Internal and External Dental Marketing

Why you need a focus for both….

mistake signI recently read a blog post from a dental coach where he noted that a few of his clients had significantly wound back their spend on external marketing in favour of prioritising their internal marketing efforts. What we didn’t learn was whether this initiative actually worked, but it’s certainly worthy of more discussion. Just before we take a look at this “strategy” in more detail, let’s recap in the broadest sense, on what those marketing terms actually mean. These are not concrete definitions (indeed there are several different views on what internal marketing means) but they will serve for the purposes of this discussion:

  • external marketing – this is essentially the types of activity you undertake in a “third party” context to publicise your dental business. So for example, using an SEO agency to boost search rankings, advertising in the local newspaper or via a radio ad etc.
  • internal marketing – basically using your local team to engage patients to promote your business from within. For example, seeking testimonials to use on your website, encouraging reviews, grabbing “selfies” to use on social media etc. Also of course ensuring that suitable marketing materials are available at the practice e.g. posters, flat-screen presentations, information leaflets etc.

But should you switch your marketing focus internally i.e. prioritise it, or do you need a sensible balance of both?

Reliance on internal marketing – can it work?

This depends on the evolution and maturity of the practice to a great extent. If you already have a burgeoning, successful business with lots of word-of-mouth referrals, then you may get away with winding back on external marketing activities whilst you nurture your existing patients using some or all of the techniques noted above.

However, the second highest source of new patient enquiries is from the Internet and neglecting that, particularly in these times of increased competition, would seem a little reckless. For example, if you hold a prominent position in Google searches for your website, it doesn’t take long to start slipping back if you stop investing in it. So unless you are absolutely certain that you web assets are secondary and that you can thrive simply on word-of-mouth, then think twice before drawing back on aspects such as website marketing.

Another key aspect to consider is social media and how it actually works. Whilst it’s fine to recommend that practices should actively exploit social media and use it to publish engaging content, what must also be understood is that very few people actually see that content unless you pay. This is because the likes of Facebook have severely curtailed organic (free) reach of your posts – so even if you’ve got thousands of “likes” on your page, fewer than 5% of those people will actually see your content. That is unless you pay Facebook to “boost” your reach or undertake advertising on their platform. So unfortunately, here we get into the realms of paying for external marketing to facilitate all of the good work you did with your internal marketing efforts.

Why you need external marketing too

Particularly for new or growing dental practices in their infancy, you will almost certainly need a budget allocated to external marketing. Whilst new patient acquisition via word-of-mouth will build if you do it right, in reality you will be relying on the web and local publications to get your message out there. This means promoting your website, potentially advertising in local newspapers and likely paid advertising via Google and Facebook. This will be running *alongside* the internal marketing initiatives briefly discussed above.

Even where a practice is firmly established and thriving, and knowing that external marketing, done well, can deliver excellent payback, why would you quit or curtail it? The risks of doing so, particularly lost search engine rankings, are real and not always easy to recover.


A one-dimensional marketing plan for dentists is unbalanced and risky. Focusing solely on internal marketing mechanisms will be unlikely to deliver what you expect, particularly if you are new to the business. Of course it makes sense to work on the internal marketing initiatives, but alongside the external campaigns which are proven to deliver. Each circumstance will be different but in general, a holistic marketing campaign utilising several channels, internal and external, always works best.

If you’d like help to plan out a comprehensive marketing campaign for your own practice, please call the Dental Media team on 01332 672548 and we’ll be pleased to help.