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Subtleties of contemporary dental marketing: How this practice adds the fun

Dec. 1, 2020
Dr. John Wilde had a successful practice for many years, in part because of his unexpected marketing efforts. Personalized, fun, and interactive touches boosted his business and patient perception. Here's what his team did and why it worked.

ll dentists market themselves and always have, be it through their choice of office décor, location, manner of dress, locution, and countless other ways. At the most basic level, marketing is an aggregate of efforts that represent who you are. Your choices are to market deliberately and well, or unconsciously and poorly. Like it or not, amid these times when dentists are becoming commonly portrayed as fungible entities, it is increasingly vital to develop and define one’s uniqueness.

As the pandemic and concomitant economic collapse have illustrated, all of our careers will face feast as well as famine, so consistent positive posturing must become an integral part of business. The essential ingredient to any stratagem is a well-conceived plan that is consistently applied, because we aren’t playing to win one game, but to achieve success season after season. Rather than marketing tactics that strive for dramatic home runs, I favor a series of interrelated efforts, each creating tiny rivulets that coalesce into streams that fill the rivers that flow to the oceans of dental practice abundance. 

External marketing includes the internet, Yellow Pages, newsletters, direct mail, newspapers, and television and radio advertisements, among others. Experts in these areas abound, and I’m not among their number. So, except for the following small exception, I won’t invade their hallowed terrain.

Newsletters 

These have proven hugely successful for us by creating interest and initiating fun conversations about our practice. But don’t make your newsletter your manifesto or explain why implants osseointegrate. Our four-page newsletter is replete with jokes taken from humorous books, the staff’s favorite recipes, topical news about our team or patients’ outstanding accomplishments, and one short dental article. Humor draws the majority of the attention. As to the nature of content, it’s your newsletter, so let it reflect your sense of humor.

I define internal marketing as an entire team living by the Golden Rule. Be polite, considerate, smell good, and treat others the same way you’d like your oral health needs met. Everything else is details.

However, there are areas where the line between external and internal marketing blurs or, in some cases, comingles. Let’s explore several patient-enhancement activities our office has performed for years with outstanding results. Each activity exhibits the following criteria: free or inexpensive, enhances practice credibility, nothing is perceived as advertising, and fun for all with minimal effort required.

Coloring contest 

Every two months, our office sponsors a coloring contest. We begin by selecting a coloring book picture and making stacks of copies. Crayons are available in our office, but serious competitors take this important task home. To allow maximum participation, we split the entries into those who can stay within the lines and those who cannot. Our two stuffed animal prizes are so big that we have to hang them from our reception room ceiling. They generate a lot of enthusiasm. 

The drawings are posted on our walls and add a pleasing touch (think refrigerator art), and a profusion of color that would embarrass a maple in full autumnal splendor. Patients young and old enjoy taking part in this contest. Winners are chosen by whichever brave soul is currently acting as our resident art critic.

Senior citizen recognition

Every seasoned citizen we see during June is photographed, and the portraits are displayed beneath a caption extolling the beauty and health of mature smiles. At month’s end, someone is selected by random drawing and rewarded with dinner for two. We have an arrangement with a local eatery that sells us gift certificates at a discount, and alcohol is not included. 

No Cavity Club 

During July and August, we suspend the coloring contest in favor of our back-to-school No Cavity Club. A huge stuffed animal dangles in our reception area wearing a sign that proclaims it will soon be the favorite possession of the lucky winner. Every child with a perfect checkup, or who has his or her mouth restored to ideal health, places their name in our contest ballot box. 

The club is fun, exciting (the toy is bigger than most contestants), and emphasizes the importance of children’s dental health. When I began practicing, most parents saw no point in restoring baby teeth, preferring to “Just yank ‘em out.” I had to do a lot of educating. Now there’s no need to explain to current audiences that, among other concerns, one lost primary molar can lead to severe orthodontic problems. 

These are just three examples of highly effective marketing. Patients truly enjoy them. Who says you can’t have fun at the dentist? The activities require little time or effort, cost less than $100, celebrate and reward patients, and demonstrate how much we care because extras do count. Each stimulates conversations between the team and patients, which helps create trusting relationships that are the single most significant component of dental triumph. They are also splendid ways to generate conversations about your practice.

These benefits alone make them valuable, but here’s a twist that increases their impact geometrically.

After each event, a reporter takes a photo of the winner with his or her prize and a smiling staff member. The journalist receives a list of all entrants, a short article explaining the event and the significance of ideal oral health, and a thank you to all involved. For example, the information contained in the announcement for Senior Appreciation Month explains how retaining one’s teeth or having well-functioning dentures enhances the quality of life and adds to longevity. 

Contestants, especially kids, are thrilled to see their names in the paper. We never pay for this priceless coverage, and because it is presented as news and not advertising, it enhances our credibility. 

Our office averages a photo and/or story in our local daily paper once a month. I suggest your office focus on area daily or weeklies. Because we do almost all of the work and the information is entirely local, many papers are thrilled with the information. We’ve created a win/win/win for the newspaper, our office, and patients.

Here are some additional topics that have resulted in published photos and articles, and subjects are limited only by one’s imagination: virtual reality glasses, intraoral cameras, a photo of me shaking hands with a new associate, a photo and article about a new staff member, continuing education courses completed by staff, books and articles I’ve had published, and a dental health column I wrote for an area paper. 

The key to marketing success is attitude. Everything should be fun, inventive, and provide energy and excitement. Gather your team and create unique concepts to augment these examples, then select an enthusiastic staff member to champion the projects.

Quit being like everyone else. The road to perdition is said to be littered with good intentions, and now is not the time to wait patiently and hope things turn out. Instead, unleash your creative genius to initiate a daring adventure that illustrates your unique excellence and compassion.

JOHN A. WILDE, DDS, practiced in Keokuk, Iowa, and is now blissfully retired. He’s written six dental books and had more than 200 articles published in a wide variety of journals. He may be reached at (309) 333-2865 or [email protected].

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