by Eric Nelson, AACD Director of PR and Marketing
Ever since the “Extreme Makeover” phenomenon, public awareness of cosmetic dentistry has skyrocketed. The typical dental patient is more aware, and educated, of the esthetic options available in today’s modern practice than ever before. This translates to higher quality of care demanded by cosmetic dental professionals. Couple this new paradigm in dental care with the explosion of over-the-counter cosmetic dental products and the boom in dental practice marketing, and suddenly, cosmetic dentistry has become an extremely competitive field.
The following tips, as presented on the AACD Marketing Panel in May 2007, will help you carve a niche market and establish your practice as the premier cosmetic dental office in your area.
- Develop Your Brand Identity
The first key to any marketing campaign – no matter the business – is to develop a brand identity that embodies who you are, what your core values are, and what your practice offers. The two key elements in this process are creating a logo and developing a slogan. This process can take much time. Host a brainstorming meeting and bounce numerous ideas off your team members. Find out what seems to stick. Then consult with an outside marketing firm to enlist the help of marketing professionals. Their pool of resources should help you develop a unique identity that captures the essence of your practice. After your brand has been established, make sure it appears consistently on all of your practice marketing materials – both internal and external.
- Target the Right Markets
No matter how slick the logo or how catchy the slogan, no marketing campaign is going to resonate if it doesn’t reach the right market! This holds true in dentistry, too. AACD data reveals that 96 percent of patients who request cosmetic dentistry are females, and more than 70 percent of patients are between the ages of 31 and 50. Logically, this defines your target group.
The key, of course, is how to reach this target group. A popular method is to obtain through various list brokers the mailing addresses of affluent households within a certain mile radius of your practice. Explore well-read local metro magazines and newspapers in your area as possible advertising avenues. Just make sure to first examine readership demographics.
While there are many marketing tactics available, none will work if they don’t reach the right target.
- Maximize the Media
Establishing yourself as the expert cosmetic dental professional in your community is one of the best ways to build your practice. Provide dental tips at no charge to the health editor at your local newspaper. Offer to showcase the latest in dental technology to the local morning TV news programs. Generally, they are eager for this type of content.
Offer to serve as the resident dental professional on local radio call-in programs. Watch the national media for cosmetic dental stories and put a local spin on it. The more you can get your name in the local press, the more patients that will end up in your dental chair.
- Mix-Up Your Mediums
The old marketing adage is that you need to reach a consumer at least five times before your message sticks. Thanks to today’s extremely cluttered environment, where people are exposed to literally thousands of commercial pitches daily, the ante has been upped.
What’s the solution? Mix up your mediums by hitting targeted patients many times in many avenues. Utilize direct mail and place ads in select publications as already mentioned. Take advantage of the relatively low airtime cost of local radio and cable TV stations by advertising in these media. Employ media relations tactics. Take out a billboard near your practice. Sponsor the local cheerleading squad. As they say in football, hit them hard, and hit them often!
- Internal Marketing
Internal marketing efforts begin from the moment a patient walks into your waiting room and last to the postcare follow-up calls. Create an office atmosphere that represents who you are as a dentist. Are you all about the latest technology? Do you have a soothing, spa-like atmosphere? Do you treat children? Whatever your niche, make sure the decor of the practice embodies your unique character. This will help differentiate you from the run-of-the-mill practice down the road.
Of course, an esthetically pleasing atmosphere doesn’t seal the deal when finalizing an expensive elective case. Here is where customer service enters the picture. Make sure the patient is treated like royalty. Follow-up personally with a phone call to make sure patient restorations are comfortable and pain is minimal. Offer patient financing options to make patients think their individual case is achievable and affordable.
Person-to-person referrals offer the best potential to bring optimal cases to your practice. Personal touch in your internal marketing efforts goes a long way in ensuring that current patients, their family, and their friends also come to see you.
- Positive Publicity
Numerous studies in the PR and marketing world have proven that positive publicity is much more credible than advertising. What this means for you is do not abandon advertising programs, but build ad campaigns around the goodwill your practice provides. Volunteer your services for programs like AACD’s Give Back A Smile program, which helps restore the smiles of survivors of domestic violence. Go on a mission trip to another country to provide dental care to those less fortunate. Speak at a local grade school on the importance of brushing and flossing regularly. These type of feel-good, positive stories will go a long way in positioning your practice as a caring, giving member of the community.
- Web World
No practice marketing mix is complete without a cutting-edge Web site. By now, most of you probably have one. But the next key is constantly enhancing the user experience. Is your site exciting enough to bring current patients back and enticing enough to capture new patients? Is the site user-friendly? Can patients book appointments, contact your front desk, and review their X-rays online? All of this technology is now available. So if your Web site does not offer these features plus many more, it’s time for a redesign.
Launching a Web site is just the first step. The next key is to successfully navigate the ever-changing world of online marketing and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Essentially, you need to make sure that when someone searches for “cosmetic dentist” in your region, your practice’s site appears near the top of the list.
This is best accomplished by a combination of strategic key word, demographic, and location associations with popular search engines like AOL, Google, and Yahoo! There are literally hundreds of SEO firms you can work with, so do your research diligently to find a firm that knows dentistry and your local market.
- Establish Partnerships
Obviously, your practice isn’t the only place in town that your esthetic-minded patients frequent. So look for mutually beneficial, cross-promotional opportunities with other area businesses such as beauty salons, health clubs, and nail parlors. Offer to display their business cards if they will do the same for you. Trade mailing lists. Co-sponsor community events. It’s a great way to increase visibility among your mutual clientele.
The days of the “magic bullet” in marketing are long gone. Today’s consumers are inundated with marketing messages from every possible product and service out there, including cosmetic dentistry. To complicate matters, discretionary dollars are often limited. However, success for your practice is attainable by utilizing the right marketing mix to bring patients in the door, and practicing impeccable customer service to keep them with you for years to come.
Editor’s Note: Published with permission of the AACD.
Eric Nelson is the Director of Public Relations and Marketing at the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Nelson holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with dual emphases in public relations and advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He oversees all AACD promotional efforts, including the organization’s consumer marketing programs. He can be reached at [email protected].