Marketing For the Dental Practice


Dr. Josh’s dental office had been open for about 3 ½ years. He said he was doing, “OK.” He was not where he wanted to be financially. His goal was to increase his new patient base. He had used several of the coupon mass mailing services and seen very little return. The sales people from these mass mailers had told him that he “must” include a free offer of something. They gave that very same advice to every one of his competitors who also used these mass mailing services. When we looked at all of the dental coupons in these mass mailings they were almost identical. His practice was slightly unusual because they diligently tracked how their patients came to the practice. Many businesses do not track how or why their customers come to them. And that is a marketing person’s nightmare. (If you don’t know how or why people buy your service/stuff, where they come from, how can a marketing person help you sell more of it?)

We had Dr. Josh fill out a questionnaire that asked him where his patients came from geographically, (within 5 miles of his office) and about 9 other marketing related questions. He was very diligent about answering these questions. Then we asked his “staff people” about the customers. His dental assistants, front office manager, hygienist and treatment coordinator all told stories about his patients. The stories were all remarkable and very unique. Dr. Josh also told us some stories about his patients. One theme began to emerge.

Here is that theme: many years ago we used to rely on professional people in our lives to give us the very best advice and take care of us. Doctors, dentists, lawyers, sometimes even an auto mechanic were people we could trust to tell us what we “needed” and never, ever would they “up sell” or over sell us. We trusted them to tell us the truth and they did. In many cases those times are long gone. The advice Caveat Emptor (buyer beware) now applies to almost every part of our lives, sadly even the professionals we need. Consumers have become very, very savvy. It is now easier than ever to get information and check out what is going on in our lives as far as spending money. We can now get the price and often comparative prices on almost anything. Want to know what that pocket watch you got 30 years ago is worth? Go to eBay. Dr. Josh and his staff told us several stories about how he had given a “second opinion” and saved patients hundreds of dollars, in one case it was over $ 6,000. The theme was, “Dr. Josh is only going to do the dental work that you need, he’s going to treat you like family.” There were several true stories with this theme. People will crawl across broken glass to find an advisor, merchant, doctor, dentist or auto repair person they can trust. Many newspapers and TV stations have Consumer Reporters who regularly expose those businesses who “up sell,” over-sell, and just plain lie to us about what we should do or buy, as long as we are buying from them. It’s just plain old greed. It is not what is in our best interest, it is in the best interest of that other person’s pocket. Not everyone is like this, many of us have trusted people in our lives that we give our hard earned money to. We hold dear to them, they have earned our trust.

Dr. Josh’s message about trust was real, we had stories, it was true, that’s how he ran his practice and we knew it would resonate with our target market. A word about messages that resonate: take two tuning forks in the same key, hold them up, strike one on the edge of a desk, the other one will begin to vibrate. This is resonance. Tell people, “We will only do what you need, not what’s most expensive,” with the implied message that we’re much more interested in you getting what you need that filling our pockets, and that message will vibrate in peoples hearts just like that tuning fork.

We wrote 4 stories of about 100 words. We put a picture of Dr. Josh and the headline, “A True Story” on postcards. We printed 5,000 postcards of each story. We targeted zip codes where his patients lived. Our fee, plus the design, printing and mailing was about $ 4,500. As of a month ago Dr. Josh has gained over $ 45,000 worth of new business that is directly related to those postcards. We mailed these postcards in July ’08, people still call and bring the postcard to his office. His office manager keeps very meticulous track of where his clients come from. Our original marketing plan was to do 3 mailings over 3 months, Dr. Josh got too busy to do the other 3 mailings. Many of the people who got the postcards and came in for treatment had referred others to the Dr.

About the stories, they are compelling. One story was about a 16 year old young lady who had her braces taken off by a dentist other than Dr. Josh. Her teeth were still not quite as pretty as she wanted, she was very disappointed and sad. A dentist (not Dr. Josh) offered to do veneers for her at a cost of $ 6,000. She didn’t have that kind of money. That dentist has a very plush office, advertises heavily, drives a very expensive car, and has many satisfied patients who happily pay thousands of dollars. Dr. Josh did some very effective and regular procedures that got this young lady the exact beautiful teeth she wanted and it cost her about $ 400. She was thrilled. A grandmother brings in her 8 year old granddaughter, another dentist had recommended $ 2,300 worth of treatment, 4 separate appointments. Dr. Josh told grandmother it would be $ 800, one appointment and her granddaughter’s teeth would be in great condition. Good stories.

As an aside, we changed the names of the people in the stories to protect their privacy. When they saw the postcards they all told the office manager, “This is great. You could have used my real name, we really like Dr. Josh. He always takes care of us just like we’re family.”

What did we learn? There are many marketing/advertising lessons her. The biggest lesson is that this dentist chose to build his practice on relationships. For the relationships to be real the doctor had to be real.

No “Free” offer, no picture of a beautiful woman with a perfect smile, no picture of a super fancy office with a $ 10,000 aquarium. Research the target market. Use “bottom up” marketing, talk to the “staff” then the Dr. or CEO. Find the “Resonance.” What message will make people feel their heart get warm? Stories age good. Find your “Differentiator.” People glance at advertising for about 5 – 10 seconds, use a headline that will get them to read your message. Tell a good story that is the truth. Obvious and simple work. Building relationships on trust is hard work, it must be genuine and it pays off.

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