Ideal patient targeting to get all the patients you need

by Ginger Bratzel, DDS

Traditional practice-focused marketing highlights all the services offered by a practice and assumes patients will just walk through the door if "you are out there enough." But a patient's decision to seek care is based on more abstract principles, and is made on an emotional level that stems from the person's values and beliefs. The sweet spot where results occur is where the marketing makes a patient feel understood, and that this practice is the one to solve his or her issues.

To get to this level of connection and understanding, the first step is to analyze your prospective patients' behaviors and preferences. This allows you to laser-focus your marketing message to appeal to them. When marketing to new prospects, the best place to identify what type of patients to target is to look at your existing patient pool and identify your best patients.

From my own experience, this was not a quick exercise, but a productive and profitable one. I practiced in rural New Mexico, in a college town where the economy was supported mostly by the local university, government employers, and neighboring military base.

The tendency for most practices is to focus on the insured employees and hope to encourage this group to use their coverage, and therefore gain additional case acceptance of noncovered and elective services.

But within my practice, my ideal prospect was counterintuitive to the typical insured patient. I directed my attention toward the hundreds of miles surrounding the town, which was comprised mostly of farms and ranches. Ranching is not just an occupation, but also a lifestyle and value system. By aligning my marketing message to meet ranchers' core beliefs, it increased the practice's appeal to this group, and ultimately, increased my profitability.

I loved my rancher and farmer patients because they were salt-of-the-earth people. If treated right, they were highly loyal and great referral sources. They were self-employed, hard working, and had a tendency to have more comprehensive dental needs than the regular dental insurance type of patient. Since they travelled a long distance for dental treatment, they planned and upheld their commitments for longer appointments with more care. Since they didn't have insurance, there were no discussions about what was covered and what was not. And most of the time, they paid up front in cash for our services. They were often ignored by other practices, so this was a place they felt understood.

Since I had my target audience, I needed to be where they were to attract them. By identifying everything about them and finding common traits, I could narrow my marketing message so that it was tailor made for their attention.

Since my ideal patients were ranchers, their first common trait was ownership of cattle. To denote ownership, each cattle is branded with a specific mark that is unique to that rancher and regulated by a central registry for each state. Therefore, this registry would have a database of every rancher's name and address.

The central registry wouldn't rent or sell the list but they would allow me to join the group. As a member's benefit, I received a complete list of my fellow members in a bound book produced annually -- a gold mine of highly qualified prospective patients!

It became a simple matter of having a high school intern come in, go through the book to highlight every rancher within our geographic targeted area, enter his information into a spreadsheet, and create a master list of prospective patients to market to.

Because this list was precise and I had a great deal of information that was specific to their lifestyle and needs, I could tailor my marketing material directly to the ranchers. I got their attention because I knew and understood them on a deep level.

The results from this multistep marketing campaign were a 75% response rate of getting them to call the office for information, and a 60% conversion rate to becoming patients over an 18-month period. We further adapted our office systems, scheduling, and procedures to cater to them, which further increased case acceptance.

Every practice is capable of going through this process to identify your ideal patients, find where they hang out, build systems to appeal to them, and attract them to your practice. Simply asking yourself "Who do I love to treat?" lays the foundation to playing detective and going out there and finding more of them.

Ginger Bratzel, DDS, practices in New Mexico, where she developed systems and strategies to increase patient attraction. She created her proprietary system, New Patient Attraction Automation™, a proven step-by-step program to show dentists exactly how to attract more of the right kind of patients, and also the Mobile Marketing for Dentists Program. Reach her at www.GingerBratzel.com.

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