Managing your dental practice is exciting. But getting new business isn’t always easy. To get customers in the door, you will need to do some marketing. But marketing itself isn’t an easy path. There is no silver bullet or “easy” button. Where should North Carolina dentists begin?
Our agency, The Department of Marketing, works with a lot of dentists. We’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. Based on all that experience, we’ve created this short guide to help you get new business this year. Follow these 9 key steps to market your dental practice. You’ll also find the top six marketing mistakes mixed in for some added help. If you still have questions, contact us, and we’ll conduct a free marketing assessment for your dental practice.
9 Marketing Steps (and Six Major Marketing Mistakes)
- Consider your target. Remember, people don’t like going to the dentist. Nothing you can say or do will change that. However, people can choose one dentist over another for many reasons, from customer service to cost. Who is your target? High-end clients seeking cosmetic services are a different client than moms looking for a dentist for the whole family. Know up front what types of patients and what type of practice you want. If you’ve been in business for a few years, take a look at the patients you have now. Do a majority of them fit into a certain category? Sort through them by location, age, income, whether they are a parent or not, etc. and you might begin to see a pattern. If this group is NOT your target, but they seem to be the people you attract, consider whether you want to change targets.
Mistake #1: Thinking everyone is your target. Focus, focus, focus. Trying to be everything to everyone means you will be nothing to most of them. Choose a particular area and within that, choose a specific audience, such as soccer moms. You’ll find far more success the more you focus.
- Build a good website. Your website is a reflection of your practice. Once people hear about you, they will check your website first, so make sure it looks updated, shows real photos of your practice (not just stock images), and includes useful information such as new patient forms, types of insurance you accept, and hours of operation. These days, it’s the way people reach out. You need to include a phone number, email, and physical address on the front so people can easily find it. The website should be mobile responsive, meaning it looks good on desktops, phones, tablets, and any other device. Finally, make sure the site is SEO friendly.
Mistake #2: Using a copycat site. Many “dental marketing agencies” will sell dental offices the exact same website, right down to the text on the site. These agencies will sell the site for cheap because they only had to build a few templates once and then they resell them, making tons of money from unsuspecting dentists. If you must use a template, hire someone to make changes to it and be sure to write the text yourself or hire someone to write. You don’t want to look just like everyone else, and this copycat website will hurt your search results.
- Start tracking. Every time you get a new patient, you MUST ask “How did you hear about us?” You can include this in the new patient forms, but your front desk team must be trained to ask as well. He/she should note every single patient and from where that person came. As you add new ways of people hearing about you, you’ll know what’s working and what’s not working. That saves you a lot of marketing money. Bonus: Use an after-visit survey to get feedback from patients. Get answers by offering a $5 Amazon gift card in exchange for a completed survey.
- Start a blog. Content marketing isn’t going to get you a zillion patients. But that content will help your website show up on search engines. If your team does not want to write blog posts, hire someone who will. Blog posts answer questions your patients often ask and share news about the practice.
- Get social, but don’t go crazy. Create a Facebook page and be sure to post regularly on there. But you don’t have to create social media profiles on every platform. That’s a lot of work to maintain. Also, have a bit of personality. Be funny. Be creative. Share videos of the team. Social media is about being social. Every dentist can share articles about keeping your gums healthy. What are you offering? Your status updates come in four categories: Sales/Offer, Fun, Informational, Content. Rotate the type of update you share so you’re not selling selling selling all the time.
Mistake #3: Playing it safe and not creating a plan. Yes, you need content and social media to share some general information about you, the practice, keeping your gums healthy, and more. But it’s OK to stand out, especially on social media. Be creative. Also, get organized. Blog posts and social media status updates won’t get done unless you figure out who will do them and when. Create a content calendar a month in advance that outlines what will be posted when.
- Collect email addresses and send a newsletter. Many dentists use software that automatically reminds patients via text and email about their appointments. But it’s also good to have their email addresses in your own system so you can reach out with a special offer (refer a friend or family member and get a free whitening!) or a newsletter. You might only send a newsletter once a year — maybe it’s a holiday card with a photo of the team. Regardless, you must have those email addresses ready when and if you need them.
- Improve your customer experience. Marketing can bring people in, but it’s up to you to entice them to stay. Everything matters, including your parking, your waiting room, your hygienists, the bathroom, and more.
Mistake #4: Assuming the problem is with the marketing. It’s not you; it’s me. That might be what people say when breaking up a romantic relationship. But if people are “breaking up” with you, their dentist, then it’s you. Be honest with yourself about the patient’s experience. Are you getting a lot of social media reviews that lambast the front desk staff? Are people complaining about how you handle insurance? Are they showing up once but never returning? These are all signs that something might be wrong in the office, with procedures, or with staff.
8. Advertise. Start with Pay Per Click (PPC) and other online advertising, including Facebook. Many dentists don’t want to spend money on advertising, but it’s important to let people know you are open and accepting new patients. The North Carolina area is growing, and new people are moving here all the time. How will they hear about you? People who go online to search a dentist near them will rely on Google maps to show them a list. Are you on that list? You’d better be, or you’re losing out on business. Advertising with PPC and Facebook can help improve your rankings and broaden your reach. While many dentists are tempted by TV and radio ads, they cost a lot of money, and it’s more difficult to track your returns. If you decide to go this route, talk to someone who can help you with media buying; they’ll get you a better deal.
9. Use direct mail. Direct mail is critical for dentist offices, which often pull clients from the nearby neighborhoods. People often select a dentist near their home or their work. Find new clients by sending direct mail pieces to everyone within a 5-7 mile radius of your office. Remember to make the mail visually stand out from the stack and offer a tempting deal. A 10% discount is normally not enough. Read more about direct mail on our blog.
Mistake #5: Not doing enough or just dipping your toe in. This error applies to both Steps 8 and 9. You must be consistent with your direct mail and advertising efforts. By this we mean you cannot create just one PPC ad and let it run for one month and then stop. If you’re going to send postcards, send a lot! Direct mail’s typical return on investment is 1-3%. You can’t send just 300 postcards one time and expect a bunch of new patients. Instead, send 1,000 postcards each quarter to continue finding new customers. Remember, people often need to see or hear about a brand at least five times before they will take action and that experience may need to coincide with their needs. So someone needs to see your name right as they are thinking about finding a new dentist. Keep advertising.
How to Get Started
These 9 steps will get you started on the path to marketing your dental practice. But that doesn’t mean you have to start each step next week. Start with Steps 1 and 2 and go from there (but you don’t have to stick to this order, either). As a dentist, you will always be learning so you can stay on top of the best practices and new techniques for your patients. Marketing is the same way; it’s a continuous effort. You’ll try some things that won’t work and some that will, but you must always be marketing.
Mistake #6: Not keeping marketing top of mind. Many dental offices leave marketing as an afterthought, something the office manager does in her spare time. Office managers are busy. This casual approach to marketing will result in failure. Instead, make sure someone on your team either manages marketing as his/her main responsibility or coordinates with your external marketing agency.
Need help? If you’re ready to take your marketing to the next level, contact The Department of Marketing for your free marketing analysis.