Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA
After 11 years of lecturing and consulting about practice marketing, I have been amazed at how little real research we have about the communities in which we practice. If I were going to open a business today, I would know everything about the market area and customer base that could potentially support my new business.
In the Past
In the past, this was an unnecessary activity. You opened a dental practice and there was a sufficient flow of patients to make life fairly comfortable. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. There are more and more practices that are opening, or in areas with changing demographics, and these practices are beginning to slow down or suffer.
Now, do not misunderstand me. I am not a gloom and doom person. In fact, I want to do everything I possibly can to support dentistry.
One of these ways is to identify who our patients are and where they come from. One of the key areas is to begin to evaluate demographics. Now, this may sound boring, but it is becoming essential to your success.
You need to take the following steps in your practice in order to ensure that you have a growth and success-oriented future.
1. Survey your current patients for customer satisfaction. In the last 11 years we have surveyed almost 1,000,000 patients in offices throughout the United States. Many of the results are consistent, but many are not. For example, most patients may tell you that they are satisfied and will return to the practice. Most also tell you that your fees are too high. In many cases, we see trends about the attitude of the staff, quality of care, level of discomfort, etc. It is essential to know what your customers are thinking.
2. Analyze where your patients come from. How far do they live from the office? Which are the predominate zip codes, where are you gaining patients and where are you losing patients? Look at it geographically so that you have some idea of which communities are supporting your practice. It is amazing sometimes to find that one zip code or area is extremely supportive and another equally close by has basically ignored your practice.
3. Analyze the families, incomes, occupations, etc., of the community. We not only have to know where potential patients live, but who they are. It is essential that you establish a practice commensurate with the community. For example, one of the clear and common failures is the dentist who wants to establish a very high-level, cosmetic dental practice in an area that cannot support it. Regardless of how skilled this clinician may be, we are dealing with a potential failure.
The key to marketing demographics is analysis. You need to look at your practice in terms of where you are today, and where you might want the practice to be in the future. If you are considering moving even a block or two, a demographic analysis is essential.
We believe so heavily in the demographic analysis, that we now use this first before we perform any marketing for our clients. It is our feeling that the best results will come with detailed information. You need to analyze both who your current patients are and potential from the community.
The Next Step
The next step then is to establish a marketing campaign. For those of you who want to reach out to the community and tell them who you are and what your practice is all about, there are only a few vehicles to use. You have the basics of direct mail, print advertising, radio and television. Clearly, direct mail and print advertising have been the most successful.
Due to the excessive cost of advertising, I suggest that you use only local community papers to bring your message out to others. Your message should reflect the high service, high quality and caring philosophy of your practice. A simple announcement will not entice anyone. Today, people need to take away one key message from any type of communication. In your case, the key message would be relative to either the services you provide, type of practice you have, convenience of hours, etc. This is known as your competitive edge.
Marketing today is becoming an essential component of the management of any practice. As dentistry becomes more and more competitive, it is essential that people know who you are and what you stand for. This can only occur first if you know who they are and where they live.
Dr. Roger Levin is founder and president of The Levin Group, a national, dental-management and marketing-consulting firm. He can be reached at (410) 486-1089.