Seven ways to create an effective marketing strategy for your dental practice without going broke

November 13, 2013

How do you increase new patient numbers without cashing in the bank to do it? This is a question that all private practice owners face – both big and small. Advertising and marketing can be quite the investment.

As a matter of fact, it is likely more than the ½-1% that you have had budgeted for the history of the practice. While it is true that you need to invest in marketing, you do not have to start right out of the gate investing large sums of cash. So where are the best places to invest and the best strategies to get your message out? Here are seven ways to do that.

1. Laser focus vs. shotgun. When funds are limited, your best bet is to avoid the shotgun approach and focus on repetition with the same audience. New, emerging companies every year save their pennies (or millions) to launch ONE 30-second commercial during the most watched TV event of the year – the Super Bowl.

They think that they will catapult their business by blasting everyone with ONE commercial. These companies, like the many before them, find out that all they did was waste their money. People need to see, feel, hear, and experience your message five to seven times consistently before they will act on it. One commercial that is vapor will do nothing to sell the product or service.

2. Instead, decide to reach a much smaller crowd and be repetitious in getting your message in front of them. Are you a member of a country club? If so, attend networking events. Carry your business cards with you and hand them out to people you meet. Advertise in the country club newsletter. Sponsor country club events. Host a lecture or event of your own there at the club. Purchase a mail list and send a targeted mailing (and/or email) to this group.

Exhaust ALL marketing channels to this group. You’ll find that you invest a lot less and will get much more than by placing a full-page ad one time in a local magazine.

3. Your online strategy. When it comes to basic searches for a dentist in your area, can you be found? Is your website reflective of your practice TODAY? More and more, this is where people will go BEFORE they call you for an initial appointment. No matter how they heard about you, they are most likely headed straight to the Internet to check you out.

Do you measure up? Do you appear credible? Do you appear up-to-date with the latest technology? Is this a place where they feel comfortable having dental work done? You want the answer to be YES! ABSOLUTELY! Support all of your marketing efforts by having a site that is an online extension of your practice. That sets the stage for what they will experience at your office. Not only will this help to lead patients to make the call, but it will also prepare them for the visit leading to higher case acceptance and referring YOU to their friends and family.

4. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive. In other words – ask for the referral. This is a simple yet VERY EFFECTIVE strategy. Sounds simple, right? Heard it a hundred times? Know it by heart? It’s the first thing you learned about running a dental practice, right?

Yet, day in and day out, the busy-ness of the day often leads practices to forgetting this one detail. If you do not ask, you will not receive. When was the last time you were given something without asking? Help your team by promoting the program. Use emails, letters, signs, social media, your website, and handouts touting your referral program. This leads patients to ask questions. But don’t stop there. Decide in your morning huddle who is going to speak to which patients, then follow up in the next morning huddle with the result. Mutually holding each other accountable and celebrating small victories helps to ensure future success.

This isn’t just for general practitioners. The same is true for specialists.

Many specialists will take GPs to lunch in hopes of establishing or nurturing a referral relationship. Lunches are great because you get to know each other better. Remember to find out more about your referral source and how you can help. At the end of the lunch, remember to ask for the referrals of his or her patients.

If you don’t ask and assume that they will naturally send patients to you, then you may find yourself running your referral reports wondering why Dr. Smith hasn’t sent you any patients.

Talk is cheap. The fun myth about social media is that it isn’t free. It actually requires a lot of time (and sometimes money) to make it work. There are multiple venues in the social media world from Facebook and Twitter to Instagram and Pinterest. Just because they are “free” doesn’t mean you have to be on all of them from the start.

Focus on what the one that will reach more of your patients and potential patients. That program is Facebook for most practices. Dedicate one hour each month for brainstorming at team meetings and 15-20 minutes a day to get a head start. You can also boost your stories and your page through very modest advertising efforts ($5-$30 to make a post more visible).

The second thing to remember about social media is that it is ONE method of your marketing strategy. It supports everything you do. If you are asking for referrals in the office or attending a country club event, support it by mentioning it on Facebook.

Service is and always will be king. The best way to get a new patient is by treating your existing patients like royalty. Do you want #3 of this article to work the best?

Give them something to shout from the rooftops (or social media sites) about. There is only one thing that people like to discuss on Facebook more than cats, babies, and bad customer service experiences and that is GREAT customer service experiences.

People love to share the good and help out their friends. I see it all the time. If someone’s expectations are exceeded, it is shared on Facebook. I see it on my newsfeed or hear about it from a friend, I then go to the website and check it out. Many times if I need the product or service and had been high-centered for a while – that is the tipping point. The positive customer service review will encourage me to take action.

Engage in win-wins. The best win-win scenario I can think of is a charitable cause. Meet with your team and, as a team, choose a charitable cause that means something to the practice. Support it and promote it. Use all your media channels including your website, email, enewsletters, handouts, signs, verbal skills, and social media to get the word out. Donate $5 for every new like or follow to your social media.

Host a party and donate money for every person who attends. For each new patient in the practice from a referral, donate to the cause. Send out press releases to the community. Everyone wins … the charity, your patients, and you. Even if you don’t receive a direct new patient from this, you will have received lots of goodwill that plants the seeds for new patients. Most of all, the charity will win!

Invest in business cards … and carry them. You and your entire team should have business cards. Not only should you have them, they should be a permanent fixture in your wallet or purse. Keep them on you at all times. The conversation about what you do will come up. When it does, hand the person your card (even if it is not asked for).

ASK the person to come see you. Let him know that you “would love to have a patient like him” in your practice. Write down the name of your business administrator on the card and say, “Call us to schedule your appointment and be sure to tell Pat that I told you to call. We’ll include take-home whitening with your first comprehensive new patient evaluation.”

Make the person feel special … because he is. Treat him like a king and he will leave telling everyone to go see you!

Whatever you decide to do, remember to stay consistent and true to who you are. Be smart in what you do, focusing on consistent repetition of your message. If you do this, whether it is a small activity or a large venture, you will get the most of that marketing effort.