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Creating a Seriously Superior, Marketing-Smart Practice Brochure That Gets Patients

June 1, 2007
What to do (and not do) when the page is blank

by Stewart Gandolf, MBA, and Lonnie Hirsch

What to do (and not do) when the page is blank

Everyone’s seen them. Everyone’s got one. But hardly anyone has a truly great practice brochure.

In our previous article in the April issue of Dental Economics® (www.dentaleconomics.com), we discussed how branding differentiates your practice and describes what you are and who you’re for. Your practice brochure is a primary communication tool for that unique message and purpose. Before we get to the how-to material, here’s a brief “why you should” story to illustrate the potential of a good practice brochure. This is a true story, although some details have been omitted to preserve confidentiality.

We recently consulted with a dental practice in the Midwest about branding and positioning the practice, including the creation of a new practice brochure. The dentist’s marketing program delivered a solid return for the practice - but that was just the beginning.

Our dentist client was so excited about his new brochures that he decided to drop some off with the guards at the gated entrance of a mansion in his upscale community. (It is evidently well-known locally that members of a wealthy Middle Eastern royal family regularly come to town for health-care services that are not available in their native land.) The dentist soon had appointments with members of the royal household staff, bodyguards, and entourage. It was a few at first, but they must have found the practice to their liking because others soon followed.

Perhaps the visits by the royal staff were a test, which the dentist must have passed, because within a few weeks he had to close his office for a week to exclusively provide dental services to all members of the royal family.

Remember, all of this success came from a powerful practice brochure that was created with the philosophy that a brochure has to be more than pretty - it has to sell.

OK, it’s a fun story and not everyone has royalty down the street. Frankly, if the practice had not delivered high-quality dental care or fulfilled the expectations in the brochure, there would have been no success story to share. But there is a message here for all of us. A quality brochure can attract one patient, then others, and finally many others. No doubt you’ll treat them all like royalty.

Overlooked and underutilized

The typical practice brochure is ubiquitous and undistinguishable and appears easy to create and use. A simple commodity ... nothing to it ... looks OK ... has my name on it ... so we’re all done, right?

No. Not if you expect your brochure to actually work and produce results. Unfortunately, the majority of dental practice brochures we see - and we’ve critiqued thousands - are boring and have no marketing value. Plus, the practice can’t track a single new patient to the brochure. The purpose of a brochure is not to educate or inform, but to motivate new patients and cases.

An effective marketing brochure - one that delivers measurable results - is a cornerstone marketing tool and not your ordinary fare. If you’ve got an old brochure that needs a powerhouse replacement, or if you’re planning to do it right from the start, there are checklists to consider.

Key ingredients for a great practice brochure

Here are some key ingredients to create a winner:

Brand vs. bland - Your brand must instantly answer the question “Why you?” Branding, which is critical differentiation that is your practice, is expressed through your brochure. It reflects the experience a patient has with your practice. It’s dynamic, interesting, trustworthy, and motivating.

Sell from the heart, not from the head - Most dentists can offer very rational arguments for their practice and treatment recommendations. The trouble is, patients buy emotionally (they only justify their decisions rationally). So, to get a great practice brochure that recruits, you need to work with experienced writers and artists who know how to weave emotional and rational arguments that appeal to “whole-brained” patients.

Commanding visuals - Use quality images and photos to grab attention and draw people into the text. Present visual messages the reader cares about and that communicate benefits.

Sample brochure for a general dentist (the wife of a husband/wife dental team). Both practice in the same building. They wanted consistency in their brand, while at the same time differentiating their practices. She targets families.
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Benefit headlines - Inside and out, headlines express exactly “what’s in it for them,” communicate your differentiation, and deliver on your branding promise, even if it’s read out of order.

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Tell-the-story subheadings - Even if they’re the only things that are read, the subheadings have a message. They help organize the material and guide the reader. They make it easy for both careful readers and skimmers to digest the message, even with a first or fast read.

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Use bullet points - Itemize brief or related or benefit-oriented items into lists where appropriate.

Use color, but choose carefully - Colors convey a message or feeling independent of the text. Take advantage of the right colors and color combinations to support, not compete with, your message.

Use white space and big sizes - Too little white space crowds the message and reduces the impact of visuals. Create a brochure with enough room for photos, messages, and white space.

Write action-oriented text - Use words that stir interest, inspire desire, and motivate response.

Establish good eye flow - Guide readers seamlessly through design, graphics, headlines, and text in a fluid and natural movement.

Convey benefits, not just features - The feature, for example, may be that you are open until 7:00 some evenings. But the benefit would be that you have convenient, early evening appointments available for your suburban commuter target market.

Create an offer insert - Provide an independent and matching insert with an offer to motivate response. Offer a low-risk “taste” of the practice. (The brochure is used with or without the insert offer, depending on the circumstances.)

Make it easy to respond - Tell people clearly to take action, be specific, and provide your phone number and other details. Be sure contact information is on both the brochure and the insert.

Get the right professional help - If you are a dentist and not an experienced dental marketing authority or copywriter, talk to people with profession-specific knowledge and credentials, then listen to them.

Sample brochure for a prosthodontist (the husband of a husband/wife dental team). Both practice in the same building. They wanted consistency in their brand, while at the same time differentiating their practices. He targets implants and high-end cases.
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Print in quantity - Talk with an experienced printer and get several estimates, but do not buy a smaller quantity just for price alone. The unit cost goes down as the quantity goes up, and reprints later are usually not a bargain.

How, where, and when to use your brochure

Let’s say you have a generous quantity of a new, first-class brochure. Caution: what you do next could be critical. The unfortunate and untimely demise of many brochures comes when they are put in storage and collect dust. You want to aggressively and purposely get your message circulating.

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Here are more than a dozen ways to use your brochure right away; however, some of these may not be suitable to your specific circumstances. In some situations, a brief note may be appropriate: “We take pride in our professional services and are pleased to share our new brochure.”

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Marketing plan first. The brochure is part of your overall marketing game plan. Designate what’s needed for specific purposes and follow through with these first.

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Office “Take One.” Make your brochures available in the reception area and individual rooms in all office locations as a “Take One” for patients, family, or friends. Always keep these stocked.

Office “Give One.” As patients exit, hand them a brochure with their receipt. Patients sometimes keep these for reference and referrals for many years.

Help close the case. Provide a brochure with case presentations for better acceptance to help patients make the right decision, and to convince a skeptical spouse.

Patient welcome and other correspondence. As appropriate, enclose brochures with mail to patients, new-patient information kits, and all other communications.

Business contacts. Provide brochures directly, or enclose with correspondence, to business vendors or suppliers - all of the nonpatients who are regularly in contact with your practice. Enclose with anything you send out of the office.

Patient referral reinforcement. Provide to patients when asking for referrals to help in remembering your request and assist them in making the referral.

Professional and other referral sources. Include with thank you notes and other correspondence to professional colleagues, especially those who could refer patients. Although the brochure is for patients, it educates and informs for better referrals.

Extras for high referring offices. Give brochures to your best referring sources as a standard practice. Provide extra copies if they want them, and routinely check to see if they need more.

Public events. Distribute brochures as a take-home after any speech, health fair, civic project, seminar, or other presentation in the community by the dentist or staff.

Media. Enclose with news releases as part of your media kit if this is part of your plan.

Phone shoppers. Get the names and addresses of phone shoppers and mail brochures to them as additional information about the practice.

Your Web site. If appropriate, post the brochure as a downloadable PDF page on your Web site.

Carry extra brochures. Have a small quantity of brochures in your car or briefcase to give with your business card when you meet new colleagues at meetings, etc.

Support. Keep your practice representative and other staff members supplied with brochures as support materials to encourage referrals, case acceptance, commitment to care, and continued connectivity to the practice.

The “send two” strategy

In a situation where you might give or send one brochure, provide two instead. Explain that you would like the person to keep the first brochure, and pass along the second one to someone who might benefit from your services.

Seven common mistakes

We have seen thousands of brochures. The list of dead-before-you-start no-no’s is long. But in our experience, here are some of the most common pitfalls and the most important things to avoid when creating a brochure:

Failure to target properly. Dentists often fail to align the brochure with the intended audience. For example, dentists with upscale tastes tend to want upscale brochures, even when their market is blue collar. Once the high-end brochure is created, the dentist feels proud, but the target audience assumes the practice is expensive and “snooty.”

Assume that “pretty” is the same as effective. Everyone wants a pretty brochure. That’s OK. The trouble is, pretty isn’t enough. The brochure has to sell. Selling is done mostly by the words, or copy. For a powerful practice brochure, you must work with a team that includes a writer, graphic artist, account manager, and marketing strategist, who knows how to push consumer hot buttons.

Make the brochure too small. When you hear the word brochure, and an 8½” x 11” sheet folded into three panels pops to your mind, you need to think bigger. A single sheet of standard size paper is just fine for a one-page letter, but a brochure it is not. You’ll want enough room to make an impact and tell your story in a quality, professional format.

Use small or poor quality photos. Images carry much of the message, and some practices use teeny tiny photos that are a challenge to see, or use photos that present an irrelevant or poor quality image.

Use clinical “during” photos. Save the danged “during” photos for your next journal article. Dentists may appreciate them, but patients definitely do not want to see a “work-in-progress.” “Before” photos are a maybe, and “after” photos can be great, provided they are professional pictures of photogenic, real patients.

Include all the “riot act” information. A marketing brochure is not about office policies or the patient no-no’s that staff members deal with daily. “Riot act” stuff may be on the minds of staff, but it doesn’t belong in a brochure.

Having no brochure at all. The exact sum of doing nothing is nothing, and having a bad brochure is worse than having none at all.

The bottom line

When you create a hard-working, quality brochure to represent your practice, it becomes an adjunct to nearly every part of your marketing effort - internal, external, and referral. A marketing-smart brochure that delivers maximum mileage will pay for itself many times over.

To see more examples, call (888) 679-0050.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA, and Lonnie Hirsch are two of America’s most experienced practice marketers. They have worked with dentists for a combined 30 years, have written numerous articles on practice marketing, and have consulted with more than 3,000 private health-care practices. Additionally, they have spoken at hundreds of venues across North America. Prior to founding Healthcare Success Strategies, Hirsch and Gandolf were president and vice president, respectively, of the nation’s largest practice marketing firm. Reach them at (888) 679-0050, through their Web site at www.dental.healthcaresuccess.com, or via e-mail at [email protected].


Hallmarks of a Good Practice Brochure

  • Highly individualized, sharply differentiating, and brand enhancing
  • High-quality, professional reflection of you and your practice
  • Graphics and appearance are carefully coordinated with other practice materials
  • Quickly communicates benefits and value
  • Results-driven and crafted for a clear and easy read to inspire action


Hallmarks of a Poor Practice Brochure

  • Ho-hum nonspecific, unique only by “your name here”
  • Trendy and design-driven and wins art awards, but doesn’t win new patients or referrals
  • Overproduced with unnecessary and costly special printing, folding, and finishing
  • Hard to read or gives the wrong message
  • Educates or informs, but doesn’t inspire desire or action
  • Collects dust in the storeroom, is outdated, seldom used, and quickly forgotten

Sample brochure for a general dentist (the wife of a husband/wife dental team). Both practice in the same building. They wanted consistency in their brand, while at the same time differentiating their practices. She targets families.

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