by Paul Homoly, DDS, CPS
In recent years, health practitioners in various disciplines and specialties have hit the airwaves, newspapers and magazines with advertising to promote their practices. At first legitimate physicians and dentists resorted to consumer advertising only rarely; word of mouth recommendations from existing patients and referrals from friends and colleagues were seen as the most appropriate ways to market a dental practice.
What’s changed?Just about everything. Consumers today gather information about various medical and dental conditions and ways to treat them much more actively. Excellent information is readily available at their fingertips though numerous Web sites and Internet health information services. Most patients can have informed discussions with their dentists about oral health based on research they have done. As a national clothing retailer says, “An educated consumer is our best customer,” and I believe that’s true for dental practitioners who decide to market their implant capabilities. They want their patients to make informed decisions about treatment. I believe implant dentists help themselves and their patients by marketing their services aggressively and responsibly.
Why should you spend money on marketing? First, your practice is a business and should be run like one. Marketing is a sound and essential business practice that puts you in control of your growth and profitability. It can bring a steady stream of new patients, generate more visits from existing patients, and enhance your image and reputation in the community.
A practice-marketing program should aim to favorably present and differentiate your practice and provide information about specific conditions and treatments that will enable consumers to decide if they should seek professional advice and treatment. Marketing allows you to communicate your value proposition as an implant dentist by promoting what sets you apart from other practitioners. Implantologists can distinguish themselves with credentials achieved through the rigorous education program offered by the American Academy of Implant Dentistry (AAID), www.aaid.com. The organization also provides ongoing education at its annual scientific meeting to help implant dentists stay on top of new developments in the field.
Before designing and placing ads, however, the doctor and the office team must establish a case-acceptance process. This step involves developing a system through which media-generated calls are handled effectively. Doctors I have worked with have become frustrated and disappointed that media-generated calls don’t generate instant business. For implants, leads from media placements are much different than traditional referrals. Prospective patients motivated through marketing want to learn more about implants but haven’t decided what to do yet.
Also, implants can cost $10,000 or more, so the decision-making or sales process can take a year or longer. Many patients need time to work through financial options, it’s not like buying a $200 filling. But don’t let the prospect get away. The doctor and the team should maintain communication throughout the decision-making period. You and your staff should welcome implant prospects into the practice for routine dental care.
Before addressing marketing strategies, let’s look at the implant market. Through implant dentistry marketing we seek to attract patients who have disabilities associated with missing teeth, such as poor appearance and eating difficulties. A recent newspaper article reported a U.S. Centers for Disease Control finding that 8 percent of U.S. adults and one in four 60 years and older have lost all of their natural teeth. In most cases, these individuals have been fitted with dentures and most experience problems associated with them. Loose dentures, for example, cause embarrassment, speech difficulties and make it difficult to eat a nutritionally balanced diet. For many denture wearers, eating salads, fruits and vegetables is a difficult and frustrating chore they would rather avoid.
Understanding what life is like for individuals with missing teeth is helpful for crafting marketing messages about the benefits of implants. Note the key word is benefits. When marketing dental implants, it’s essential to stress outcomes, not processes. I see too many implant ads that miss the point by talking about procedures and technology instead of outcomes. You want prospects to consider their disability and resolve to do something about it. Give a compelling reason to call your office. Improving overall quality of life and being able to eat normally can be powerful motivators, so don’t waste time and money promoting the ease of surgery or other process details. Remember, the best way to gain case acceptance is to communicate benefits and value. For implants this means relief of disability.
What woks best
Practice brochure and Web site
There are a wide variety of marketing tactics to consider, and some offer better value than others. I usually recommend that implant dentists first produce an attractive and well-written brochure and Web site that establish the identity or brand for the practice. Differentiation can be achieved by stressing implant education and training and by relating experiences with specific patient groups, such as seniors. Information should be patient-focused and stress the benefits and outcomes of implants for improving quality of life, restoring self-confidence, and bringing back an attractive smile. A brochure and Web site should also include photos of the doctor and team. Before-and-after implant outcome shots also can have a dramatic and persuasive impact. Be sure the overall graphic look complements your logo and signage to convey a unified image.
Knowing that the sales cycle for dental implants can last a year or more, it’s vital to keep in touch with prospective patients. I find that e-newsletters are a convenient and effective way to stay in contact and move the selling process along. Quarterly distribution via e-mail offers good frequency and enables your practice to share what’s new and provide relevant updates from the field of implant dentistry. Consumers like to know about new research and there might be opportunities to share findings of recent studies that show favorable outcomes from implant procedures. The key objective is to have an ongoing, direct communication vehicle that provides information and advice to help prospects move ahead with implants sooner rather than later.
For most solo practitioners with limited marketing resources, print ads can be effective. For larger practices that can afford broadcast media, radio and TV commercials can generate almost instant call volume. A successful print advertising campaign targets a specific demographic or geographic market by utilizing publications with strong penetration in those markets. Create ads that grab attention by focusing on benefits and outcomes. The ad should motivate consumers to do something about their missing teeth instead of selling the implant procedure. If properly motivated to improve their quality of life, prospective patients won’t be overly concerned about the procedure’s ease or the time involved.
Targeted properly, a direct mail campaign can get the phone ringing. Mailing your practice brochure is a great way to gain introduction in target households, and the piece might be kept for future reference. Timing also can influence the effectiveness of direct mail. Stay away from the summer, when many families are away on vacation, and the high mail volume holiday seasons. March is a excellent month for direct-mail marketing of implants because the start of spring gets people thinking more about their appearance at the same time tax refund checks start hitting the mailboxes.
As a rule, avoid investing much in pens, coffee cups, and other items that display your name but do little to differentiate you from your competition or sell the benefits of implants. It’s nice to hand patients a pen or refrigerator magnet, but don’t depend on such trinkets for lasting benefits.
How much is enough?
This is the question I hear most often. To be effective, an implant marketing plan should cover at least three years to account for a long sales cycle. The first year is usually the most expensive because it requires one-time expenses for concept development, graphic design and copy writing that will establish your practice identity. For most implant dentists, a first-year expenditure of $35,000 to $40,000 is sufficient to cover these one-time expenses, produce a brochure and Web site, run some print ads, and execute a direct mail campaign. Years two and three should focus on implementation, review and adjustment.
How much you spend isn’t the key factor; the duration of the investment has the most influence on the results. You waste money, in my opinion, by blasting the market with ads for two weeks and then stopping. The best placement strategy is to advertise for about 13 weeks in the first half of the year and for another 13 weeks from Sept. until Dec. Plan to spend about 5 percent of your fee collections for ongoing marketing. Above all, stick with your plan and don’t be impatient. You’ll garner good results from the cumulative impact of marketing over time. And once you start marketing, never stop.
When evaluating the results of your marketing effort, patience is crucial. Dentists tend to be impatient and unrealistic about returns on marketing investments. Remember that the implant prospects you reach today may not find their way into the chair for 12 months. Therefore, you should measure the impact of marketing by assessing call volume rather than actual return on investment. Advertising and other marketing tools are designed to generate leads, not close business. One of your team members should keep close track of call sources to help determine which marketing tactics bring good results.
Marketing is not an exact science and involves some risk. Make adjustments as you measure results. If a Sunday supplement newspaper ad generates more than a few calls week after week, stick with it or perhaps increase your investment in that publication. Likewise, you should discontinue a tactic that hasn’t produced consistent results.
Finally, I strongly recommend working with a marketing consultant who has experience in developing programs for health-care professionals. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, and avoid making costly mistakes by hiring a professional who will help you develop a strong plan, stick with it and invest your marketing resources skillfully for the best return. Implants are one of the hottest areas in dentistry today, and a well-developed, well-executed marketing program will allow you to reap significant financial and personal satisfaction while helping patients regain their self esteem.
Paul Homoly, DDS, CSP, is a leader in dental education. He holds the highest earned designation in professional speaking - Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) and is the first dentist to earn this designation. As a comprehensive restorative dentist and acclaimed educator for more than 25 years, he is known for his innovative and practical approach. He is president of Homoly Communications Institute.
AAID announces new online Dental Industry Marketplace
The typical Internet user visits Google, Yahoo or MSN on a daily basis to find virtually anything they need. Covering everything from researching to shopping to banking, these search engines have evolved into the informational source for the average online consumer.
But ask any dental professional about their experience using one of the major search engines to find goods or services specific to their business and you’ll find dissatisfied responses. How many times have you abandoned your search after sifting through pages and pages of irrelevant results?
Enter the American Academy of Implant Dentistry’s Dental Industry Marketplace. Easily accessible directly from the AAID Web site at www.aaid.com, this Web-based resource provides industry professionals worldwide immediate access to products and services catered specifically to their needs.
Within the Dental Industry Marketplace, two different methods of searching for products and services are available. Users have the option of performing keyword-driven searches that mirror traditional search engines, or a category-specific search. Both methods produce the most relevant search results unique to the dental profession while cutting through the clutter of a general Internet search.
Since its launch in June, the new guide has become a valuable resource for dental professionals worldwide, receiving thousands of visitors per month.
Visit AAID’s Dental Industry Marketplace via the AAID Web site at www.aaid.com or go to www.dentalindustrymarketplace.com.