3 dental marketing lessons (and mistakes!) from a 'super generalist' in practice 30+ years

After more than 30 years of successfully running and expanding his own practice (which maintains revenue numbers well into the seven digits), you could say that Dr. Plawner of North Broad Family Dental knows what works for him.

Sep 30th, 2015
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Joy Gendusa

Jacob Plawner, DDS, of Elizabeth, New Jersey, describes himself as a "do-it-all super generalist." Implants, traditional orthodontics, Invisalign, periodontal health, cosmetics . . . the kitchen sink . . . you name it.

After more than 30 years of successfully running and expanding his own practice (which maintains revenue numbers well into the seven digits), you could say that Dr. Plawner of North Broad Family Dental knows what works for him.

His marketing strategy is no exception.

Dr. Plawner has expanded his practice over the years to six chairs and 13 staff members. Specifically:

• One full-time associate

• One full-time hygienist

• Four full-time assistants

• Four full-time front desk associates

• One office manager

• Three part-timers thrown into the mix

Plus, Dr. Plawner currently finds himself at an enviable crux of any dentist's career: "I need more space now," he says. "I'm getting ready to ramp up my postcard marketing again, and I'm hoping that will take me to the next level, about 110 to 115 new patients a month, so that I'll need to expand my hours."

I thought now would be an exciting time to sit down with Dr. Plawner to discuss the hits and misses he's experienced over the years when it comes to one of my favorite subjects: marketing.

An important note before we begin: This is an interview case study of one of my customers, so I want to warn you that he praises us specifically. But you can absolutely put his best practices to use with any vendor you choose!

Now, let's get started:

3 dental marketing lessons (and mistakes!) from a "super generalist" in practice 30+ years

Lesson No. 1:

Make sure your front desk is asking how new callers heard about you.

Any marketer worth his salt will tell you that tracking your marketing and knowing where your leads come from is vital. How else will you know which methods work? Do you really want to end up potentially wasting a large chunk of your marketing budget?

For Dr. Plawner, who handles all of his own marketing, tracking is equal parts statistics and anecdotal insights from staff.

He tracks revenue and new patient numbers (80 to 90 per month, currently) and leaves it up to his front desk team to ask every caller how they heard about his practice, as well as which offers are driving phone calls and new appointments.

Dr. Plawner: "I'm constantly monitoring the quality of leads we have coming in and the return on investment, and I make changes if I'm confident the return on investment is inadequate. The way your staff answers the phone and handles that first contact is critical."

For those without the extra hours in the day to meticulously track your marketing, but who are still nervous about relying on staff to properly track it, Dr. Plawner suggests this failsafe: A call-tracking service.

Dr. Plawner: "Compared to years ago, tracking is way, way easier now. I have PostcardMania's call-tracking service, and it sends the calls and reports to my email, and I just listen to them whenever I want, so it doesn't take away from patient time. I can jump forward in the call, jump back, or repeat the call. I can forward that email to the staff member who handled it and speak to him or her about that, whether it's to say 'good job' or address something that might be an issue."

So how valuable has call tracking been to gauging his marketing efforts?

Dr. Plawner: "It's been extremely valuable. I listen personally to almost every phone call. And my staff also knows they can't be lackadaisical, because I'm listening."

Lesson No. 2:

Find out what works, Then continue to fine-tune it until results are maximized.

Here's where we get to the juicy part: Marketing methods that have and haven't worked.

Let's start with what hasn't been successful for Dr. Plawner, who emphasizes that his experience might be different for a practice with several locations or one located in a less densely populated area. (Elizabeth boasts a population density of about 10,000 people per square mile.)

• Newspaper? "Poor return on investment," he says.

• Billboards? "I don't think I would do that again."

• TV and radio? "I listen to CBS radio all the time, and I hear dental advertising come and go, so with that kind of turnover, it isn't working."

• Transit advertising? "That was also very expensive and didn't have a good return on investment."

• Yellow Pages? "Thirty years ago, I was doing Yellow Pages. Couldn't live without it. Then the Internet came along changed everything."

Today's dental marketing scene looks a bit different for Dr. Plawner. To recruit new patients, he's homed in on two methods: postcards and web search/pay per click. (Pay per click ads are the paid ads that show up alongside organic search results on Google.) Dr. Plawner keeps both of these services in-house at PostcardMania so that management is seamless, but his success is a good measuring stick for what a professional vendor should be able to achieve for you.

First, let's look at where Dr. Plawner's leads are coming from:

• 33.5% referrals

• 33.5% web search/pay per click

• 20% postcards

• 13% other

To understand the value he's getting from postcards, and to understand why this method is working overtime, let's go more in depth.

For the purpose of easier math, let's say that each new patient Dr. Plawner adds has a lifetime value of $2,500. To arrive at this figure, Dr. Plawner includes initial revenue generated from a patient's first visit, as well as future revenue as it averages out to include various factors. These include length of doctor/patient relationship, visitation frequency, volume of work, referrals, etc.

For postcards, we'll use the 12-month campaign Dr. Plawner just finished running, wherein he mailed an average of 12,000 postcards per month.

Let's look at the postcard numbers:

• Total campaign cost: $37,930 ($3,160/month)

• Estimated new patients generated: 216 (18/month)

• Revenue per new patient: $2,500

• Total campaign revenue: $540,000

• ROI: 1,323%

Who wouldn't love a return like that? Enough said!

A note on postcards versus web search leads: they're often misidentified. People get your card, google you, and say they found you online. The exposure you get from postcards can't always be measured directly, but it's vital. A good ratio for dental marketing is 75% direct mail and 25% pay per click.

What will Dr. Plawner's next marketing experiment be?

Dr. Plawner: "Now, with fall coming up, I want to ramp up postcards again and see if that takes us to the next level."

In my experience, it will!

Lesson No. 3:

Great service compounds good marketing results, so underpromise and overdeliver!

Throughout my interview with Dr. Plawner, he emphasized again and again what he calls his internal marketing-basically, the infrastructure of his practice, including everything from good, friendly service to competitive pricing and same-day results.

Dr. Plawner: "One of my goals is to exceed patient expectations. It's like going to a fine restaurant. It isn't just the food; it's everything. The atmosphere, the service, everything. If you can't execute as a dentist and keep patients happy, you're not going to be successful."

As proof, about one third of Dr. Plawner's new patients come from referrals!

In summary, here's Dr. Plawner's winning marketing plan: Reel in new patients with postcards and pay per click/web search, and then deliver great service to ensure each of those patients brings in two more new patients for you.

And that, my friends, is how a dental practice keeps its marketing costs down and its revenue on the up and up-literally!

To learn more about Dr. Plawner's marketing experience, watch the video case study we just completed at postcardmania.com/dr-plawner. Dr. Plawner can be reached for questions or inquiries at jacobplawnerdds@aol.com


Joy Gendusa is the founder and CEO of PostcardMania. Using just postcards, a phone, and a computer, Joy built PostcardMania from a one-person startup into an industry leader serving over 65,000 clients, plus more than 4,000 dentists! Need help promoting your practice? Call one of PostcardMania's dental marketing consultants at (844) 269-1836, email Joy at joy.gendusa@postcardmania.com, or visit www.postcardmania.com/designs/dental-designs.

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