Th 158941

Using digital photography for effective marketing

Sept. 1, 2004
Marketing by dentists, while still viewed negatively by some, is becoming a necessary part of today's modern dental practice.

Tony Soileau, DDS

Fig. 1
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Marketing by dentists, while still viewed negatively by some, is becoming a necessary part of today's modern dental practice. Patients make choices as consumers for their dental care. For many dentists, marketing has simply become part of the monthly overhead. This is in large part due to the fact that running a dental office is expensive and overhead can be very high. Simply waiting for the phone to ring from word-of-mouth referrals is not always an option. The problem I faced when marketing my practice was to find quality print photos that showcased a beautiful smile. Take a look in the Yellow Pages and you will see that many ads are using the same stock photo or at least the same style. If you removed the text from these ads, would you know that the photo was marketing a dental practice? This is because dentists acquire their photos from photographers who were not showcasing a smile or they are using clinical photos because this is all they have learned how to take. So, to learn how to take photos for marketing—and not for clinic use or weddings— I traveled across the United States. I spent time with marketing and fashion photographers to learn how to take this type of photo. I now make use of my own digital photography to create print ads and television commercials that are very successful. All of the photos I use are of my patients and have been taken by me. This is what makes these photos and ads unique to me. It also gives me creative control over how the images look.

Fig. 2
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When I am going to market my practice with print ads, I use an ad designed for the specific population to which I am marketing. The traditional dental ads I see tend to be a stock photo of a family member smiling or a posed portrait of a patient with "before and after" somewhere in the ad. The problem I have found with these types of photos is that they tend to be boring to the eye and are often overlooked. The photos that I use are not for dental credibility in my ads. That is secondary. The photos first should catch the eye. If there are 10 ads on the page, I want mine to be noticed. I want every potential patient who is looking through a magazine with my ad in it to stop and read the ad before they turn the page. This will greatly increase the effectiveness of the ad. I am also careful with how the model is posed for the ad. I usually have a specific ad in mind when I am doing photo shoots. Like other businesses my ads are competing with, I am selling a product. My product is a beautiful smile and everything that comes with it. I am not selling clothes, shampoo, skin care products, etc. So I am careful to have the smile be the focus of the photo in an eye-catching way. When you look through women's magazines such as Vogue and Glamour, you know instantly what product is being sold in the ad. The product, whether it be clothing or jewelry, stands out more than the model. This is the same effect I want my ads to have. If a model has beautiful hair or captivating eyes, then that is the last thing I want prominently displayed in my ad. So I intentionally have only part of her hair bordering the image. And I may have her looking away or have her eyes closed so they do not compete with her smile.

If I were just flipping through a magazine with a hundred other ads, I would probably overlook the ad if the photo was Fig. 1. But the photo in Fig. 2 would catch my eye, for at least a second. Both are my patients and photos. Both are beautiful women with great smiles. But Fig. 2 would stand out more. Just for fun, show these two photos to your team members and get their opinions. Also, remember that I am marketing primarily to women. This is especially important if I am marketing outside of Lafayette, La., where the model will not be recognized.

Fig. 3
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The text or photos of the "before and after" results of the patient is what I will use in the ad to drive the potential patient to my office, or at least visit my Web site ( Fig. 3 is the ad I created with one of the photos from the photo shoot of the model in Fig. 2. The purpose of the photo is to catch your eye with the ad—the "free bleaching" text is to drive you to my office.

Fig. 4
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But it is more than just an eye-catching photo in the ad. It is how I used it in each market. My practice is located in Lafayette, but I run my ads in magazines in four major cities in southern Louisiana. All of these cities are within a three-hour drive from my office. One place I have had very good success is marketing on college campuses. I have a patient who is the current Miss New Orleans..She attends the University of New Orleans. We ran an ad with a photo I took of her in a UNO magazine geared for sororities. I made sure to use a photo that she liked. Everyone recognized her. She also made sure her friends saw the ad. Because of how good the pose was, her friends wanted to know who took the photo. When she said that it was her dentist, they were amazed. This gave me instant credibility in taking good photos because it gave her a reason to talk about me outside of being a dentist. A posed photo of a smiling family would have done little to impress girls from a sorority. Besides running the ad in the university.magazine, I also ran it in a New Orleans social magazine. The ad is shown in Fig. 4.

Fig. 5
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I am also careful when selecting photos for ads based on the type of paper on which they will be printed. Magazines with glossy paper will print with great detail. For the newspaper, I use black-and-white ads. Since the quality of newsprint is low, photos with great detail will be of little value. Black-and-white ads are also cheaper than ads in color. Also, a two-thirds of a page ad is just as effective as full page—and at one-third the cost. Marketing does not have to cost a lot if it is done right. Fig. 5 shows an ad we run in local newspapers.

Fig. 6
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Fig. 6 shows an ad featuring Jennifer, one of my patients who has been restored with porcelain veneers. Jennifer, a former Mrs. Louisiana and a spokesmodel for F.A.C.E., lives in Lake Charles, about a one-hour drive from Lafayette. Many Lake Charles residents come to Lafayette to do business or shop. I run ads with Jennifer in both Lafayette and Lake Charles. She has many beautiful qualities—hair, skin, eyes, face, and, of course, teeth. I chose this picture of her because the only feature that you can see fully is her smile. This is not the type of photo wedding or family photographers would take. They would want to show her full-length and from a more straight-on view. They also would have eliminated the shadows on her face. But that is exactly what I don't want. I only want her smile to be showcased.

Have you noticed that my ads have the same general look, except for a different photo? My ad is now branded and people tell me they look for my ads to see who is in them. We have patients asking my team what it is they have to do to be in one of our ads. Every ad's primary job is to send the patient to our Web site. Some 90 percent of our new patients say they came via our Web site. But, when questioned how they heard about the site, 50 percent say they came via our ads.

I use the same philosophy for my television commercials. I had a commercial made by Kim Guillot of Vision Video Productions. You can view it at to get Kim's contact information.You can also see how I use it by visiting my practice Web site at www.smiles

Kim designs and creates commercials for our local FOX television station. He helped me create a very inexpensive commercial that is highly effective. What he did was showcase as many of my patients as he could in a 30-second spot. I wanted as many patient photos in the commercial as possible, but without showing them too quickly so they could all be recognized. We then called every patient on the commercial to let them know the show and channel on which the commercial would be shown. Imagine the excitement when we call patients and tell them to watch "American Idol" because they will be on a commercial airing during the show! I have my phone number, and more importantly, my Web address prominently displayed during the commercial.

My ads work well, for little money, for the following reasons:

1) I take photos that are used to catch the eye and let the text and "before and after" photos explain the reasons to visit our office.
2) The ads are focused on sending patients to my Web site before they come see me. This helps new patients to be more educated on dental procedures before they arrive at our office.
3) The photos are unique and professional.
4) The photo is chosen based on where the ad will run and in what medium. I do not use clinical style photos for marketing.
5) I do not have a "one photo fits all" mentality.
6) Photos are taken by me of my patients.
7) All my ads look the same so it brands my logo.
8) We make sure the models in the ads know the issue in which the ads will appear and we provide them copies to show their friends.

These are some of the ways I use ads for external marketing. This is a small part of the marketing lecture I give at the genX digital photography courses. Anyone can be taught to take photos like this. The business of dentistry is now being driven by consumer market forces. Dental marketing must become mainstream if it is to be as effective as possible, but it does not have to be expensive. The marketing concepts I use work because I keep things simple and I have learned from the pros in marketing. I hope what I have shared helps you develop more productive practices.

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