Marketing Insider: Don't ditch your marketing plan

March 21, 2012

Don’t ditch your marketing plan Saving money is always important, especially in today’s economic climate, but remember, a good marketing plan can make you money in the long run.

Don’t ditch your marketing plan

Saving money is always important, especially in today’s economic climate, but remember, a good marketing plan can make you money in the long run.

One obvious way to save money is to not spend it. Valid, to be sure, but also subject to what is referred to by economists as opportunity cost, that is, the forgone return from not taking advantage of some opportunity.

And change nearly always presents opportunity. The trick is identifying how to capitalize.

The annals of corporate success stories are replete with examples of companies that did far more than make lemonade from lemons during lean economic times: They transformed their identity, product, process, service or some other aspect of their business and forged a bold new destiny, sometimes for an entire industry.

Tips For Growth In Today’s Economy

When do your Yellow Page ads expire? Unless your audience is elderly patients, this is not the best place to invest your precious marketing dollars. Here’s a rundown or other methods you may want to try:

  • Beef up your Web site. Be sure your Web site is ‘ready for prime time.’ Think about adding video, a low-cost alternative to which is a ‘flash movie’ using high-quality photographs of the office.

  • Provide information request forms. These forms can help capture ‘tire kickers,’ that is prospective patients who are not yet ready to 'pull the trigger.

  • Develop calls to action. Try clickable and printable special offers. Avoid using the term ‘economic stimulus.’ It’s overused and irritates people.

  • Write a blog. It’s low or no cost, and really helps your Web site’s ranking on the SERPs (search engine results pages).

  • Consider a ‘drip marketing’ e-mail campaign. It’s cost-effective and a sure-fire way to convert Web visitors to patients (or at least qualified patient leads) as well as increase compliance and treatment acceptance from your patients of record.

  • Volunteer. More people need help now than before, and you may be in a better position to contribute your time. In the process you build goodwill, and your practice. Even better, have a party. Just be sure you don’t keep your good works a secret, because neither you nor the charity will benefit as much.

  • Remember the ‘marketing force multiplier’ (MFM). We all know one pleased patient can result in many new patients. While it’s nice to imagine there is one ‘magic bullet’ for growing your practice, the reality is there are many ways to attract a reasonable number of patients. Owing to the MFM, it only takes a few.

Why you need a marketing plan
Remember 2008 was a record year for many. It’s great to set your sights high, but be reasonable: with yourself, your team, your patients and your market. Striking the right balance between irrational exuberance and despair can be tricky. A worthy objective may be to simply maintain current production levels, while finding ways to reduce costs.

Dr. William McCune of Creekside Dental, a Buffalo Grove, Illinois based general dental practice, said “I consider my marketing to be a non-discretionary investment. I’m frankly more inclined to cut staff than marketing because I know that, to keep the lights on, I need a steady stream of new patients.”

From a cash flow standpoint, and because the benefits of marketing sometimes require time to build momentum, it’s an excellent idea to be continuously invested in an ongoing, well thought out, and integrated dentistry marketing plan. That way, the benefits of past investments are realized later, perhaps when the business cycle is in a trough.

The only thing we have to fear is... fear itself
Another justification for marketing in lean times is the very reason many of your colleagues will assume a ‘wait and see’ posture: fear. Anyone who practiced through the last recession in the early 1980s (and who chose to assume an aggressive stance with respect to marketing) will tell you it was a great time to promote by differentiating their practice, thus making their ‘bounce’ from the recovery that much higher.

Remember a down economy is a measure of macroeconomic activity. To be sure, individual practices are affected, but there are so many other factors that contribute to your success.  There are always things we could do more efficiently and productively, and this may be a great time to work on them-to work on your practice rather than just in your practice.

Establish and solidify patient relationships
During lean economic times, people are more likely to question their allegiances and habits, including behavior patterns such as where to have their hair cut, nails done, and yes, their relationship with their dentist. ‘Switch and Save’ is one of the most commonly used phrases in advertising these days. Why? Because savvy marketers know consumers are looking for bargains.

Before I lose anyone, let me remind you the ‘bargain’ is a one-time offer. I neither ask nor suggest you commit to a permanently discounted fee structure. What I am suggesting is you recognize the potential to entice patients to see if your practice is right for them. Be as flexible and understanding of their situation as possible.

Build your tribe
That doesn’t mean you should alter your treatment recommendations. Let your patients decide if they can afford treatment or not. Just understand the time they take to accept treatment may be a bit longer than it would be in a more robust economy. The thing to do now is build your tribe. Then, when the inevitable recovery begins, your 'personal recovery curve' will be that much steeper, because you now have even more patients in your charts.

Just remember this cuts both ways: do not take your current patients for granted. Invest in communications software (or beef up the content, if you’re already invested) as you can, at close to zero incremental cost, share useful information and special ‘patient only’ offers. These nearly always result in a ‘bump’ in production.

Sweeten the pot
Let’s say you’ve been doing direct mail for a while, and the return has leveled off, or even fallen a bit. Consider sweetening your offers. People are not only looking for, but expecting bargains these days. Don’t disappoint them.

For instance, Dr. McCune’s “pre-recession offering” was a $39 exam. He dropped that to a $25 exam, and experienced shortly thereafter an increase in monthly production from $7,000 to $14,000, solely on patients responding to the $25 offer, which appears on both his Web site and his direct mail card.

Tracking is more
important than ever

David Ogilvy, whom many consider to be the father of modern advertising, famously said “Half my advertising is wasted; I just don’t know which half.” In times like these it is even more important to put into place the means to completely, reliably and accurately track your marketing tactics.

Maximize patient value
Marketing, communication and leadership icon Tom Peters is known for saying “Marketing is one third external and two thirds internal. He means that it’s what happens after someone becomes a patient that drives return on investment in external marketing. Here’s why.

Say you spend $1,000 on a marketing tactic and you get five new patients as a result. Let us further assume your average annual patient value is $500 (a conservative figure, as this may not even include re-care or referral). Your return on investment is, therefore, 250% or 5:1 ($2,500 in value divided by $1,000). If another practice invests in the same tactic and receives the same result, but has an average patient value of $2,000, her ROI is four times as much.

Maximizing patient value takes many forms-just be on the lookout for cost-effective ways to improve your patients’ experience with your practice, and cost-effectively communicate those benefits, and see your marketing ROI soar.

Relate to your audience
Be creative in revising your copy and design to ‘speak’ more clearly to your audience’s needs and concerns.

Help people understand that caring for their teeth now can mean greater savings, especially if their present employment situation is in question. Let them know that, as a member of the community, you want to contribute to the physical (and fiscal) health and well being of your neighbors.

Once patients are part of your practice, demonstrate your empathy for their situation, and understand if they are not able to accept treatment as quickly or at the level they’d like. Cut them the proverbial break.* When the economy turns around, you’ll be posed to yield a handsome return on your ‘investment.’

*By the way, we make it a tenet of our business to practice what we preach i.e. to be as accommodating and flexible as possible with our clients who need a little help. To learn more, give us a call or drop us an e-mail.

Daniel A. Bobrow, MBA, is President of American Dental Marketing, a Chicago-based Dentistry Marketing Consultancy. He is also Executive Director of Dentists’ Climb for a Cause™. He may be reached at 800-723-6523.