Perhaps a generation ago, it was enough for a dentist to simply open his/her doors, provide quality service, and he/she could trust that patients would come. Clearly, however, that’s no longer the case. Building a successful practice requires marketing, but what types work and how well they work is less clear.
Even before you graduated from dental school you were being bombarded with pitches from marketing companies that claimed to have the secret sauce to helping you build and grow your practice. Those pitches, of course, are self-serving, so a new dentist or one looking to grow their practice is largely left to their own devices in terms of picking a marketing strategy.
In this article I’m going to briefly cover 10 marketing strategies that our practice, or practice I’ve worked at have engaged in, and discuss the results. Unfortunately, not all of our planned marketing techniques have helped us to generate new patients. Some strategies have been costly, but provided little return on investment. Others worked in the sense that they brought people in the doors, but simply were not the best way to generate the sorts of clients we sought. And finally, a few were surprising runaway successes.
5 Marketing Failures
Here are some of the internal and external marketing techniques used at my practice that did not generate the results we were anticipating:
1. Paying for an inside ad in a neighborhood magazine targeted to local homeowners
Advertising with a neighborhood magazine seemed like it could be a way to attract more patients for my dental practice, but it proved to be costly and produce little to no return on investment. The ad itself cost about $2,000 to run, and it was a half page on the inside of the magazine.
As far as we could tell, it generated zero new patients. My thought as to why, is that having the advertisement inside the magazine limited who would see it and those who would act upon it.
2. Using Google AdWords
AdWords is a great advertising service Google offers for businesses wanting to display ads on Google and its network. However, as a small dental practice with a restricted budget, the service can be a very expensive way to acquire new customers.
My business also noticed with AdWords, the quality of the patient was not as good as those who were acquired through other marketing measures. For example, a patient who found the practice through AdWords was often a one-time emergency patient, was looking for pro-bono services, or was geographically a bad fit for the practice.
In sum, it worked in the sense that it generated new patient inquiries, they were just generally not great patients.
3. Sponsoring a local school’s scoreboard
Advertising within the community and with local schools is appealing, but it must be done correctly. Sponsoring a local school’s scoreboard was not the best marketing technique for our small business.
The sponsorship itself was quite costly, insofar as we bought the scoreboard and had it installed. In total we spent about $6,000, and there seemed to be nearly no return.
While we’ve had one or two patients mention it, I don’t think it was the reason they chose our practice, and certainly the return on investment is negative.
4. Marketing through Twitter
Social media marketing definitely can help businesses succeed, but for us, marketing through Twitter specifically did not produce new clients. It seems to me that Twitter is ideally suited for national brands or celebrities, and that geo-specific practices struggle to develop a following of local Twitter users that might actually become patients. Additionally, we felt as though it was hard to interact with people on Twitter, compared to other social media networks, leaving us with no real engagement.
Overall, this was not a fruitful marketing technique for our dental practice.
5. Expensive free office swag
Everyone loves getting free merchandise from businesses, like pens, notepads and bags. But do those items really help convert them into patrons of the business? In our case, we purchased trendy reusable shopping bags with our company logo on them. They were given away at events we sponsored, practice open houses, etc.
Unfortunately, despite giving away hundreds of these, I’ve literally never seen someone using one in the community, and I’m fairly certain this swag did not lead to new patients.
Marketing sometimes can be trial and error, and although those ideas did not produce the results we hoped to see, we learned from the mistakes and worked to implement better strategies. We discovered how costly some advertisements can be, despite their ability to increase our customer base, and chose better ways to spend our money.
5 Marketing Successes
Here are some of the marketing techniques we implemented that have worked for us and allowed us to continue to grow our dental practice:
1. Sponsoring a cover of the same neighborhood magazine targeted to local homeowners
Having our company information on the front cover of the same neighborhood magazine made a difference in our ability to attract new patients. The new placement increased the chances of people in the community noticing our business without even having to open the magazine.
This sponsorship marketing technique allowed us to reach a wider audience than before, and dozens of new patients joined our practice as a direct result of this advertisement.
2. Mailing postcards to homes in surrounding zip codes
Sending postcards to local homeowners, similar to the magazine sponsorship, is an inexpensive way on a per patient basis to promote your business to people who could be credible patients. My practice sent postcards to homes to the three zip codes surrounding the office.
The cost was about $3,000. We included a new patient coupon as part of the postcard. Again, we received about a dozen new patients, many of whom have become regular patients and referral sources in and of themselves.
3. Utilizing search engine optimization techniques
Your website can be used as more than just a way for patients to get your contact info. It can be a creative marketing tool used to increase your patient count.
The most effective way that we’ve found to accomplish this is through search engine optimization, or SEO. Your business can hire a firm to manage your SEO at a relatively low monthly cost. Although there are some upfront expenses, it is a long-term investment that will help potential patients consistently discover your business online when they search generic geo-targeted terms. For example, someone typing “San Antonio dentist” into google is likely to be a great client for us, so ensuring that our website shows up near the top of Google’s results is a worthwhile investment.
4. Implementing Facebook marketing
Facebook has more than one billion users, so using the free social network site as a marketing tool for your dental practice is a no-brainer. Posting regularly on a company Facebook page creates a place for your business to connect with followers and let them know what your practice can do for them. It also can serve as a way to highlight promotions or specials and serve as a point of contact for potential patients.
The ease of making geo-targeted connections on Facebook makes it the ideal social media platform for dental practices.
5. Sponsoring local sports teams
Business often sponsor local sports teams in the hopes of attracting more patients. In our experience the results are largely dependent on whether you actually follow up with the team. The reason, is that many times when you sponsor a team, the team forgets to list your businesses name on the jerseys or in the newsletter or wherever they promised you it would be listed. This occurs, I believe, not for any malicious reason, but simply because teams are often reliant on volunteers and things slip through the cracks. By following up, you can should make sure your name is mentioned at events or in some relation to the team as promised. The results of this, for us, have been good.
By selecting teams that are geographically close by and whose participants are likely to be patients, we’ve generated a significant amount of new clients.
Unfortunately, the days of simply opening an office and expecting clients to flood through the doors are long over. Patients have to be reached where they are, but simply blanketing the market with your practice’s brand can be very costly and have a negative return on investment. Instead, what we’ve learned is that effective marketing is targeted marketing that requires little to no effort on the part of the patient, and ideally offers them something of value.
While our experiences I’m sure aren’t universally applicable, hopefully, you can take the overarching lessons gleaned from our practice’s marketing experiences and make better decisions for your own practice.