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Special Issues
September 2015
Volume 11, Issue 2

Developing Your Ideal Marketing Plan

A 5-step solution for clinical practices

Richard Train

In this author’s experience, more than 50% of dentists knew they wanted to pursue their chosen career years before they even entered college. What’s more, they knew exactly what was necessary to achieve that goal. They had a plan, followed it, and voilà—here they are! While the journey almost never went down the exact path they envisioned, these dentists figured out how to get to where they needed to be, regardless of setbacks.

After surmounting all of the hurdles required for entrance into the dental profession, the question becomes why these clinicians don’t market their practices with a similar level of planning and determination. The answer is often that they know how to motivate themselves, but don’t feel the same tenacity or comfort level when influencing others. It is the fear of not using the right words or methods, or possibly the thought that marketing concepts are mysterious and convoluted, that keeps practitioners from conceiving of a strategy in the first place.

Marketing concepts do not have to be complex to be effective. In fact, simplicity, flexibility, and realistic expectations are all key to most successful marketing plans. All of these factors should be considered as clinicians develop their own marketing strategies. This article will help clinicians do just that by outlining five simple steps that can help even novices create an effective marketing plan.

Develop Your Plan

This is perhaps the most important phase of practice marketing because it requires the most thought. Clinicians must realize that—from a marketing theory standpoint—there are four mental stages consumers (including patients) go through before making a decision to take action. Known as ACID, the stages are: Awareness, Consideration, Intent, and Decision. It is imperative that you keep these stages in mind when developing your marketing plan.

Step 1: Research

Start by doing some research. Know what is currently working in your market (hint: it doesn’t have to be from another dentist). This might require the use of a good marketing company that knows how to pull local competitive information, including web traffic and demographics. This does not mean you should copy another business’ marketing strategy, but it helps to know what is statistically successful, which might in turn spark your own unique idea.

Step 2: Messaging

Create a message that is both unique and necessary in your market. For a dental office to simply state that it offers excellent service and has great dentists on staff is not enough to differentiate that practice from the rest. Patients already expect dentists to be clinically capable, so a practice needs to be able to communicate to potential clients what its business and dental teams offer that that no others do. Is there a rare modality that the practice can provide, or does a team member speak a language that will serve a large segment of the community? These types of factors are most commonly referred to as the USP or Unique Selling Perspective, and they are exactly what your marketing plan should highlight.

Additionally, when creating messaging, all dental marketing plans should use plain language, not dental jargon. This is because a typical patient won’t understand dental terminology, and may be fearful of terms with which he or she is not familiar. Ensure that the entire dental team demonstrates devotion to simple, positive, plain language that focuses on the final result.

Step 3: Delivery

Before launching a marketing campaign, you should make a concrete decision regarding the message delivery method. Budget will be a big factor, so look for either the widest spread for the practice’s marketing dollar, or the deepest dive if the practice has a specialty. Remember that being the loudest doesn’t necessarily equal being the best. Some practices may be more effective with a campaign based entirely online spread among multiple channels than with a dedicated radio or television spot.

Again, a good marketing company with expertise that spans multiple media sources can be a big help. Going to a single media provider (eg, direct mail or radio) account representative for aid might limit information and results. A marketing specialist can also help determine how to keep from spreading a practice’s efforts over too many platforms by identifying where target patients’ attentions are focused.

Step 4: Timing

Once you decide to whom you are marketing, as well as what you are going to say and how and where you will to say it, it’s time to develop a comprehensive plan for when to deliver your message.

Remember that personal perceptions about how often you prefer to see a piece of marketing are irrelevant. What matters most is what works statistically. For instance, you may not want to post on your social media pages more than once a week, but if the numbers show that four posts a week are better, then you should follow that example. Start with the statistical proof and then alter accordingly as per the results. Your chosen media outlets should determine the frequency, consistency, and overall effectiveness of the campaign.

Step 5: Write It Down

The fluidity of marketing may be scary for many people who like black or white rules, but it also offers a lot of flexibility and room for experimentation. You will need to adapt your marketing plans as time goes on, sometimes on a day-to-day basis, so having a written record will not only help keep track of what works and what doesn’t, but also act as a baseline if you are unsure of how to approach a situation.

Writing your plan down also helps you to create a timeline for what should happen first, second, and so on, as well as concretely identify your milestone markers. Every step should build on the last and foreshadow the next. If strategies are running concurrently, ensure they complement each other. The plan should cover at least 1 year of marketing strategy and demonstrate a clear direction toward a quantifiable goal. This goal should include target numbers you want to achieve with defined ways to measure them so that everyone on the dental team knows what you are looking for and can identify when it happens. It also makes the team accountable for their respective roles. Remember to use the SMART method (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Repetitive, Timely) when setting goals.

Executing Your Plan

Now that everything has been explicitly planned out, executing your marketing campaign should be as simple as following a recipe. The format of your plan is less important than the content and whether it was logically arranged. A plan doesn’t have to be pretty or ready for publication; it’s a work-in-progress.

The trick is to not give up too soon and continue to follow the plan, even if you are initially unsure of its efficacy. This is like a solid workout regimen—refusing to put in the time will not yield the desired result. Make the decision to really work at it, then hold on until you reach your first milestone. If your results show that you are on track, congratulations and keep moving forward!

If you are not heading in the right direction, decide what, if anything, you need to tweak before continuing to move forward. It might be that a particular stage needs more time than originally anticipated, so don’t throw out the whole plan because of one setback. Any successful salesperson will tell you there is power in tenacity.

Finally, don’t forget to measure everything and make small adjustments as needed. If you do this, your marketing plan will help your office achieve fantastic new patient growth.

About the Author

Richard Train is the chief executive officer and co-founder of EZ Dental Practice Marketing. For more information, visit http://ezdentalpracticemarketing.com.

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