Developing a Comprehensive Dental Marketing Strategy
Do you have the right marketing plans in place to generate plentiful new patient enquiries?
I was recently invited to a Zoom call with a new practice to discuss the development of a suitable SEO strategy to generate new patient enquiries from Google. However what became evident right at the start of the meeting was that the practice believed that SEO ‘was’ their overall marketing strategy and that they considered that my team was solely responsible for it – i.e. a full remit for all of the practice marketing.
Whilst this was a compliment in itself and I thanked them for their trust in our services, I was duty bound to explain that ‘SEO’ alone does not constitute a marketing strategy and is only a functional aspect of a much broader plan.
So at that juncture the meeting changed from one about the ins and outs of search engine optimisation, to a more high-level understanding of what the practice needed to develop as their overall marketing plan, together with the component parts you would typically find within it. It struck me that the practice clearly had limited business experience outside of the day-to-day practice management and clinical expertise, but that’s actually not uncommon in a lot of UK dental practices unfortunately. However, what we discussed should help them to develop a usable and productive marketing plan and one where we can assist with its development and implementation ongoing.
So what elements would you typically find within a dental marketing strategy?
This is a very broad question and the answer will vary depending on individual circumstances and requirements. The elements within such a plan will also change over time and so regular review is required to make sure that current business needs are being addressed. So where do you start?
This really depends on the type of business you want and the mix of treatments and services you wish to offer. Will you be aiming for a ‘high-end’ niche, something middle-of-the-road, or perhaps more tailored to functional dentistry to process as much treatment volume as possible?
Once you’ve determined this, and this in itself may evolve with time, then you can decide what tools you need to start gaining momentum. In conjunction with that you’ll also need to evaluate the local competition to establish what type of businesses they are running, where there are hurdles to overcome and also niches to exploit. The best start-ups will of course do all of this ground work before they go ahead and set-up in a new location.
6 key areas
Here are the main issues to address when developing your marketing plan:
- Why are you doing what you do?
- What is your story, your value proposition and key differentiator(s)?
- What is your main audience?
- How will you reach your target audience?
- What distribution channels/platforms will you use?
- What is the timescale, budget and how will you measure success?
There are various versions of this but in my experience they all boil down to pretty much the same thing. So if you can answer those questions above and perform consistently against the challenges they pose, you’ll be well on track.
In this article I’ll take a look at the last three elements in the list; including reach, the channels you’ll consider, budgetary considerations and how you’ll measure success. The first three elements you’ll be undertaking in-house and will also be driven by your personal aspirations. If you need assistance, we can also guide on the initial elements, but that would fall more into the realms of a coaching proposal. Please let us know if you also need help there and we can certainly provide some guidance.
Reaching your target audience
So having decided on your target audience, you then need to establish how to reach them and there are numerous ways dentists typically achieve this including:
- Word-of-mouth referrals
- Your website and search engines (primarily Google in the UK)
- Social media e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc
- Local newspaper advertising
- Open events
- Internal marketing e.g. “up sell” within the practice itself
These are the main ways or “channels” you will utilise to advertise your business to people in your local area and indeed adjacent areas where you think it’s practical for patients to travel to you.
A word on advertising versus marketing
Before we continue it’s worth touching on advertising versus marketing and the why they are different. We’ve loosely talked about a “marketing strategy” and also “advertising” so what’s the difference? You should perhaps think of marketing as the process whereby you identify the needs of your target market and then determine how best to meet those needs – it’s the holistic, high-level plan if you wish. Advertising is one vehicle within the marketing plan and is the functional way(s) in which you promote yourself via various channels to help reach your target audience. Typically advertising will involve some form of payment to use those third-party channels, but not always.
It’s quite common for businesses to drop into advertising without fully understanding how that fits into an overall dental marketing plan and we saw this demonstrated by the business I mentioned at the start of this article.
This one isn’t going to take off right at the start of opening a new business but you need to be prepared for it and to nurture it as soon as possible. Indeed for an established dental practice, on average, word-of-mouth referral brings in the most new patient enquiries. So you can see just how important it is. It would be possible to write several articles about word-of-mouth referrals but it’s beyond the scope of this article today. Suffice to say here that how well you and your team do their jobs and how well they are trained to nurture and build excellent relationships with patients, all play a crucial part. Get the patient experience right and the referrals and recommendations will follow.
Websites and Search engines – SEO
Dental website design is very competitive and these days you need a great site to help you stay ahead of the competition. Something basic or DIY almost certainly won’t cut it, so please make sure to get professional assistance. You don’t need to pay the earth, indeed please look out for a few dental design agencies who charge huge fees, but you do need to be sure that your website looks great and works well for patients and Google too.
Search engine optimisation, or SEO as it’s commonly known, is essential to ensure that new patients can find you on the web. After word-of-mouth referral, enquiries via dental practice websites rank second, so prominent search ranking positions are vital. You will almost certainly need the assistance of an experienced SEO team to assist you with this as requirements and standards change frequently and your website isn’t going to promote itself unfortunately.
Users don’t just look at a business website these days, they also check-out your social media profiles and activity before they choose to do business with you. This is just the same for dentists and so you will also need to be active on the main social media channels. Unlike SEO, my strong guidance is not to outsource social media management but to do it yourself. This is because social media relies very heavily on personalisation to stimulate engagement and this is something that agencies simply can’t achieve with the types of generic material they tend to post on your behalf.
You are very likely to use paid ads at some point in the evolution of your dental business, typically either Google Ads and/or Facebook/Instagram ads. These are excellent for gaining exposure very quickly and are not limited to the localisation constraints and delays associated with building up natural Google rankings.
This is another area where I strongly recommend using expert assistance to help with your campaigns as it is very easy to waste a lot of money if you do not set up correctly and continuously optimise. The paid ad market is very dynamic and not cheap; however when done well, the rewards can be excellent.
Adverts in local publications
Although “old school”, don’t underestimate the worth of traditional advertising which can be particularly effective and affordable if you are selective. Look for the local publications which are delivered around local housing estates rather than big, expensive newspapers. Other traditional methods such as leaflet drops can also be effective, particularly when you are announcing a new business; so don’t discount them.
This is a system you will need to build over time but it’s important to build the foundations right from the start of building or taking over a new practice. You should encourage people to sign-up to your e-news database and then send out periodic updates about the practice and your services. This is not simply for “selling”, on the contrary you should not push that too hard. But being able to land a business update directly in the in-box of a new or existing patient, is extremely powerful. Use a professional to help you get set up where you can as they will be able to design some great looking e-literature for you – likely much better than a DIY approach.
Please remember that you must get approval to send emails like this and your processes must be GDPR compliant.
We have great success helping dental clients with the promotion of open events, typically for orthodontics and implants. Events such as these are excellent to showcase your treatments to potential new patients and to secure new bookings via free consultations during the events. Social media advertising and highly-targeted landing pages are essential tools for securing bookings for your open events – please contact us for details.
Proactive dentists also take the opportunity to promote their businesses at third-party events such as wedding fairs etc. Please look out for opportunities to do this as they can be very effective. Also consider building an association with your local schools. You will have to invest some time with oral health education for the school kids, but it’s a great way to get your message and brand out there.
This has quite a broad scope. It includes training your team to deliver “up sell” for new treatments where appropriate as well as proactively promoting your brand. It goes without saying that how your team acts and performs will have a marked effect on the business success. There are a number of training courses available to help, so please build this type of training into your marketing plans. Review the outcome of that training in your staff appraisals.
At the more functional end, you will need to review the types of material you make available in the practice to promote treatments. This will range from appealing presentations on waiting room screens, to leaflets and posters etc. This type of promotional literature needs to be reviewed regularly and updated as required.
Budgeting and measuring success
It is a characteristic of most UK dental practices that they don’t allocate sufficient budget to marketing activities. There is often also a disconnection between the value of new patients and what is an acceptable amount to pay to acquire them. So please be realistic and prepared to allocate suitable budget to gain the traction you need from the various advertising channels. We’ve covered this in more detail elsewhere in this blog and we’ll be happy to guide you on the levels of budget required and also, importantly, on what you can expect in return.
Measuring and maintaining
Any discussion on developing a marketing plan would be incomplete without mention of the need to measure and maintain on a regular basis. This includes detailed reporting of the performance of elements such as SEO and paid ad campaigns and using this to work out exactly how much it is costing, by channel, to acquire new patients. This is covered in more detail elsewhere in this blog but please call if you need advice.
Developing, launching, measuring and maintaining a dental marketing strategy is essential if you want your business to prosper. A “scatter gun” approach won’t work well and all of the components need to fit together to achieve the overall goals of the marketing plan. All facets need to be monitored and managed carefully so that they can be adjusted as required.
The team at Dental Media has over 20 years of experience helping dentists to develop and implement effective marketing strategies – if you’d like to leverage on this experience to get help with your own planning, please contact us on 01332 672548 to start the conversation and we’ll be pleased to assist.Google+