In today's crowded digital landscape, where attention spans are short and consumers are bombarded with a never-ending array of marketing messages, it can be challenging for dentists and dental practices to stand out. Couple that with a saturated market of “dental marketers,” and it can be even more challenging to know who to listen to and which strategies to implement. One of the most effective, yet often omitted, pieces of the dental marketing puzzle is the power of your story.
Why should you care about storytelling?
Storytelling is a timeless and potent tool for communication, enabling us to share, engage, and understand in ways that few other methods can achieve. In marketing, storytelling provides a unique opportunity to connect with your patients and potential patients quickly, and on a deeper level. It allows your brand to move beyond clinical dentistry and convey your values and personality, creating an experience that feels less like advertising and more like a genuine effort to build relationships within your community.
- Answer these 4 questions to find a great dental marketing company
- 3 effective and creative ways to market your pediatric practice
- Marketing your dental practice: Genius tactics from other industries
Stories are powerful in many ways. They relate to how we’re collectively wired as human beings. Picture two cavemen sitting by a fire. One of them is keeled over, writhing in pain. In the midst of his agony, he screams to his friend, “Don’t eat those yellow berries over there! I ate some earlier today, and now I’m sick. They did this to me!”
His friend now knows not to eat the yellow berries. They will both tell other cavemen (and women) that they are on a strict, non-yellow-berry diet. In today’s world, the yellow berries get a one-star Google review. Very bad. Do not recommend. Bad day to be in the yellow berry business, right?
That’s story-based marketing! And it could be the reason your marketing underwhelms, underperforms, and you feel something is off in your overall strategy.
Why is story-based marketing so powerful for dentists?
Stories persuade and drive action. I often remind dentists that, statistically, most people are scared or apprehensive about coming to the practice. This is important to remember! There are few situations where a consumer must spend money on something they are fearful of. And that fear and anxiety plays a role in the potential patient’s decision-making process.
We’re wired, when faced with uncertainty or fear, to try to find commonality. To bridge the gap and connect. After all, we’re social creatures. Research shows that our brains are mapped to understand and retain stories better than logic or facts alone.1 Functional messages may be forgotten, but stories have a remarkable impact on retention and behavior. Studies indicate that when information is conveyed through stories, retention rates can increase from 5%–10% to 65%–75%.2
The core of storytelling
You might be thinking, “This is great, Sean. But how in the heck do I do this?” Let’s break it down simply and succinctly by identifying the core elements of any story:
Set your hook. The hook is the central theme that grabs the audience’s attention and compels them to want to learn more. This can be something unique about you, a talent, an experience, a funny memory, etc. Or you can use things like patient stories, amazing outcomes, or special aspects of your patient experience. You have a lot to offer. You know it; I know it. Show it!
Connect with the audience. Crafting a story that resonates requires a deep understanding of the target audience, including their values and motivations. It’s not just about demographics, but also about relating to their aspirations and struggles. As I stated earlier, most of your potential patient base is fearful and anxious about dentistry. Creating a website and marketing message that is all about you, your professional accomplishments, how smart you are, and the ins and outs of every clinical service you offer is not how you sell dentistry. Make the website about your potential patients. Position yourself as their guide to the outcome they are hoping for. Put yourself, your hobbies, your interests, your motivations into your marketing message. It will humanize you and make you less intimidating. It will differentiate you from every other practice in the area. The connection will create an army of brand evangelists who tell everyone they know how great you are. That’s a win!
Please remember that most patients and potential patients have no idea if you are a better clinician than any other dentist in town. They trust that you’re capable and they don’t necessarily know the quality of your work. They do know if they like and trust you.
Think of your practice as a character. Stories inspire transformation, and audiences often identify with characters. Your practice, collectively, can be a character. Your existing patients are characters. Showcase how your practice is different from the traditional dental practice experience. Showcase the amazing outcomes you create for patients. Use both to tell stories and compel users to engage.
Create structure. The structure of a story plays a critical role in its success. A setup, conflict, and payoff is widely considered effective in storytelling. A person in your community is in pain, self-conscious about their smile, etc. They need to find a dentist in their area—someone they like, who makes them comfortable, and who can remedy whatever dental problems they are having. You position yourself as that guide and share enough about who you are to make them feel less threatened by you as a clinician. They visit the practice and it’s everything they were hoping for and more. The result is a happy, healthy, comfortable, beautiful smile and a beaming patient who can’t say enough great things about you.
Be authentic. Genuine storytelling is essential to counter consumer skepticism. Communicating a truth rooted in enduring insights creates an authentic connection, avoiding a manufactured feel. You are unique and you make your practice unique. Your life experiences, path to dentistry, hobbies, and interests all come through in every patient interaction and ultimately your brand. Be yourself. Be human.
Building trust and reliability
When patients are looking for a new dental practice, they want to feel confident and comfortable with the provider they choose. Storytelling can help to humanize a dental practice and create a personal connection with potential patients. By sharing relatable stories about patients’ experiences or the dentist’s personal journey, the practice can build trust and establish a stronger connection with its audience.
Patient experience is critical to the success of a dental practice. Story-based marketing can help to improve the patient experience by setting expectations and preparing patients for their appointment. By sharing stories about the practice’s approach to patient care, what to expect, what the office looks like, the team, etc., patients will feel more comfortable and confident when they arrive for their appointment.
In addition to improving engagement and shares, story-based marketing can also enhance a dental practice’s search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. By creating high-quality, original content that incorporates keywords and phrases related to dental services, your practice can improve search engine rankings and attract more organic traffic to your website.
Story-based marketing is a powerful tool that can help dental practices grow and engage their web traffic. By humanizing the practice, differentiating from competitors, increasing engagement and shares, improving patient experience, and enhancing SEO, story-based marketing can have a significant impact on the success of every dental practice. By using storytelling techniques to connect with potential patients, dental practices can build strong relationships and create a loyal, referring patient base.
Editor's note: This article appeared in the August 2023 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.
- Widrich L. The science of storytelling: what listening to a story does to our brains. Buffer. November 29, 2012. https://buffer.com/ resources/science-of-storytelling-why-telling-a-story-is-the-most-powerful-way-to-activate-our-brains/
- Storytelling statistics and trends. Go-Globe. https://www.go-globe.com/storytelling-statistics-trends-infographic/