Marketing Insider: Making a difference

March 21, 2012

If someone were to tell you they knew about a powerful practice building tool that involves no selling, costs little (or nothing) to implement, enhances patient loyalty, encourages referrals, attracts new patients, builds team morale, makes a positive difference for those in need, is repeatable, and lots of fun, would you want to learn more?

If someone were to tell you they knew about a powerful practice building tool that involves no selling, costs little (or nothing) to implement, enhances patient loyalty, encourages referrals, attracts new patients, builds team morale, makes a positive difference for those in need, is repeatable, and lots of fun, would you want to learn more?

There is hardly a dentist I know who has not already demonstrated a commitment to “giving back.” A free “Smile Makeover” for a deserving patient, volunteering at a dental clinic, participating in an overseas dental project, offering a scholarship to some deserving student, and sponsoring a Little League team, are but a few of the ways dentists and their staff have “put a human face” on their practice and the people who comprise the dental profession.

One of the most cost-effective and enjoyable ways I’ve found to grow your dental practice is to promote and stage an event, ideally in support of a non-profit, dental-related cause.

Cause-Related Event Marketing

Such events are called Cause-Related Event Marketing (C.R.E.M.) and, if your goal is to make an even bigger positive impact, C.R.E.M. could be the ticket.

I define Cause-Related Event Marketing as: The process by which an individual or organization seeks to achieve one or more business objectives as a consequence of its commitment to some form of philanthropy.

For some, the idea of doing anything of a philanthropic nature that results in some business or personal benefit evokes fear of being perceived as “feathering ones own nest.” That is why the above definition makes clear that any benefit to the practice follows from, and is a consequence of, the act of helping those in need. In other words, helping is paramount.

Some may wonder, “Why should I bother with all this? Why not just donate my own money and time and be done with it?” If doing what you do now satisfies you and you are not interested in growing your practice, the answer might well be that you should indeed keep on doing what you’re doing.

Just be aware that, by enlisting the support of others, you cannot help but leverage your “philanthropic portfolio,” that is, get more bang for your charity buck.  Put another way, which do you think your chosen charity would prefer to receive, $1,000 from your pocket, or, say, $10,000 because you chose not to keep your good works a secret?

Simple ways to have an impact

It is a curious irony that, by remaining “pure,” we actually deny an opportunity to do more good for our chosen cause.

If throwing a party places you and your practice in front of people through your local media and merchants, and your patients’ friends and families, it truly is a win-win proposition. You’ll receive newsworthy copy for the media; free advertising for merchants, good will and new patients for you and, most importantly, more benefit to the charity.

Also, the BBMG Conscious Consumer Report, reported that given a choice between similar offerings, a consumer will select the entity that demonstrates a commitment to social responsibility.1 Bear in mind too that, in challenging economic times, CREM is an even better bargain, because it can literally cost nothing to implement.

A night out on the town can, depending on where you live, quickly add up to $100, so why not invite people to have their night out with you and benefit a good cause, too? Having a party with your favorite people and their friends is fun, and people appreciate it, which makes it a repeatable event, which can then become part of your Annual Marketing Plan.

You and your team may feel ambivalent about asking your patients for money. The good news is that you don’t have to push your fundraiser on patients because you are offering them value in exchange for their support (i.e. a party) and, done correctly, it is your patients and the media who will be asking you the questions.

Getting started

If this is your first foray into C.R.E.M., it is probably a good idea to donate the funds you raise to an existing, reputable cause rather than attempting to set up your own non-profit foundation. You are then free to focus solely on promoting and staging a successful event, and leaving it to your chosen charity to put all that money and other resources to good use.

Before associating your name and reputation, and that of your practice, to any cause, a certain amount of due diligence is indicated.  For help with this send me an email. If you should wish to establish your own foundation, be sure to secure advice from legal professionals, both to get and keep your organization in regulatory compliance.

Assuming you have opted to raise funds for an established and reputable cause, your first step should be to hold a dental team meeting to gain ‘buy-in’ and valuable suggestions from your team. As this truly will be a team effort, it is important to request and receive consensus and commitment from them about why the practice is doing this, as well as when (give yourself and staff enough time to organize and promote your event to avoid unnecessary stress), where (your office, or possibly a local establishment whose owner is willing to donate the space), and how (what are the teams’ respective responsibilities) for your event to be a success.

Putting a plan in action

Explain to your team that you have a way to grow the practice requiring low or no cost and no selling, but simply a commitment to sharing with others what you are doing.  It is important to make this distinction at the outset, as many people are averse to being asked to sell even if it’s for a good cause.

Demonstrate your commitment to making your event a success by using in-office displays and other communications tools to generate interest among your patients.  Examples include: posters, brochures, patches or buttons on scrubs, promotional flyers for local area businesses to promote their involvement in your event, a link from your Web site home page to your fundraising page, direct mail, press releases, public service announcements, etc.

Armed with these tools, your team can easily incorporate information about the event into their regular communications with patients because your team will be responding to, instead of initiating, inquiries. Thanks to desktop publishing, much of the above mentioned communications material can be done in-house. Any additional expertise should be secured by networking with staff, patients, family, and friends. As most business people appreciate the value of free advertising as well as supporting a good cause, you’ll be surprised to find most, if not all, needed assistance will be provided gratis.

This first team meeting should facilitate an open exchange of ideas and feelings. Learn what your team’s interests and abilities are with respect to volunteering. All staff members' views should be heard. Decisions made based on consensus of the group about the type of cause you wish to support will help ensure follow-through and a sense of ownership by every team member. Before the meeting adjourns, be sure you have established an action plan, complete with clear task assignments and timeframe for completion, and scheduled regular follow-up meetings.

Be sure to maintain the momentum you’ve established by adhering to your team meeting schedule, and by keeping positive and supportive, even when things do not occur according to schedule. For instance, instead of getting upset with a team member for not completing a task when or as promised, see what you and other members of the team can do to help them get it done, while gently reminding them of how important their task is to the success of the team’s agreed-upon objective.

Following the event, gather as much feedback as possible on its impact, as this is the best way to achieve the goal of making next year’s event better.

Annualizing your event

Remember, the goal of your event is to make it so much fun and rewarding for all who participate that, not only will people be glad they were invited to contribute or attend, they’ll want to know the date of your next event so they can add it to their calendar!

Indeed, an annual event may well become a regular part of your dental marketing plan. In so doing, you will have in place an ongoing strategy for keeping in front of, and showing your appreciation for, your patients, not to mention a great way to get to know their friends and family, and the public at large. After all, isn’t that what dentistry marketing is all about?

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 Causetm. He may be reached at 1-800-723-6523.

REFERENCES
1. Bemporad, Raphael and Mitch Baranowski. “Conscious Consumers Are Changing the Rules of Marketing. Are You Ready?” BBMG Conscious Consumer Report. Nov. 2007.