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Marketing the High-Tech Dental Practice

Aug. 1, 2004
When marketing your high-tech services, remember what the patient wants to know — "What's in it for me?"

By Misty Absher

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You've just returned from another dental conference where you were introduced to the latest in high-tech dental equipment. Knowing that high tech is the trend, you make the decision to jump into the thick of it. And why not? Your competition is doing it. It's only a matter of time before your practice will be left behind if you don't make the change. The only reservations you have are the costs of becoming high-tech — big costs.

Or are the costs that big? Technology does not have to be as costly as you may think; that is, if you make it work for you. Let the technology make you money. How? With a solid, strategic marketing plan.

Before you begin a marketing campaign, it is important to have the following in place —

High-tech resources in place
Knowledge of your client base and prospective clients
Knowledge of your competition
Development of internal marketing strategy
Layout of external marketing strategy
A well-defined execution plan

Be it! Live it! Love it!

Most important, your practice must be high-tech. The patients in your practice must know just by entering your office that your practice is high-tech inside and out. Without you saying a word, it must be evident. High tech must be flawlessly integrated into your practice. For example, a few flat-screen monitors in your practice don't instantly transform you into a high-tech practice. In addition, just because you have digital radiography, digital imaging, a laser, etc., doesn't mean your patients will perceive you as a high-tech dentist. If you still have the large, clunky CRT monitors from the 1990s, they may question just how high-tech your practice really is.

An example of a company "being" what they claim is Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart promises its consumers one thing — low prices. If consumers entered their neighborhood Wal-Mart and found exorbitant prices, they would shop elsewhere. Similarly, if the prices were the lowest in town yet Wal-Mart looked more upscale such as a Nordstrom or even Target, its claim of low prices would seem unbelievable to consumers.

Know your audience

What are the demographics of your patients? Which demographics would you like to add to your patient base? How much does this relate to marketing a high-tech dental practice? Plenty. First, you need to assess your current patient base to evaluate their interest in high-tech dentistry. You may even have patients who are skeptical or frightened by technology. This is not as rare as you may think. Patients have been known to quit seeing their dentist because the hygienist is using ultrasonic instrumentation instead of the traditional hand scaler to clean their teeth. Some patients are of the opinion that you can't get teeth as clean with the new instrument. It is important to find out if the majority of your patients have this mindset. If so, you should introduce new technology gradually. Market in a low-profile manner to keep your client base satisfied while introducing new clients to your services.

Perhaps your patient base and prospective patient base are tech-savvy. Maybe they are not well-versed in the current dental technologies, but appreciate the benefits of high tech. Since you know they are on-board philosophically, find out what they consider the most valuable aspects of adding technology in a dental practice. The easiest ways are to send a questionnaire to all of your active patients, place questions in your patient-information update forms, or simply ask them in a casual conversation during their next visit.

Ask your patients these critical questions —

1) Do you consider this practice to be a high-tech practice? Follow up their answers. If it's "no," ask them why they feel that way. If it's "yes," again ask why.

2) Why is it important to you that we are a high-tech practice? Listen and take note of their answers.

These answers can help you create the correct messages for marketing as well as generate excitement among your patients.

Know your competition

Knowing your competitor is as important as knowing your own practice. How many other dental practices located in a five-, 10-, or even 20-mile radius are promoting themselves as high-tech? How many of them actually are high-tech, and how many aren't? After you have the answers to these questions, you will be left with three likely scenarios.

Scenario 1. Everyone says they are a high-tech practice. This is similar to everyone saying they are cosmetic dentists. In this case, your ads, internal marketing, and Web site should promote you as the dentist who truly is high-tech. For example, offer a free e-card or CD to anyone who calls for information about your services. Use the e-card to show off your tech toys and illustrate how they benefit your patients. Have it contain patient quotes attesting that the laser in your office made their treatment quicker and more comfortable. Quotes and pictures show how you utilize the technology in your office. Also, you are demonstrating to the patient that being high-tech goes well beyond having computers.

Scenario 2. Several dentists have and are promoting the technology. If everyone else has gone high-tech, you run the risk of being perceived as merely "jumping on the bandwagon" versus a clinician who is truly interested in the benefits of new technology. Market the technology as a supplement to your other services. Begin marketing your practice differently while mentioning the high-tech offerings. This levels the playing field while elevating your practice. Because you offer the same technology and are trained by Larry Rosenthal in cosmetic dentistry, for example, you offer more than your average competitor.

Furthermore, you can promote your technology differently. For example, instead of promoting the addition of a laser to your office, focus on your new, injection-free fillings or quick-healing gum procedures. Focus on what is important to the patient — time, money, aesthetics, or even fear. Determine patients' issues and offer solutions via the new technology.

Scenario 3. No one is marketing high tech. Promote yourself as the high-tech dental office with the most advanced technology available. In your marketing, always focus on the needs of patients and what you can offer that gives them better results than the others.

Internal marketing

Before you do any external marketing or advertising, you need a strong internal marketing program. For the high-tech practice, this program must be rich in electronic marketing so your marketing itself portrays the high-tech image you want to establish and maintain.

If your practice is already a true high-tech dental practice, you should focus on your staff. Make sure they understand the technology — not just how to use it, but also able to articulate its benefits in layman's terms.

Next, you can incorporate digital learning tools for patients such as CAESY programs, e-cards, e-newsletters, a Web site, digital case presentations, imaging, digital photography, and e-mail programs.

Use e-mail to send appointment reminders. Smile Reminder allows you to send appointment reminders to the patient's cell phone in the form of a text message. Projecting your image as a high-tech practice is a great way to generate excitement in your current patients as well as helping to attract new patients.

Digital case presentations drastically increase patient acceptance on larger cases. They incorporate your logo, PowerPoint presentations, digital photography, and digital imaging into a simple format to present treatment plans to the patient. Burn these onto a CD for the patient to take home to share with decision-makers and others who are influential in the decision-making process. The results: higher case acceptance and new patients!

External marketing

If you have all the pieces in place and are ready to market your practice externally, you need to keep one thing in mind — the patient. When marketing your high-tech services, remember what the patient wants to know — "What's in it for me?" So, for example, instead of focusing on the great brand of dental laser you use, state that your patients can now "Enjoy faster dental treatment." Avoid technical jargon and instead focus on how the technology will benefit them. If you don't focus on the benefits, your tech talk will just go over their heads and they will find a dentist who better understands what is important to them.

Execution

Once you have a plan in place, make sure you have the right people in charge of executing it. The only effective plan is the one that it is executed properly.

By addressing your patients' needs and offering a superior dental experience, you can have one of the most successful practices in your area. Remember — the initial cost of technology will be returned many times over when coupled with a strategic marketing plan.

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