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Marketing your dental practice: Genius tactics from other industries

March 1, 2021
At a time when big players in the dental industry seem to have an endless marketing budget, it makes sense to look to other industries for fresh new marketing ideas.

Marketing in the dental industry is changing rapidly. Corporations such as Smile Direct Club are gaining ground thanks to a seemingly endless marketing budget, so local practices need to be a step ahead of the game if they want to stay competitive and grow.

Why not look to what other industries are doing to stay relevant and shake up your marketing game?

As the owner of a marketing company that has served 96,765 business owners (most in trades other than dental, though it is one of our top industries), I see a lot of different marketing strategies. Dental Economics Editor-in-Chief Chris Salierno, DDS, and I thought it would be enlightening for dentists to take a peek behind the curtain to see what’s trending and working in other industries.

Today, I want to share how different industries are utilizing the next evolution of direct mail in the hope that it inspires you. You may even find a way to implement new technologies into your own practice’s marketing.

The power of personalization

The first industry I want to talk about is real estate. Real estate agents and investors (people who buy and flip houses or rent them out while building equity) are some of today’s most active and prolific marketers. They seem to be on the cutting edge of every emerging marketing trend.

Last year marked an uptick in personalization in real estate marketing—for good reason. Personalized messages generate a response rate as much as three times higher than standard messaging.1

Personalization in marketing takes many forms. In general, it means creating a more customized, responsive experience for prospects in lieu of a broad, one-size-fits-all approach. In print, piece-by-piece personalization can be achieved through variable data.

Variable data allows you to customize individual elements of every mail piece at the design level to best suit each recipient. This includes
using a recipient’s name, address, neighborhood, or even an offer printed right on the card. It’s a bit easier to understand if there’s a before-and-after visual, so check out Figure 1 to see how design looks before variable data is inserted. In contrast, Figure 2 demonstrates how the final design changes once variable data is inserted. Of course, the investor doesn’t know what John’s home at 1000 Main Street looks like. But, based on other data that’s available (e.g., when the home was built,
the value of the home, and the region in which John lives), the investor can program certain images for certain data sets. 

The driving force behind variable data printing is—you guessed it—the data. As long as you have it, you can use it to customize a mailer to the nth degree in the name of grabbing attention. 

So, how can this technology help your dental practice? 

It all starts with data. Are you tracking patients’ birthdays? What about their last appointments? Whether they go six months between appointments or 18? Was their last appointment an emergency or just a routine cleaning? Who fully opted into your treatment plan, and who never came back? 

You could create a highly personalized campaign that targets people based on the questions above, but can you find out this information with a quick search of your database, or would it take days or even weeks to come up with?

Variable data can be an amazing tool, but it also reinforces one of marketing’s most basic fundamentals: A campaign is only as good as the data it’s built on.

Unless your practice is meticulously documenting patient data in a digital database, patient relationship management (PRM) software, or a patient portal of some kind, you’re going to be limited in the campaigns and targeting available to your practice.

My advice is to take a page from the real estate guys and start getting your data in order so that you can take your marketing to the next level.

Reach prospects at the ideal moment for a 40% increase in conversion

This is where things get really exciting (at least for a marketing nerd like me). In marketing, a trigger is anything that creates an automatic, preprogrammed response. For example, when you buy something online and instantly receive an email confirmation and receipt for that purchase in your inbox, clicking the “buy now” button was the trigger that sent that email to your inbox. 

A trigger plus its downstream response equals automation. Instantaneous automation, as demonstrated by the example above, has largely been limited to the digital domain. But now that automation is available in print, direct mail is experiencing a surge in trigger-based demand.

Here are a few trigger-based direct mail campaigns you might come across:

  • E-commerce retailers might send a postcard to someone who abandoned a cart with a discount for one of the items they left to lure them back.
  • An airline company could send a brochure about Spain to people who searched for flights to Spain on their website but didn’t finish the booking.
  • Gyms or other membership-based clubs may send free class invitations to clients whose annual renewal date is coming up to entice them to try new services and maybe even increase their membership level.

The opportunities are plentiful, which begs the question: Does this approach work? Does it move the needle?

Turns out, these triggers create an even more personalized experience for consumers and further increase direct mail’s already industry-high efficacy.1 One New York City company started sending trigger-based postcards to website visitors who left the site without purchasing. They tracked the results closely and noticed that the mailers improved response rate (people returning to the website) by 20% and increased conversion (people who bought something or provided their contact information) by a whopping 40%.2

Direct mail triggers can be programmed in response to almost any scenario, not necessarily in response to browsing behavior. Some examples you might’ve seen in action already are birthday mailers, reactivation mailings, or customer thank-you cards.

Just a few years ago, someone had to manually send a recipient list to their direct mail company at the beginning of each month if they wanted to wish customers a happy birthday. That exchange is now instant and happens without humans getting involved. The only communication that happens is between a business’s PRM and the printing company’s integration.

Dental practices can get in on direct mail triggers too. Appointment reminders seem like the most obvious opportunity you can take advantage of right away; they’re as easy to program as email or SMS reminders.

The difference is that direct mail offers a physical touchpoint that can’t be replicated by digital. Studies show that direct mail messaging is easier for our brains to process and remember,3 visually processed quicker, and more likely to drive behavior and response than digital media.4

One of the most successful triggers to attract new patients is new mover campaigns. USPS records are updated regularly, and you can automate mailings to new movers within your area to ensure that they hear about your business before they even have a chance to Google “dentists near me.”

Another trigger-based tactic popular in dental marketing is “use it or lose it” mailings, where the trigger is scheduled at the year’s end to target people based on their insurance coverage and last appointment. It basically prompts recipients to use their dental benefits before they expire.

The possible triggers and tactics out there at your disposal are plentiful. 

Once you’ve cultivated a workable PRM with all of the pertinent data, you can capitalize on these new technologies to reach new people and bring in more new patients than ever. If you do decide to implement either of these strategies, please let me know how it goes! I would love to hear from you.  

REFERENCES

1 . ANA/DMA 2018 response rate report: performance and cost metrics across direct media. DMA, a division of the Association of National Advertisers. November 15, 2018. www.ana.net/miccontent/show/id/rr-2018-ana-dma-respose-rate

2. Levine B. Retargeting via direct mail: how PebblePost is connecting digital to snail mail. MarTech Today. October 8, 2015. https://martechtoday.com/pebbleposts-new-platform-brings-direct-mail-into-the-age-of-quick-retargeting-145874

3. A bias for action. Canada Post Corporation. July 31, 2015. www.canadapost.ca/assets/pdf/blogs/CPC_Neuroscience_EN_150717.pdf

4. Enhancing the value of mail: The human response. U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General. June 15, 2015. https://www.uspsoig.gov/sites/default/files/document-library-files/2015/rarc-wp-15-012.pdf

JOY GENDUSA is the founder and CEO of PostcardMania. Using just postcards, a phone, and a computer, Gendusa built PostcardMania from a one-person start-up into an industry leader. PostcardMania serves 96,765 clients, including 6,481 dentists. Need help promoting your practice? Call one of PostcardMania’s dental marketing consultants at (844) 269-1836, or email Gendusa at [email protected].