4 marketing tips (and 1 warning) for dental start-ups from 30-year veterans
How should you spend your marketing dollars wisely? Joy Gendusa presents Cranford Dental in Rock Hill, South Carolina, as a case study.
How can you spend your marketing dollars wisely? Joy Gendusa presents Cranford Dental in Rock Hill, South Carolina, as a case study.
Above: Established in 1984, Cranford Dental's marketing strategy is preparing it for a new generation
Congratulations on starting your own practice! It's got to be a little scary, right? There's no real business education in dental school, and being a great dentist is simply not enough. The question is: How do you create a successful, profitable practice?
For help with the answer, I spoke to my clients Bill, Martha, and Elizabeth Cranford, the owners of Cranford Dental in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Bill and Martha have been through it all during their 30 years in practice, and Elizabeth, their daughter, is in her fourth year of practice. The family was kind enough to share their experiences with me.
Here's a bit about them: Bill Cranford, DMD, started his dental practice in 1984. His wife, Martha, handled their accounting and, after some trial and error with other staff, took over their marketing. In the first decades of the practice, they were busy raising four children. They didn't do much in the way of promotion early on. When their daughter Elizabeth entered dental school, Bill and Martha turned an eye toward the future.
DR. CRANFORD: "I brought in an associate. We knew we had to grow for my associate to stay busy and to get things ready for my daughter, who would join the practice three years later."
That was 2009, when they started marketing. Their practice has since doubled.
OK, I don't usually feel the need to repeat myself, but in seven years their practice doubled its size-and they were open for 25 years before that!
On their marketing journey, they took some missteps. (The first was waiting so long to get started!) They learned some valuable lessons that I'll share with you here:
TIP 1: Brand your dental practice to stand out from the 600 to 800 new dentists emerging yearly.
With more than 210,000 practicing dentists in the United States and about 600 to 800 more entering the workforce every year than are retiring, you have to find a way to stand out as the best choice for your prospective patients.1 How? You formulate a unique selling proposition (USP).
A USP is what separates you from the other guys. It's the reason patients come to you instead of the competition. Cranford Dental's USP is its ethics: They only perform treatments that are in the patient's best interest for both the short- and long-term.
DR. CRANFORD: "How we operate is to do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. That's what we do for every patient. It's about them, not us."
To come up with a USP for your practice, you may need to get creative. If you don't already offer something unique, come up with something! Think about these questions:
• What can you guarantee about your services?
• What can you offer that none of your competitors do?
• What can you add to the practice to answer the above questions?
TIP 2: Attract 126% more new patients (like Cranford Dental) with consistent, targeted marketing.
The next step is to find out who your best patients are (or will be) and to get your marketing message in front of them. Optimize your marketing budget by targeting only the kinds of patients you want and/or the people who are the most likely to want to come to your practice. You can purchase a mailing list based on any or all of these demographics:
• Proximity to your office
• Income or home value
• People who just moved to town (my company, PostcardMania, can now automate mailings to be sent to all new movers in a radius around an office)
• Families with children
The Cranfords started regularly mailing postcards in 2009 to their patients and prospects, a simple list of homeowners and new residents in specific zip codes. Their message was this: to announce they had added a new dentist to the practice and were accepting new patients.
MARTHA: "We don't see our postcards as advertising. We see them as informational."
From 2009 to 2015, the Cranfords' yearly new patient count (just the ones they could definitively track) increased 126%. Those of you just getting started haven't yet established yourselves as a trusted practice, unlike the Cranfords, who are now seeing the fourth generation in some families. That means you need to do more than just announce your presence. You need something to get new patients in the front door. The doctor has some advice how to tackle that task:
DR. CRANFORD: "Create a good dental 'brand' and direct all marketing efforts at drawing in patients who match your practice. Be patient and go for long-term results."
TIP 3: Track your results to avoid wasting marketing dollars.
At Cranford Dental, every new patient is asked three times how they heard about the practice: on the phone, at reception, and by the dentist. It's crucial to measure how well your marketing is performing so you know where to invest more money (and where to invest less)!
But tracking can be an inexact science.
MARTHA: "Our goal was for [prospects] to learn the name Cranford Dental and associate it with trust and quality. A lot of people did that, and they thought they found us on Google. But there was a reason they clicked [on us using Google]. It's because our name was already in their brain."
For the Cranfords, they're positive that their direct mail campaign is what put their name into the minds of prospective patients.
There are tools that can help you track your marketing efforts, ranging from low- to high-tech, such as:
• Your front desk staff. Make sure they ask each and every prospective patient who calls how they heard about you. Record information in a database.
• Call tracking. Use a special phone number on your marketing materials that rings into your office but passes through a server, counting and recording every phone number and call.
• DirectMail2.0 New Patient Edition. This adds mail tracking, call tracking, and Google online advertising to your postcard campaign for an integrated system that reaches prospective patients from all angles, both online and offline. All of the data is viewable at an online portal. You can see how many people clicked on your online ads as well as who called.
Speaking of websites . . .
TIP 4: Turn your website into a lead-generating machine.
As far as a prospective patient is concerned, your website is your practice: 75% of prospects will make judgments about your practice based on your site, according to a Stanford University study.2
Martha is quite the whiz at search engine optimization (SEO). She knows that building links (having other reputable websites link to your site) and blogging are two huge ways to improve your search engine rankings-and that 60% of search traffic goes to the first three results.3
MARTHA: "You have to be able to change your website yourself. You have to keep it current for SEO."
You can do this with a content management system (CMS). A CMS is an application that lets you add or edit the content of your website (like text and photos) at any time-even if you didn't build it yourself.
Once you get visitors to your site, you want to establish trust so that people will pick up the phone and call you. Be sure to include an "About Us" page with personal details (not just your alma mater) and pictures of you and your staff.
It is also vital that your site is mobile-friendly. According to Google, mobile search has overtaken desktop search.4
Finally, a warning from the 30-year dental practice veterans:
Warning: You must educate yourself on marketing, even if you hire someone to market for you.
This is a lesson the Cranfords learned the hard way. The practice hired one in-house marketer who, let's just say, didn't share the Cranfords' high ethical standards. (Fake Google reviews are a bad idea.) Then, they hired a marketing firm to take over.
MARTHA: "They were reputable, but they did a lot of Facebook posts and the people didn't look like South Carolinians."
The practice of purchasing likes and followers is far too common on social media. Be sure to ask anyone offering to do this type of marketing for you very specific and pointed questions that get to the bottom of how they're going to grow your social media presence.
Another company charged the Cranfords for pay-per-click ads, yet the leads they paid for were often outside their service radius and the people were not likely to drive over to become new patients. That's when Martha decided she would oversee the practice's marketing decisions personally.
MARTHA: "If this nearly 60-year-old wife and mother can learn about SEO and dental marketing, there is someone in every office who can educate themselves enough to either market the practice or hire the right person and evaluate their results."
After speaking with Martha and Dr. Cranford and understanding how carefully they choose their marketing partners, I'm honored to call them my clients. And, of course, we're thrilled that we've helped them double the size of their practice!
If you're in the start-up stage or soon to be launching your practice, take heed of the Cranfords' marketing lessons and you'll reap the benefits of a growing practice much sooner!
Watch a short video about Cranford Dental's marketing success at postcardmania.com/cranford-dental. And don't forget, as a Dental Economics reader, you are entitled to 5,000 free dental postcards, printed by PostcardMania, as well as free samples of postcards that are working right now for other dental practices. Redeem online or call (844) 269-1836 today—free marketing advice for your practice is also included!
1. The American Way of Dentistry. Slate website. http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_american_way_of_dentistry/2009/09/the_american_way_of_dentistry_3.html. Published September 28, 2009. Accessed February 1, 2016.
2. 10 Signs It's Time for a Website Facelift. Hubspot website. http://blog.hubspot.com/insiders/should-i-redesign-my-website. Published March 10, 2014. Accessed February 1, 2016.
3. The Value of Google Result Positioning. Chitika website. https://chitika.com/google-positioning-value. Published June 7, 2013. Accessed February 1, 2016.
4. Building for the Next Moment. Google Inside AdWords website. http://adwords.blogspot.com/2015/05/building-for-next-moment.html. Published May 5, 2015. Accessed February 1, 2016.
Joy Gendusa is the founder and CEO of PostcardMania. Using just postcards, a phone, and a computer, Joy built PostcardMania from a one-person start-up into an industry leader serving over 69,000 clients, including more than 4,000 dentists! Need help promoting your practice? Call one of PostcardMania's dental marketing consultants at (866) 812-8443, email Joy at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit postcardmania.com/dentaldesigns.