Tapping the hidden market within your practice
by Cindy Hearn & Doug Hammond
The sheer size of the Baby Boom generation makes it an obvious target for cosmetic services. Dr. Ken Dychtwald, founder of Age Wave, confirms, "Companies whose products and services are aligned with the age-related needs of new generations of maturing customers are on the threshold of tremendous opportunity."
Today there are about 76 million Baby Boomers in America between the ages of 37 and 55, representing approximately 41 percent of the total population. In addition to size, there are other reasons this generation offers growth opportunities for practices. For example, Boomers did not have the advantage of the cavity prevention techniques later generations have enjoyed. Furthermore, this group is highly focused on appearance and maintaining a youthful lifestyle.
Boomers between the age of 40 and 50 are the ideal cosmetic candidates. They are entering "middlescence," an adult life phase bringing numerous physical changes. Many are taking active measures to reverse or slow down these changes.
Baby Boomers tend to be in denial about aging. Though many are pushing 50, they still feel as though they are in their 30s. They tend to fight the physical signs of aging and are therefore extememly focused on health, diet, exercise, and appearance. Consumer Trends Report states, "Being wellness-focused means Boomers are great candidates for exercise equipment, anti-aging creams, and the like. Many are in their peak earning years, so premium products and services also do well with this crowd."
Purchase motivators and barriers
The one thing Baby Boomers have in common is diversity. This generation spans 20 years; to effectively communicate with this group, you must understand the different life stages, life values, and life experiences (see the October 2001 issue of Dental Economics) of its members. This helps practitioners subdivide the group by attitudes and values, define purchase motivators and barriers, and provide guidance in developing appropriate marketing messages directly relating to Baby Boomers.
Boomers between the ages of 40 and 50 are open to cosmetic dentistry services because of the importance they place on a youthful appearance and lifestyle. However, a limited awareness and understanding of new cosmetic procedures and the results that can be achieved erect a barrier to purchase. Other barriers are:
According to an AACD survey, pain is one of the primary reservations patients have with cosmetic procedures. Other concerns include time and longevity. Not surprisingly, the leading concern is cost. Marketing efforts to educate Boomers on technology and newer pain assistance options will help them accept cosmetic dentistry recommendations more willingly. To help with time and convenience issues, practitioners may want to consider offering after-business and weekend hours. Dentists can overcome price objections by offering financing options with convenient monthly payments, a concept Boomers are extremely comfortable with.
Start with the patients you have
The best place to begin promoting cosmetic dentistry procedures is with your existing patient base. Your most loyal patients — those you've been treating for years and who bring their entire families to your practice — may be ideal candidates for cosmetic services. However, they may be unaware of the new technologies available and how accessible these procedures are. It's not the patient's responsibility to ask you to recommend treatment that will enhance their oral health and lifestyle. It is up to you. And there are several techniques you can implement to make sure your entire team effectively communicates the benefits of cosmetic dentistry to your existing patient base.
The office environment
Create a "Boomer friendly" environment within your practice that empahsizes:
- Personal attention
- Improved appearance with cosmetic dentistry
- Pain assistance methods, convenient practice hours, and financing availability.
In the reception area, practices should consider adding "retro" music — the type of music Baby Boomers grew up with from the 1960s through the 1980s. Wall art should highlight success stories of Boomers who have achieved youthful smiles from cosmetic dentistry. "Make sure when you show Baby Boomers age 40-plus photos of individuals who have attained beautiful teeth through cosmetic dentistry, that the photos are not of people in their 20s and 30s. Boomers may not relate to this age group, and studies have shown that they can actually be turned off by a message of 'youth and vitality,' accompanied by a photo of a 19-year old," comments Nancy Kent, president of the Marketing Department, Mature Market Division.
Brochures and other informational displays should consider the physical changes that occur with age, such as diminished eyesight. Type font size should be a minimum of 12 point; a sans serif typeface is typically more readable than a serif typeface. Use high-contrast colors; brochures, posters, and other printed materials should feature images of "peers," not a generation younger.
Your office team should always remember that Boomers appreciate convenience, personal attention, and service. As they have matured, they have witnessed the decay of customer service in America and watched it be replaced by autonomy and automation. To enhance the "personal connection" Boomers (and actually, all patients) should be greeted by name as they enter the practice. They should again be acknowledged as they exit.
"I am so tired of the poor quality and impersonal service of most restaurants and businesses. I've been going to the same dentist for over four years. But at my last appointment, no one even said 'hi" or acknowledged my existence. It was 15 minutes later when they called my name. You would think that if they truly valued me as a patient, they would actually act like it," explains Cathleen Wright, age 46.
Baby Boomers grew up without the luxury of advanced pain control, and subsequently have a deep aversion to dental procedures, especially those they view as optional. Make sure you take every opportunity to educate your Boomer patients on new pain control options — through conversation, brochures, displays, and testimonials.
Dentists can overcome price by utilizing various financing methods that break down larger treatment fees into manageable monthly payments.
Communicating with existing patients
Practices interested in increasing their cosmetic production should implement an ongoing marketing program for existing clients. Here are some elements to consider.
Take a look at your existing patient database. Examine those patients age 40 to 50. Don't assume they are uninterested in cosmetic procdures just because they haven't asked. They may be unaware of new techniques, or may not understand how simple the procedures can be. They may be unaware of your expertise in this area, or could simply be waiting until the time is right. You will never know until you ask.
Send these patients a letter or postcard that introduces them to the benefits of cosmetic dentistry. Offer a free consultation or put together a free seminar. Seminars can be very attractive to Boomers because they tend to seek out information and want to understand all their options. This technique has been hugely successful with ophthalmology practices to promote and educate the public about patient procedures such as LASIK.
Remember to use relevant visuals, speak directly to their primary motivator — youth — and provide solutions to the potential barriers of pain, convenience and price.
Continue communicating with these patients through on-going letters and/or postcards; use an educational tone, and focus on patient testimonials and success stories.
Ask patients if they are interested in receiving information from your practice via email. Email campaigns are an inexpensive and effective way to communicate with your patients, not only to promote cosmetic services, but also to confirm appointments and provide information about treatment options. Boomers are comfortable with the Internet; most have access either at home or at work.
Email is the preferred method because of its convenience. Patients can absorb the information on their own time schedule.
Be sure you and your team continually talk with "high potential" patients about the newest advances in cosmetic dentistry and its benefits. Integrate these conversations into discussions of optimal oral health and vitality. Add them to your "on hold" messages and your Web site.
Attracting new cosmetic patients
Referrals are the most cost effective way to attract new cosmetic patients. With cosmetic dentistry, the results may actually be your best advertising tool. You may want to ask those patients who have achieved a beautiful smile through your expertise to participate in success stories and testimonials, as well as refer your services to friends, family, and peers.
Print advertising is a traditional method of promoting your practice, capabilities, and service. This can include local daily or weekly newspapers, mail-coupon services, yellow pages, and local magazines. The same rules apply for print advertising as for brochures and practice materials:
- Use appropriate visuals, 12 point typeface or larger, and high contrast.
- Remember to speak to the primary motivator and barriers of Baby Boomers. Your message should lead with the primary motivator — youth. "Close" the sale by providing solutions to the barriers, such as third-party financing.
- For newspaper advertising, the "Lifestyle" or "Living" section may provide ideal placement, but may vary by market and publication. Ask your local newspaper advertising representative for a breakdown of readership by age and gender; identify those sections most frequently read by women age 40 and older.
- Work with media representatives and make sure they are aware of your target market: Boomers interested in a youthful appearance and lifestyle. This subject is covered often within the media; there may be opportunities to mention your services. At the very least, it is an ideal opportunity for ad placement.
Print advertising is also the best forum for promoting seminars. Seminars allow practices to educate a group of high-potential candidates effectively. You may want to consider a co-op seminar arrangement with a vendor or related business, such as a local cosmetic surgeon or ophthalmologist.
If you have a Web site, always include your address in your promotions and print advertising. Then, make sure your site is appropriate for Baby Boomers.
"When a business associate of mine had his teeth professionally whitened, I knew I wanted to get it done, too. Not only did he look great, it made him look more youthful, vital, and approachable. He told me who his dentist was, so I went online to look for more information.
My associate's dentist had a Web site and, based on the testimonials featured, I am confident in his capabilities. I called the next day to go for a consultation," explains Kristopher Thomas, age 52.
Ultimately, Baby Boomers will seek out products and services that help them maintain the youthful appearance and lifestyle they desire. They are changing the way America ages. Businesses that are prepared to provide Boomers with products, convenience, and service they demand will benefit from this booming opportunity.
Using scripts effectively
Standardizing the presentations and messages within your practice ensures that patients recieve the right message — every time. Your front-office team and those who directly communicate with patients are the first — and most memorable — impression of your practice.
Scripts help practices:
- Maintain consistency
- Communicate more effectively
- Clarify expecatations
- Eliminate ambiguity
"Scripting can be key to the success of a practice," emphasizes Roger Levin, leading industry consultant, "especially when it comes to discussing cosmetic dentistry and treatment fees. The more prepared you are, the more effective your presentation will be."