Your New Patient Is Calling!

Aug. 1, 2002
Are your marketing skills keeping up with the growth in your professional skills? Here's what's new in marketing technologies.

by Baldev Sandhu, MD, and Danielle Ciofalo

Are your marketing skills keeping up with the growth in your professional skills? Here's what's new in marketing technologies.

There was a time when dentists who advertised - or otherwise attempted to market their practice and professional expertise - would have been stripped of their license for unethical behavior.

Today, the question is not whether to market or promote your practice, but how to do so in the most effective, cost-efficient manner. With one general dentist per 3,000 of the U.S. population, now, more than ever before, dentists have to market in a way that will differentiate their practice from their competitors' and attract new patients.

Unfortunately, marketing still is not taught well - if at all - in most dental schools. Although dentists are spending well over half a billion dollars each year on advertising and marketing, most of them are dissatisfied with the results. They see very meager returns compared to the amount of money they invest. After all, if dentists are spending good money to promote their practices, they should be seeing new patients coming through their doors!

Professional marketing companies such as ours frequently are appalled at how much money dentists spend in a haphazard manner on Yellow Pages, newspaper, magazine, radio, and TV advertising without measuring their results in a systematic way.

Marketing and advertising remain more art than science. However, newer technologies and the results of marketing studies on products ranging from automobiles to airline tickets have revolutionized what can be achieved. Let's take a look at how 1-800-BEST DDS developed a marketing program for dentists.

Addressing dentists' needs

The first step in devising any marketing program is to set a goal. Dentists around the country consistently seek the same seven goals:

  1. We want to increase the number of self-pay patients seeking cosmetic dentistry.
  2. We want to position our practice in a way that we can charge more for our services than our competitors.
  3. We should never feel that marketing efforts end up selling the exact same services for competitors down the street.
  4. The marketing program should be cost-effective.
  5. The results should be measurable, and a report of the results should be generated automatically every month.
  6. The marketing program should increase the value of the dentist's practice.
  7. The program should comport with the highest standards of professional ethics.

    In dentistry, new technologies allow us to provide services undreamed of a decade ago. Marketing also has made great advances, enabling the development of new products and services.

    The key is to take advantage of these marketing opportunities.

    Vanity phone numbers

    The first advance has been the widespread availability of toll-free numbers, coupled with the lower cost of long-distance services. With widespread use of toll-free numbers, we have been able to quantify the increased number of calls that can be expected from an advertisement that incorporates a toll-free number.

    For example, if Joe's Mattress and Frame Shop in Rockaway, Long Island, were to change its phone number listed in its newspaper advertisement from (718) 546-7891 to (800) 546-7891, the response to that ad would increase two-to-threefold, although the longevity of the response would be unchanged at two-to three-days immediately following the appearance of the ad. If the increased responses can be converted to sales, then the investment in the cost of obtaining and setting up the toll- free number would have been very worthwhile.

    But what if Joe could obtain a vanity number - such as 1-800-MATTRESS? The response to the same ad would increase another three-to-fourfold over a generic 800 number. Better still, the longevity of the response also would increase!

    These results have been tested over a wide range of industries and services. It is "marketing gospel" today that if we incorporate a high quality, toll-free number in a campaign, the response rate will be four-to-tenfold greater than if a regular toll-free number were used. As you open any newspaper or magazine, you will be struck by the widespread use of toll-free numbers. Then, you'll begin to wonder why every advertisement does not carry a toll-free vanity number.

    The answer to that question is simple: cost! Even a multibillion-dollar public company such as United Parcel Service does not have the number that would have been ideal for them: 1-800 CALL UPS; it had to settle for 1-800 PICK UPS, which just does not have as much clarity of purpose as CALL UPS.

    That's why the first step Sandhu & Co. took in developing a new marketing program was to obtain a high-quality, toll-free number which would describe the service being offered: 1-800-BEST DDS.

    Direct routing systems

    The next advance we took advantage of was the development of newer generations of switching and routing technologies. These technologies, when coupled with an advanced form of Caller ID, enable something almost magical to happen. Clearly, if a dentist in Princeton, N.J., were to utilize this program, he would only be interested in receiving calls from potential patients in his immediate vicinity who are more likely to come to him. That's where advanced routing and switching comes in. With a proprietary "direct-routing" system, we map the area - generally by zip codes - around the dentist's office where he is likely to draw patients and program our telephone switches accordingly. Then, when a patient calls 1-800-BEST DDS from anywhere within that calling area, the call first goes to our switch, where, with our advanced form of Caller ID, the call is sourced and then electronically rerouted to the participating dentist in Princeton. Like all good technology, the intricacies of what goes on are invisible to consumers. They only see the result - they called and were instantaneously connected to the dentist's office close to them. For the participating dentist in Princeton, the advantage is simple: The only calls he will receive will be from patients who are within a comfortable traveling distance of his office.

    This same technology also enables us to achieve every marketer's dream - a seamless, transparent, computerized way of recording the caller's name, phone number, and the time of day of every call generated by the marketing program! No other type of marketing program can capture data in this way. The information then can be printed out and utilized to track whether calls to that office actually are being converted to patient consultations and, ultimately, revenue. Imagine the benefits if you could really tell how many calls were being generated by your current marketing and advertising vehicles, whether they are the Yellow Pages, print advertising, or mailers!

    Bulk media-buying saves $$$

    By its very nature, this program would have to be territorially exclusive. The question of our marketing company selling the same services to a competitor in the same territory simply cannot arise! However, like all advertising and marketing programs, there can be no guarantee of the number of responses generated, but the question of "value for money" can be easily addressed. This is assured by the bulk media-buying that a marketer, like our company, can achieve, as opposed to the retail price that an individual dentist would have to pay for the same advertising space. And, of course, an individual practice simply could not afford to market itself in high-end newspapers or magazines such as Town & Country, Cosmopolitan, etc.

    Our marketing campaign is aimed at the affluent consumer and promotes, in a generic manner, the importance of a beautiful smile and how much easier it is to obtain today with the latest advances in technology. The power of co-op advertising, another time-tested and proven marketing tool incorporated in this program, is fully utilized by our new program, with a unique twist provided by our direct-routing technology. That means a consumer in Miami, responding to an advertisement in Vogue, would be directly connected to the office of a dentist in Miami, while a consumer in Los Angeles, responding to the same ad, would be directly connected to a dentist in her locale.

    The final technique is third-party endorsement. The 1-800 BEST DDS program supplies to the consumer our "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" that the dentist they are being referred to has been checked out by us and is, in fact, one of the best dentists in the country. Unlike conventional advertising where the individual dentist is promoting himself, it is quite clear in our program that it is not the individual dentist tooting his own horn and that we have a vested interest in finding what we believe to be the best dentists.

    This ties into the most important point in any marketing program: Protect the brand image by always delivering what you promise. An upscale brand clearly differentiates participating dentists from their competitors, allowing them to concentrate on the quality of their services rather than their price.

    While this article has covered how we apply the latest techniques in marketing and advertising to develop a new program for marketing high-quality dental services for our clients, it also should raise sufficient questions for you so that you can take a fresh look at what you are doing to promote, market, and position your practice. Have your marketing skills kept up with your professional skills - or is a fresh approach warranted?

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