If you're looking for real data on how other dentists are bringing in new patients with their marketing—not just experts to recommend certain practices (though there is merit in that)—you're in the right place.
In 2005, I created a department within my company called the Results Department. It's their job to gather successful campaigns from our clients, then catalog and distribute the results and details of those campaigns to PostcardMania staff, clients, prospects, and anyone who wants to pull back the curtain and see exactly what it takes to succeed at marketing in a specific industry. Since then, this department has cataloged hundreds of examples of successes—and our most prolific industry is dental.
So I decided to sit down, unlock this vault of valuable dental marketing information, and crunch some numbers to deliver the data around which strategies are proven to work.
Every campaign I examined either demonstrably increased revenue or new patient numbers according to the dentist themselves. It's worth noting that I focused only on general dental practices and did not include pediatric or cosmetic campaigns, which usually have different audiences and messaging.
Here are some of the most interesting trends I found when I examined the data behind these successful campaigns:
Consistent mailings are 700% more successful than one-offs
I've spent decades telling dentists and business owners alike—with varying degrees of success—that you have to mail more than once to see a good return. Now I have the data to back it up.
Only 12.5% of our successful dental campaigns sent just one mailing. The other 87.5% mailed to the same list more than once in a six-month time frame. This means that campaigns with an element of repetition and consistency are 700% more likely to be successful.
This confirms that age-old marketing-ism that repetition is vital to campaign success. While a one-time sighting of a particular message may spark some interest, the probability of a conversion increases with each additional impression.
Blanketing areas near your practice has a slight 1.17% edge over targeting specific types of consumers
The right mailing list can make or break your campaign. Regardless of how perfectly tuned your message is, if you're talking to the wrong people, you're wasting your breath.
Which mailing lists were most common among successful campaigns? Here's what I found:
- Campaigns that mailed EDDM (every door direct mail): 3.49%
- Campaigns that mailed to consumer lists based on demographics: 48.84%
- Campaigns that mailed resident/occupant (targeting every household in a specific area): 47.67%
The least successful mailing list, EDDM, traditionally targets every door along a mail carrier’s route, including businesses. A major benefit of EDDM is that it boasts the cheapest postage rate available, but the drawback is that it's also the least targeted. While the pool of successful EDDM campaigns is very small, most of the campaigns that did succeed while mailing EDDM targeted specific zip codes.
The two most popular mailing lists, consumer and resident/occupant, both have their pros and cons.
Consumer mailing lists allow you to target individuals based on certain demographics. Income, age and location (either living within a radius around the practice or in a certain zip code), in that order, were the most common specifications among successful campaigns that mailed to consumer lists. Marriage status, home value, and presence of children of a certain age were also popular specifications among successful campaigns.
The advantage of consumer lists is precise targeting—you're only paying to reach the most qualified prospects. If you know exactly who your patients are or you're fee-for-service, this is a good option. These lists are also always addressed to a specific person. The downside of consumer lists can be the cost. Since they target individuals, these lists cost more to use and in postage. The more specific the consumer list, the more it's going to cost per record.
The most successful mailing list type, resident/occupant, combines the affordability of EDDM with some of the targeting aspects of consumer lists. It's a good compromise if you want to reach a lot of people living in a specific area, who are likely to be able to afford your services, while eking out some savings on your list and postage.
Resident/occupant lists (or "res/occ" as we say in the biz) target all of the households in a particular geographic area and use modeled data to narrow down some of the targeting. Modeled data tells you the average or median demographics for an area, meaning you won't be able to precisely target certain incomes, but you can get in and around the ballpark. You can specify your mailing area by a radius around the practice, zip codes or mail carrier routes. Most of the res/occ campaigns I examined targeted areas that met a certain median income within a radius around their locations.
However, mailing res/occ isn't without its pitfalls. While cost effective, not every postcard will reach a qualified prospect. And while you can opt to address each mail piece to a specific individual, there’s a chance that a chunk of your cards may end up being addressed to "Current Resident." You can choose instead to address all of your cards to "Homeowner" or something similar, but you'll lose some personalization.
Given that both res/occ and consumer lists generate almost the same number of successful campaigns, both are good choices for your next campaign. Which one is more appropriate for your practice will depend on a few factors, like your surrounding area and your competition level. It's probably best to consult a mailing list specialist who can take your individual practice into consideration and make the best recommendation.
Size matters: Nearly 83% of all successful campaigns went big
Does the size of your postcards—and therefore how much it stands out in the mail stack—have an impact on your campaign's success? It appears so.
Out of the successful campaigns I examined, I found these sizes:
- Standard (4.25” by 6”): 17.05%
- Jumbo (6” by 8.5”): 67.05%
- Colossal (6” by 11”): 15.90%
While direct mail postcards are a great way to stand out against the competition, it's still just one element in everybody's mail stack. The more your piece stands out in that stack, the better.
How big your postcard should be almost always comes down to how much competition you have in the area—and dentists usually have a lot of competition.
If you're one of the few without many competitors, you can probably still get away with mailing a standard-sized postcard. But with advancements in printing technology, the savings of going with a smaller piece may not justify the increased risk of lowering your overall return.
People respond to offers: 96.56% of successful campaigns included an offer or discount
For years, dentists have been fought back when marketers suggest offering a discount on their services to entice new patients to book appointments. The argument is that it "cheapens" the service.
Yet when I examined our successful campaigns, here's what I found:
- Successful designs with 0 offers: 3.44%
- Successful designs with 1 offer: 24.14%
- Successful designs with 2 offers: 17.24%
- Successful designs with 3 offers: 37.94%
- Successful designs with 4 or more offers: 17.24%
But with a mere 3.44% of successful campaigns choosing not to include any offers or discounts, I think it's clear that offers do correspond with response. If you're actively promoting your practice to new patients, you're going to have trouble convincing them to book an appointment without offering some incentive.
A “New Patient Special” that included two or more discounted services was the most popular offer, included in 63.1% of all of our dental successes. The most commonly bundled services were introductory exams and x-rays. The discounted price of these bundles varied, ranging anywhere from free up to $99.
Another popular offer? Whether it was offered by professionals in-office or as a take-home kit, teeth whitening appeared in 52.38% of all successful campaigns.
It is also definitely worth mentioning that 61.9% of all campaigns offered a service or item for free. Who doesn’t love free stuff?
The design: when to be creative and when to do what works
In addition to a compelling offer, there is an abundance of design elements that can make or break the effectiveness of a postcard’s message. The distinction between crafting a design that is unique to your practice and speaks to your own brand—while still coming across as truly dental to ensure you're striking the right mental associations when people glance at your ad—can feel like a fine line to tread.
Here are a few of the most consistently used design elements among the successful campaigns I examined:
- 68.18% of all dental successes’ central image is a stock photo of smiling people
- 57.83% included a local map of the practice’s location
- 72.73% of the dental successes included the unique benefits of their practice
- 62.50% included the specific services offered at that practice
- 92.05% presented easy-to-scan bullet points
- 49.41% included a photo of the dentist, staff, or dentist's family
- 96.56% of included at least one offer
If you incorporate these elements into your design and build it from there, to put your own spin on it, the odds are in your favor that you'll have a winning campaign.
And there you have it! Over two decades of dental success data, unlocked and ready for use. Please, feel free to use this data in your marketing campaigns, and let me know how it goes.
Editor's note: This article appeared in the July 2021 print edition of Dental Economics.
JOY GENDUSA is the founder and CEO of PostcardMania. Using just postcards, a phone, and a computer, Gendusa built PostcardMania from a one-person start-up into an industry leader. PostcardMania serves 99,123 clients, including 6,839 dentists. Need help promoting your practice? Call one of PostcardMania’s dental marketing consultants at (844) 269-1836, or email Gendusa at [email protected].