Can you visualize your ideal dental patient? This is the patient who makes and keeps every dental appointment. The patient who listens to you when you explain what actions they can take to better their oral health. The patient who is eager for a healthy, brilliant, functional smile, and is committed to the journey to achieve and maintain it.
Who are they, how can you attract them, and how do you keep them as patients beyond their first appointment?
The answer has a lot to do with data.
Data tells you who your best patients are. It helps you identify characteristics and track behaviors. With data, you can build a picture of your ideal patient and create a funnel that leads them straight to your door.
Digital marketing for your dental practice can be an incredible waste of money and time without data. But how do you identify data points that matter and extract precisely the data you need to grow your practice?
Digital marketing in 2020 and beyond
Digital marketing spend was set to outstrip traditional ad spend in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has made that prediction a reality. While digital ad revenues took a small hit (around 2.4%), television, newspapers, and outdoor advertising plummeted 20.7%—even when revenues from their own digital advertising arms were included.1
“Digital-first” and “mobile-first” initiatives are overwhelmingly driving transformation in the world of marketing. Every industry has been working to figure out how to “do digital,” including dental practices. But digital marketing involves more than slapping up a few boosted posts on Facebook, creating an Instagram story, or implementing a real-time online appointment interface.
This is the year that everything changes, for better or for worse. How can you make sure it’s for the better, at least where your practice is concerned?
The three pillars of digital marketing
Digital marketing is supported by three pillars: goal-setting, testing, and analysis. If you don’t include all three, your digital marketing plan will be flimsy, unreliable, and could collapse at any time.
There may be many practice goals you hope to achieve through digital marketing. Your goals can be short term or long term, broad or focused. Any or all of the following may be goals you’re striving toward as you grow your practice:
- Increased monthly production
- Increased average production per new patient
- More appointments booked monthly
- Addition of new patients acquired monthly
- Higher visibility on social
- Increased engagement on social
- More prominent rankings in local search results
There are obvious data sets you’ll need to isolate to set benchmarks. Startlingly, only 35% of business owners say they set benchmarks or goals, but 90% of those who do consider themselves to be highly successful.2 Take a look at the following data for your practice:
- How many active patients do you currently have?
- How many new and existing appointments are booked/kept each month?
- What is the average 12-month value of a new patient versus a returning patient?
- What is the lifetime value (LTV) of your average patient?
- How many inquiries can you tie to web searches or social media links?
- What is the overall conversion rate of your digital presence?
This data lets you create a clear picture of where your current patients came from, what they seek from your practice, and where they fall on a range of value to your overall profitability.
Split-testing, or A/B testing, remains one of the best ways to identify effective digital marketing tactics. Yet, very few practices do it. You’ll often hear me say that the three most important words in marketing are: “Test. Track. Adjust.” Many dentists skip the first crucial step of testing. You can split-test almost any type of marketing content, including:
- Ad copy for Google, Facebook, or other digital platforms
- Social media captions for owned content, like blog post link shares or images
- Email subject lines or preheader content
- A call-to-action at the end of a video
As long as you have a way to measure effectiveness against some sort of goal, you can identify what works and what doesn’t. Then you can take the highest-performing content and pit it against your next new idea.
A majority of business owners (58%) already use A/B testing for conversion optimization, and another 35% say they plan to start using split-testing to drive conversion rates.3 A/B testing gives you data you can use to leverage new insights. For example, such data would allow you to:
- Find out which call-to-action is more likely to result in a new-patient appointment.
- Discover which email subject line will deliver a higher open rate.
- Reveal how well people respond to an ad based on the image shown.
By constantly refining your content, you can increase its effectiveness and enhance your conversion rates.
Being able to analyze your data correctly is key to utilizing it for practice growth. You should use data and analytics to help measure results and assign values to each action a patient or potential patient takes. Effective analysis can also help nail down exactly where your digital marketing spend is having the most impact.
If your dental practice doesn’t act on the data it collects, the data is useless. Only half of c-suite executives say that data has changed their organization’s sales and marketing strategy.4 The last leg of a digital transfor-mation journey is analytics, and the last mile of the analytics process involves translating data into actionable next steps. How silly would it be to take an x-ray and then place it directly into the trash without using it for diagnostic and treatment planning purposes? Yet, this is often what dental practice owners do with their own digital marketing data.
You must use the data to drive your digital marketing efforts. Look for ways to take action and be sure to track the results. Your practice can leverage data analysis by:
- Segmenting and microsegmenting audiences for more personalized messaging
- Highlighting similarities in patients who become high loan-to-value patients
- Monitoring reactions to split-test emails and ads, and refining results before testing again
- Identifying prospects by using data to build similar demographic audiences
By setting benchmarks and goals, testing different digital marketing approaches, and using data analytics to clearly define the way forward, you can propel your practice further down the road of digital transformation.
Putting the above advice into action can feel daunting. Take things one step at a time, but apply the three pillars to every digital marketing campaign you begin.
Your digital funnel
Map customers’ journeys from identified sources to the point of action (when they call your practice or book an appointment online).
Social media: How much engagement are you getting? Which posts drive the most traffic? Which posts are the most often shared or tagged?
Google listing: Is your business listing correct? Are your reviews primarily positive, averaging around four or five stars? Are you tracking calls from this unique listing and comparing those to the listing’s overall visibility?
Search results: Is your practice showing up at the top of listings for your practice name? Your own name? What about short-tail key phrases, such as “best pediatric dentist Dallas Texas”?
Business website: Is the important information (e.g., exact location, appointment availability, clinical philosophy, payment options, accepted insurance) front and center? Don’t hide that information, or worse, not offer it at all. Identify your website’s top-performing pages and try to duplicate that success. Avoid content garbage, and select images with great care.
Office space: Institute call tracking so every call that comes in can be properly assigned to a referral source. Collect as much data as possible from each patient that comes in, and encourage them to connect with the practice on social media before walking out the door.
When you know where new patients are coming from, you can get more granular with your marketing approach and create initiatives that directly target specific demographics across multiple platforms.
Creating a brand voice, look, and feel that is consistent from channel to channel builds trust. By providing multiple opportunities for potential patients to come in contact with your marketing, you enhance visibility and build confidence and trust in your dental practice even before the first appointment is made.
At the end of the day, your digital marketing efforts are only as good as your data. By identifying key performance indicators (KPIs), you can clearly identify data such as:
- Return on investment (ROI) on social media ad spend
- ROI on search ad spend
- Patient acquisition rate
- Cost per new acquisition
- Overall digital conversion rate
Don’t forget, it costs a lot more to acquire a new patient than it does to retain an existing one. Applying your digital marketing skills should both reduce patient attrition and increase word-of-mouth.By focusing energy on your established patient base, you can not only keep them in your practice, but turn them into high-value, word-of-mouth referrers.
Using data to identify your ideal patient is just the beginning. Over time, the database you build will allow you to improve and nearly automate your acquisition funnels. You’ll be able to drive even more new patients to your door with minimal effort, and easily retain the ones who already call your practice home.
1. Barker A. Digital ad market set to eclipse traditional media for first time. Financial Times. June 22, 2020. Accessed August 14, 2020. https://www.ft.com/content/d8aaf886-d1f0-40fb-abff-2945629b68c0
2. Sorman A. Define business benchmarks: the smartest way to measure progress. Survey Monkey. May 14, 2019. Accessed August 14, 2020. https://www.surveymonkey.com/curiosity/benchmark-surveys/
3. Saleh K. The state of A/B testing. Invesp. April 11, 2018. Accessed August 14, 2020. https://www.invespcro.com/blog/the-state-of-ab-testing/
4. Bridgwater A. Why business fails to travel the ‘last mile’ of analytics. Forbes. April 17, 2018. Accessed August 14, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/adrianbridgwater/2018/08/17/why-business-fails-to-travel-the-last-mile-of-analytics/#b4045866b8d8