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    Your prescription for smarter marketing

    Consider it a marketing "treatment plan" for 2013.

    It’s January, and everyone knows what that means: New Year’s resolutions. To be sure, it’s a good time for dentists to assess the status quo, evaluate both successes and failures and set specific objectives to work toward in the dental practice during the coming months. This time of year also presents an opportunity to recommit to those strategic goals that may have been pushed to the back burner as more pressing needs arose.

    If you’ve given any thought to New Year’s resolutions for the practice, chances are marketing is somehow involved. Whether the primary goal for the practice is enhancing clinical skills, increasing practice profitability or preparing for transition, marketing is certain to be an elemental part of the game plan.

    Unfortunately, the dearth of business training, let alone specific practice marketing courses, offered in dental school is coupled with the proliferation of new and modern marketing methods—ranging from traditional mediums like yellow pages, magazines and direct mail to “new” online tactics including websites, search engine optimization and social media.

    As a result, dentists who are marketing novices are often overwhelmed by the wide scope of marketing mediums and vendors who call the practice ready with five-figure proposals. Confusion, information overload and paralysis by analysis have become a natural state of affairs when it comes to practice marketing. Some dentists may have tried a host of different marketing tactics over the years—at great expense— without any perceptible return on investment. Others may have great ideas, but can’t seem to find the time to put their plans into action.

    So where is the best place to start? The first step is to determine your practice’s annual marketing budget—nothing else can be done until you know how much money you have to allocate toward marketing efforts.

    In a typical year, when a practice is able to generate 70-80% of its desired new patient flow from internal marketing and word of mouth referrals, its website is up to date and marketing materials are current and fresh, 3-5% of gross production is a good starting point.

    However, for a practice that has done little to no marketing in recent years, or if the practice’s website is more than three years old, a good rule of thumb would be expect to spend closer to 6-8% of production. This is what is sometimes referred to as a “building year”—a time where the focus is on creating infrastructure. In a building year, the practice will have forward-looking expenditures that may not have a short-term payback, but in the long run will fuel the practice’s future success in attracting new patients and growing revenue.

    If marketing is part of your professional New Year’s resolution, be sure to come back to this column each month. Over the course of the next twelve issues, I will provide professional insight and fresh ideas on the varied topics under the dental marketing umbrella.

    The goal is to put dental marketing tactics, products and services under a microscope and provide a level of analysis that approaches that given to clinical products. We will discuss the full range of marketing mediums, evaluate which marketing opportunities are appropriate for a given practice based on its unique characteristics and share the means of measuring success. 

    Future column topics include:

    • Branding. It’s not just about having an attractive, professionally designed logo that is carried through all of the practice’s marketing materials; it’s also what differentiates one practice from the other one down the street, and accurately communicating the practice’s vision and philosophy to patients, prospective patients and referring doctors.
    • Target Market. Who are your existing customers? What is the profile of your ideal target customer? What modes of communication will best reach your target?
    • Websites. Do you have an updated, professionally designed website? Does it have all of the features and functionality available while providing maximum appeal to customers and prospective customers?
    • Search Engine Optimization and Online Marketing. Is your lab easily found online? These “new” mediums have taken over as dentists and the patients they serve are increasingly turning to the Internet when making decisions.
    • Online Reputation Management. What are people saying about your lab on sites like Google+ Local and Yelp? What can you do to protect your online reputation and ensure the positive voices drown out any negative noise?
    • Social Media. Are you engaging with your community through social media? Labs that don’t have a robust social media presence are missing out on an almost limitless number of opportunities to reach new customers. Social Media uses the power of the Internet to magnify the most important marketing: word of mouth.
    • Implementation. A practice’s marketing plan cannot be effective without someone who can keep the ball in motion. Who is responsible for the day-to-day execution of individual tactics? Who sets goals, benchmarks, budgets and timelines? Who holds the dentist accountable?

    Check back for marketing advice that will help you grow your practice—in the New Year and beyond. 

     

    Naomi Cooper is President and Founder of Minoa Marketing and serves as Chief Marketing Consultant for Pride Institute. Naomi is a respected dental marketing consultant, author, speaker and industry opinion leader who co-teaches Pride’s groundbreaking marketing course, The New Rules of Dental Marketing. She also works with individual dentists and dental companies looking to develop a cohesive marketing approach and momentum for their marketing strategy. For information about Naomi’s upcoming course dates, call Pride Institute at 800-925-2600 or visit prideinstitute.com. Naomi also can be reached via email at [email protected], and she blogs regularly at minoamarketing.com. For regular updates from Naomi on social media and online marketing, follow her on Twitter (@naomi_cooper) or “Like” Minoa Marketing on Facebook at fb.com/minoamarketing.