Promoting cosmetic dentistry to the masses

It's no secret. Dentistry has shed about 18% of total revenues over the past six or seven years. Do you remember the cosmetic heyday that lasted from 2002 through 2006? Almost every family had home equity values growing at 10% per year, and they could max their credit cards every six to eight months and pay them off through their equity lines of credit. We are sure some of you remember. We are sure some of you enjoyed it too!

Howie Horrocks

Mark Dilatush

Let's look at some numbers first

It's no secret. Dentistry has shed about 18% of total revenues over the past six or seven years. Do you remember the cosmetic heyday that lasted from 2002 through 2006? Almost every family had home equity values growing at 10% per year, and they could max their credit cards every six to eight months and pay them off through their equity lines of credit. We are sure some of you remember. We are sure some of you enjoyed it too!

We remember. It was a hyperinflated cosmetic dentistry market, fueled by a seemingly endless supply of available consumer credit.

We remember dentists calling us from all over the dental galaxy, wanting us to create a strong brand image while advertising them as just a cosmetic dentist. For the most part, we refused to purposely niche trap a client. A "niche trap" is what happens when your surrounding community believes that the one or two things you advertise (which is all they know or perceive about you) constitutes all that you do. In other words, you become the dental office that only does cosmetics.

The cosmetic, niche-trapped practices are the practices that have endured the biggest financial meltdown over the last seven years. The dental consumer ran out of credit. Poof!

Why did we start this article with what seems to be doom and gloom? We do not want you to make the same mistake some of your colleagues made in the recent past. Promoting cosmetic dental services to the masses is definitely possible. Done properly, it can almost become predictable! But you have to target the right consumers, and you have to deliver the right message.

Mention it, but don't mention it by itself

Within your advertising message-whether it is displayed on your website, direct mail, or other media types - our recommendation is to mention that you provide great cosmetic dental services but within the framework of all of your primary marketable attributes (or as many as you can fit within the space you have).

Get the market without going after it specifically

You are far better off going after the family or general dentistry market with a mention of cosmetic services than you are promoting cosmetic services while ignoring the family or general dentistry market. Why? Because Mom (your target market) has or may have many dental needs that must be met. Those other needs have absolutely nothing to do with cosmetic dentistry right now. We emphasize "right now" because, if you advertise only your cosmetic dental services to the consumer, you are actually looking for dental consumers who have a need for cosmetic dental services right now. The number of consumers who want cosmetic dental services right now is finite. The number of consumers who want-or can be coaxed into being interested in-one of several things you offer is a much higher number.

Think back to the last five big cases you did. Were those patients of record for six months or more, prior to getting their cases done? Most probably were. When they came to your practice for the first time, they likely came for a different dental need than cosmetics, but you and your team showed them the possibilities.

Here's our point: The majority of larger cosmetic cases start with patients who are interested in the family or general kind of services first. So, to reduce a lot of risk to your advertising dollars, you should certainly mention your cosmetic services, but you should also mention all of the other ways you can help Mom's whole family.

Message delivery vehicles, from least risk to highest risk

1. Internal promotion

Make sure all of your patients are aware that you offer cosmetic dentistry. You accomplish this by including cosmetic services within internal office brochures (in print and HTML form), periodic email content (twice per year is sufficient), and perhaps even a loop on a flat screen in your reception area. You would be surprised at how many of your existing patients log on to your website just to find your telephone number. A link for a new cosmetic dentistry page on the home page would be a great addition.

2. Direct mail

Are you surprised to learn direct mail is second on the list in terms of least risk? Properly done, direct mail is the only promotion medium with nearly endless targeting options. If you mail to everyone, you waste at least half of your advertising budget. But if you mail only to people within a two-mile radius with a high marketability index, who are in the top 40% in household income, and who are in the top 40% in credit worthiness, you waste much less of your advertising budget.

3. Internet

Your practice website is going to do two things: It is going to receive traffic generated by your offline advertising (e.g., mail, print ads, and radio), and it is also going to receive traffic from consumers via Google and other search engines (if your website is well-positioned). The prominence of the cosmetic dentistry link on your website and the content of your cosmetic dentistry page(s) will largely determine how well you convert interest from your website.

4. Print media

Very few of you will need to go here. Print media needs to be vetted very carefully prior to investment.

5. Mass media (e.g., radio, TV, billboards)

We do have clients who promote cosmetic dentistry in mass media. But their 60-second cosmetic ads are in rotation with four or five other 60-second ads, which promote their other marketable attributes. We would never use a mass media budget for promoting just cosmetic dentistry.

Here are your takeaways. Promote cosmetic dentistry as one of the many marketable attributes of your practice. Implement minimal-risk promotions. Have faith in the family market. That's where many of the big cases come from anyway.


Howie Horrocks is the founder, CEO, and partner of New Patients Inc., the marketing firm exclusively for dentists. Mark Dilatush serves as president and partner. Horrocks wrote and sold the first two books in the bestselling series, Unlimited New Patients, and coauthored a third book in the series with Dilatush. Together they have written articles in popular dental trade journals, published seven hours of online continuing education, and provided live education events to thousands of dental professionals on the topic of effectively promoting dentistry to today's consumers.

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