeting and Metrics

In order to keep costs in check, setting an annual (or quarterly) marketing budget is also an absolute must, and it's important to note that the amount may significantly fluctuate throughout the years based on your needs.

Determining the right spending plan for your practice must happen up front. Without a spending plan, a dentist is much more prone to being swayed by a salesperson or deciding on a whim to make an unwarranted marketing expenditure that isn't in line with the practice's growth plan. Budgets will vary based on a few factors. First, a dentist who has built up his or her marketing infrastructure (ie, logo, up-to-date website, search engine optimization, online profiles, etc.) and has been marketing consistently for a few years will typically need to spend less than a dentist who is starting from scratch. The budget can also be dependent on the size and location of the practice, the level of competition that exists in your local market, and how aggressively you want to be marketing, which will, of course, be based on how aggressive your goals are.

Before external marketing can be truly successful, there are certain internal components that need to be in place. The practice website needs to be up to 2020 standards, the front desk team needs to have the communication skills necessary to welcome and effectively appoint new patient callers, and someone in the office needs to be responsible for tracking and monitoring the results of marketing efforts on a regular basis to ensure that everything is working as intended.

5. Having Unrealistic Expectations

Marketing takes time to build momentum. Unfortunately, there simply isn't a universal strategy that will instantly produce a flood of new patients or a steady stream of referrals, and marketing requires an investment in terms of money as well as in terms of your time and your team's time. Practice owners need to undertake marketing efforts with realistic expectations in mind. If you define your goals, target your patient audience, avoid hastily investing in efforts that aren't aligned with your goals and audience, create and follow an appropriate budget, and track and monitor your results, your marketing plan will be ideally positioned to grow your business and increase revenue, realizing your expectations for your practice.

About the Author

Naomi Cooper is the chief executive officer and co-founder of Doctor Distillery and the president and founder of Minoa Marketing.

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