The Message of Marketing
Establishing a clear brand to drive your efforts is key to finding the right patients
Courtney Lavigne, DMD
Although I spent the better part of the last decade running a fee-for-service dental practice focused on cosmetic dentistry in the Boston, Massachusetts, suburbs, I have since completed a residency in orthodontics and am now in the next phase of my professional journey—starting up an orthodontic practice from scratch in the nearby state of Rhode Island. The marketing will be drastically different from that of my original practice, but the focus and the tools used to achieve its goals will be largely the same. If you clearly understand the goals of your marketing efforts, the strategies needed to implement them can be easily applied to almost any dental practice.
Know Your Brand
If I were to give a single piece of advice to any dental practitioner questioning how to best allocate his or her marketing budget, it would be to clearly, concisely, and unquestionably establish his or her brand. Who you are as a practice needs to run through the veins of every team member in your office. It needs to be the guiding force behind every decision that is made for the practice, it needs to be the basis for every answer that a team member gives to a patient's inquiry, and most importantly, it needs to be unwavering.
When I opened my boutique dental practice, I built it from scratch. My vision involved using the highest quality materials, unrestricted by time, while offering exceptional customer service that exceeded patient expectations. I wanted to be the "Four Seasons" of dentistry. Anyone running a practice knows that the overhead is much higher when you work with the best laboratories, take twice as much time for procedures, have state-of-the-art facilities, and employ top-notch employees. I knew that for this vision to become a reality, I needed to recruit patients who were willing to pay more for their dental care because they inherently valued dentistry as more than a commodity.
In determining how to market to this population, I knew that if I offered deals, such as new patient specials or free whitening treatments, I wouldn't be appealing to the consumers who would best fit the practice that I was building. When the deal ended and those consumers recognized that my prices were higher than those of the dentist down the street, they wouldn't be happy. Therefore, from day one in my marketing efforts, I never offered a "deal." All of my efforts appealed to consumers who had higher expectations for their dentistry than what they had received in the past. I appealed to patients who wanted to be known by name, treated as an individual, and valued as a person. Consumers who were willing to pay more for an organic apple than a conventional apple because they saw value in the difference in the practices used to grow that apple were a fit for my practice. All of my marketing efforts were aimed at these types of individuals.
When you know who you are as an office and establish it with strong branding, then the ways that marketing will help you grow the practice that you want to work in are twofold. Your marketing efforts will not only appeal to your target audience but also dissuade the patients who aren't such a good fit. For my office, as much as the higher cost of elevated care appealed to the patients who desired it, that same message let patients who weren't looking for that level of care (whether for lack of means or lack of value placed on oral health) know that we weren't a fit for them. That's a realization that's better for patients to make before they are in the office rather than during an exam that takes four times as long as any other exam they've ever had when they weren't looking for that level of detail or, even worse—after they get an initial bill that is higher than they were anticipating.
Refine Your Strategies
The marketing efforts that were the most successful in my office were posting on Instagram and Facebook and sending direct mailers. Instagram allowed me to show potential patients before and after photographs of actual teeth that I had treated so that they could see the quality of the dentistry that I offered. Similarly, Facebook allowed me to reach a wide audience for a low cost by creating posts with photographs that spoke for themselves and simple messages showcasing how we were different from other practices. As much as many of us would like to think that direct mailers are a thing of the past, we all still bring in our mail on a daily or almost-daily basis, and if you send a mailer with an eye-catching photograph, it likely won't get thrown out before you at least gain name recognition. I spent a large amount of time and money creating a unique waiting room that was eye-catchingly beautiful, so using a photograph of it was an easy way for me to pique interest. The marketing that works best won't be the same for every office. If your office isn't photo-worthy, using stock photos on a direct mailer will likely result in it meeting the trash before you garnish the name recognition that you're looking for, but that's OK. Find something that sets your practice apart and speaks to your brand, then run with it.
Knowing who you are as a brand and knowing what type of consumer is an ideal fit for your brand lets you home in on how to best use the funds that you have available to reach the right patients. Just as we'll never be able to craft an appropriate treatment plan without a correct diagnosis, we'll never be able to sort through the most effective marketing strategies to reach the dental consumers who best fit our practices without a clear understanding of our own brands.
About the Author
Courtney Lavigne, DMD, is an accredited member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry who specializes in orthodontics.