Common dental marketing mistakes

Learn from these basic errors and get back on track with new patient acquisition.

Falling dental profitsWith all of the pressures of modern practice; increasing competition, burdensome legislation and more, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of a well-thought out and carefully managed marketing campaign.

Even when there is a marketing campaign in place, it’s not unusual to find dentists who have become so distracted by other pressing matters that plans and procedures fall into disrepair and the whole framework begins to crumble and things run out of control.

With this in mind, and drawing on 17 years of experience working with dental practices, here are some of the most common marketing errors I’ve seen and continue to see, when called on to new projects. Please use this quick check list to make sure your own campaigns are on track and delivering and if you need any help, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Who is your ideal patient?

As with any business, it’s extremely important to know your target audience and how you propose to acquire and develop new patients to help grow your dental practice. The techniques needed to target “niche” audiences such as implant and ortho patients differ from those used to build a general list of patients for a new start-up for example. Until you know exactly the type of patient you are targeting, you will struggle to implement the correct tools to communicate with them. So start with the basics and don’t be too eager to kick off with a “scatter gun” approach.

Not measuring effectiveness

This is all too prevalent and it’s quite surprising just how many dentists pay out hundreds if not thousands of pounds per month without understanding which marketing channels are working and which aren’t. It’s critically important to have access to the data you need to ensure that you understand what is happening with your marketing budget. If you are using a marketing company to assist, ensure that you have access to all of the analytical tools that they use and that you receive a comprehensive monthly progress report. The bottom-line is how many new patients have contacted you, so make sure that this fundamental “conversion” data is available. It’s not just about your Google search positions and website traffic.

You also need a holistic view of patient numbers and the value that they are delivering. Understand your “churn” rates (are the newcomers easily making up for any leavers?) and are the new clients fulfilling your patient “life-time” value criteria? For example, gaining a bunch of tyre-kickers from a Facebook campaign for cheap whitening might not really be what you’d intended?

Expecting overnight success

As business owners we are all prone to impatience and want results quickly – this is understandable but there are only a couple of marketing channels where you might expect some quick wins. Most channels take time to build momentum and to start delivering; for example gaining good positions in the free business listings in Google can take quite a few months of hard work, particularly in competitive environments. Similarly with traditional methods such as advertising in local magazines, leaflet drops and the like. It’s well understood that new customers typically need to see your advertising on several occasions before they bite, so be prepared for sustained campaigns to establish and then build your presence, both on-line and in your community.

You also need to know which techniques can deliver quick results, e.g. using Google AdWords (pay-per-click) and how you can phase these techniques in conjunction with longer-term promotional activities. Of course you also need to understand the budget requirements associated with each of the techniques at your disposal.

Spreading too thinly

One of the biggest challenges we face is where dentists set a relatively small budget for their practice managers and then try to divvy it up across several channels – diluting each to the extent that the tipping point needed for success is never reached. Techniques like organic search engine optimisation and pay-per-click need management time and (in the case of AdWords) decent click-budgets to gain momentum. If you shoot too low or spread too thinly, failure awaits. So set realistic budgets for each channel you use.

Insufficient expertise

Another issue is where the practice principal believes/hopes that the practice manager or nominated staff member can undertake what can be quite sophisticated marketing tasks – but without the necessary training and experience. Whilst some activities can be handled successfully with training and support, other activities e.g. setting up AdWords campaigns, really do need experienced help, most likely from a third party specialist.

Jumping on latest trends

There is a tendency within the dental marketing community to shout loudly about any new marketing techniques which surface in an attempt to differentiate from other providers. Often this is done with very limited validation of whether the techniques work, particularly in the dental context. You then typically see every man, woman and their dog flogging these services around the industry, irrespective of whether they have the skills and experience to do it or not. This often results in systems and techniques being tried in the wrong situation and often at great cost to poor clients who don’t realise the benefit they expected.

The key here is to check very carefully and validate what is being offered. Is it a new kid on the block talking up their experience, a dental trainer who is getting a kick-back from another supplier or a genuine, long-standing supplier with a track record? Please check before jumping in.


Of course there are a number of fundamentals not covered in the list above, for example running with an outdated website or not having good quality branding in place – and we still see this very regularly. However, even where the basics are in place, letting marketing campaigns run unchecked and error strewn is all too common. So even where time is tight, take a moment to validate that what you are doing is yielding the returns you expect.

If you need guidance or perhaps an audit of your current marketing activities, please call the Dental Media team on 01332 672548 – we’ll be pleased to assist.