Market To Every Potential Dental Patient Cheaply: Is that Right for You?

Our style of dental marketing stands out because most other dental marketing is centered on contacting every possible dentistry patient. While there are a number of dental practices that can benefit from this shotgun approach, Niche Agency (now Niche Dental) sees your image as specific to a target group of consumers. We want to hit a bull's eye not pepper everyone with a generic "dentistry" message.

- Originally Published in November - 2004 - on - now forwarded to -

Most one-dentist, dental practices only need about 5 to 10 MORE new patients each month then they are getting right now. The higher value they want from their dentistry the fewer patients required. If you could trade 9 emergency patients for 3 smile makeover clients, your need for "increasing numbers" is lessened.

You could try to upgrade the emergency patients to smile makeovers patients, but why? Why not just get more smile makeover patients to come in the door initially? This dental marketing article will explain why is does not occur now and how it can be done more frequently.
  • What's Going On With Dental Marketing?
  • It There A Dental Expertise Coupon?
  • Yellow Pages Value Dilution
  • Bunch O'Mailers Solution
  • Hammering Consumers With Mailers Creates Results
  • Your Image After Discounts & Free STUFF!
  • Dumbed Down Dental Design and Message Value
  • Where Are The High Value Dental Consumers?
  • Selling The New Smile Line or Continue Servicing Used Smiles
  • Conclusion: Value-Added Dental Marketing

What's Going On With Dental Marketing?
I don't even like the word "patient" when it comes to the type of dental marketing we do. Few people categorize themselves in dental terms. They want comfort not their tooth pulled. They want to look good not close a diastema. They want to be able to bite an apple not get a dental implant.

There are a number of dental marketing techniques that utilize this shotgun approach such as the Yellow Pages, Valpak ( and other groups that send out a huge numbers of mailings to a whole spectrum of consumer leads. While advertising to a lot of people is not inherently bad, it is the message that usually accompanies these advertisements or their distribution "partners" that aggravates this image-confusing dilemma.

Is There A Dental Expertise Coupon?

Consider Valpak, which is basically a group of coupons sent to homeowners in a specific geographic area. Dentist coupons accompany various other products and services including oil changes and pizza places (these are your distribution partners). This obvious association with commonly discounted services provided by "low-skilled" workers is my first concern. Your expertise is then equated with someone delivering pizzas.

Even dentists who serve lower income patients should be concerned about starting a relationship with a patient by first discounting their expertise. How does the person who is used to paying the minimum amount for your dentistry ever upgrade to the services that will help them for the long-term?

Note: the discount is implied when you advertise in Valpak even if you do not offer an actual discount. If you do offer a discount on your dental services (half off on whitening), then the patient has a graphic example of your lower value to them. Then imagine every person within a three-mile radius having that same example of your lower value dentistry.

A lot of dentists say they don't mind attracting all kinds of patients because they will make them aware of higher value services and get "some good patients" from the group. Now if you are NOT really excited about doing more than one tooth at a time, the Valpak channel might work well enough for your dental practice. However, once you have set your image in this discounted cement, it will be difficult to extricate yourself.

Yellow Pages Value Dilution

The Yellow Pages (YP) is a different dental marketing animal, but has many of the same characteristics. It is sent to every household and your expertise is jammed in between all kinds of other services.

In most communities it still is viable for some practices depending on cost and competitors (other Yellow Page books and dentists). Yet, it suffers from a number of dilemmas.

1) Dilution: It is dwindling in its usage. Like network TV has the cable TV dilution problem, YP in its print form has many more direct competitors, which includes every online YP and,, and other search sites. Many national advertisers have fled network TV because of this dilution issue and found the "right" channels to target their message.

2) Saturation: Many Yellow Pages are over saturated with dentist ads: four or five full-page ads and then many others ads before the reader ever gets to the listings. Most of the large YP ads promote a very low value image (i.e. Free Exams).

3) Passive: This medium does not enter your life to enlighten you: it sits there. No one ever relaxes in their easy chair and peruses the Yellow Pages and then comes across your ad. It sits under a phone and waits for a toothache. YP ads never suggest higher-level services or introduce your brand (your smile makeover expertise) in the way a magazine does.

4) Cost: Is the value rising as quickly as the cost is going up? Does the YP fee obligation limit you from doing other advertising? Even if the cost is leveling off (because YP is no longer the only dentist marketing game in town) can its value still play out for dentist that is still marketing in it?

5) Choice Overload: The number of YP books in your area can reduce the other's value (and price does not go down accordingly). That begs the questions: which is most viable or are any?

6) Suspicion: I have wondered recently if their print ads (that I believe are now overpriced) are paying for their online strategy transition, which probably will never bring in the same margins but are the future of the YP industry. Not their only future, because print will always have a place, but it will be the growth area for many years.

Bunch O'Mailers Solution

There are a bunch of dental marketing companies that can put together tens of thousands of dental postcards, newsletters, flyers/fliers or mailers to carpet your community for pennies each (plus postage). Many dentists love this kind of marketing. It is inexpensive and simple to get going. These marketing groups provide some text and a few design suggestions and thousands of fliers (or flyers) go out every few weeks or so.

One of the biggest dental marketing groups that provide this type of service is ChrisAd. Many dentists have found these to be successful dental promotions.

The three biggest elements of this style of dental marketing are usually discounted prices (or free exams), thousands of households contacted, and a low price to develop. Some of these are very appealing characteristics. But everything has its negative effects.

Dental marketing can be divided into two basic strategies: developing a clientele to utilize your entire expertise and getting dental patients in the door. Many dental practices would be satisfied with getting more patients, period. ChrisAd and other dental marketing companies often like to mine this group of consumers.

One of the reasons dental marketers focus on this kind of marketing is because it is an easier sell to dentists. Why is this method of dental marketing an easier sell? There are three basic reasons: results, low cost and easy implementation.

1) Results: By hammering people with many thousands of direct mail pieces, results will occur. Then the dental marketer has a "great" marketing statistic to promote to their dentist prospects: 1,000 new patients a month per dentist or something similar.

2) Low Cost: They, the dental marketers, can produce these mailers or fliers cheaply because the basic design is often pre-designed. Maybe you get to choose colors and pictures, but no deep thought or real branding is done. Plus multiple printings of the same design or a slightly altered design are sent multiple times to the same households.

3) Easy Implementation: he dentist does not need to think about it. The popular easy implementation term is a "turnkey system". Many dental website vendors are set up this way. The dentist does little (or thinks little) and magically, things happen. What is not said is that the dentist gets what they pay for: a simple system that at its best produces activity. This "activity" can have short-term or long-term positive or negative results.

Hammering Consumers With Mailers Creates Results

Sending out a ton of mailings does work to bring in patients. I repeat this works. But I don't agree with how they are implemented or how these pieces are developed. The promotions noted above are the major reason these dental fliers or postcards are something I would not recommend, but the numbers sent out compound this and other issues.

Unfortunately, once you send out 10,000 dental brochures, fliers, or postcards discounting your expertise every few weeks for a few months to the same consumers (and they usually get the same one multiple times), their impression of your dentistry is solidly implanted in their minds.

Your Image After Discounts & Free STUFF!

Discounting is great for the dental patient, but it can play havoc with many things. I know my expertise is usually worth half the price I am asking (NOT!), but do you want your patients to get that as a first impression of your dental skills?

I think discounting your image and your expertise is a bad start to an already shaky consumer relationship. They already think every dentist and dental office is the same. Now you are adding to that the concept your continuing education, ceramist and technology should be paid from selling Girl Scout cookies or Amway on the side.

So maybe you get past this and sell some cosmetic dentistry to some of these patients. Great! However, I think this is like successfully shoveling water up hill. Why not install a pump and pipe to move it up the hill?

This plumbing concept costs more, but the damage to your back (creating a low skilled work image) and the work it takes to move this stuff up hill (overcoming their refusal to do more than one tooth) can cost even more in the long-term. Basically, you're choosing between more dental patients or developing a clientele that utilizes your entire expertise repertoire.

Dumbed Down Dental Design and Message Value

If the design or message does not change much, it is difficult to upgrade their understanding of dental expertise value. Once again, this is how they save the dentist time and money: they print ten mailings, which are often exactly the same, all at once.

An example of value decline is the overuse of such terms as cosmetic dentistry, which is generic and often seen as negative. Cosmetic is not associated with health or frugality, which in various ways is held dear by a large segment of the dental consumer population. But these fliers usually want to employ this term a lot because it is "understood" quickly by consumers.

The cosmetic term is ready to accept these treatments. The larger segment is possibly lost entirely because of this simple word choice. They might want these cosmetic dentistry treatments at some point, but the presentation of them in this format could make the dentist that is sending them out the last dentist they would contact.

They dumb down the dental language because they want results immediately to prove their worth as a dental marketing group. Even the term FREE is an example of "dumbing down". Think of it in terms of these concepts:

• FREE dental stuff (toothbrushes, etc.) versus complimentary smile care products

• Our dental patient receptionist versus our client concierge

• Complimentary Smile Consultation (offering an informal introduction) versus FREE Dental Exam (giving away your expertise)

Marketers often talk about how you need to speak and write at an 8th grade level so you can communicate effortlessly to the consumer. While marketing only to readers of The New Yorker magazine is hardly ever appropriate, speaking to everyone in yesterday's dental language (because its easier to understand) reduces the chance of upgrading value.

The goal is to avoid encouraging the status quo (what's covered by my dental insurance) while promoting the acceptance of higher value such as cosmetic dentistry. Many dentists want a quick result: many patients in the door. Unfortunately, this often means creating incentives that devalue dental expertise and dentistry services: half off dental exams.

Where Are The High Value Dental Consumers?

These dentists are not going to get high value dental consumers from this mailer type of marketing and want to garner a lot of patients each time (or mailing) cheaply. Therefore, the dental marketing company is not going to be able to charge more, which might give them the time to put together a value-added campaign.

With these dental mailers or fliers, the dentist rarely gets more than some of his/her text crammed into the direct mailing piece and maybe their dental logo slapped on. Usually little other dental practice branding strategy is discussed, developed or implemented.

This brand of dental marketer is able to contain costs by limiting the marketing device (mailers only), the design styles (this or that picture) and minimal dentist client input. Their one size fits all dental marketing plans push low cost and easy implementation as a very effective elixir to encourage fast acceptance by the dentist.

With the success record most of these dental marketers tout, and that the dentist does not need to think or pay much, he or she has little to hold them back. "We'll get you hundreds of new dental patients, cheaply and easily." This syrupy elixir is hypnotic in its appeal. I am even ready to sign up my clients after seeing or hearing it.

However, the dentist's actual goal and the results diverge when these dental marketing techniques are tried in the area of upgrading value. The dentists I work with want patients to purchase their expertise not their services. Expertise includes everything the dentist is, which cannot be wholly replicated by competitor dentists. Services are what every dentist can sell and replicate.

Think for one moment about the most "popular" services now being promoted by most dental practices -- ZOOM! / BriteSmile -- chair side smile whitening. What happens when every dentist has these services? Consumers once again start to think every dentist is the same. This means no uniqueness can be promoted. It's like two Ford dealers competing for the same business with only price and convenience as selling points.

And as every dentist knows, smile whitening services are not going to increase in value: fees have had to go down along with margins. I remember when a dentist in Chicago was charging $1,500 per whitening. More recently, I have seen it in the $295 range and some give it away free if you buy something else.

Now how do these dental practices differentiate themselves? These dentists need to develop their individual image and justify their dental expertise beyond the services (or products) they offer.

Selling The New Smile Line or Continue Servicing Used Smiles

Free giveaways and discounts are not a bad thing in and of themselves. However, they create conflict with dental expertise and any image built around it. Comparing your expertise with a consumer product is not very appropriate, but the consumer does. Currently, they think of dentistry as the service department at the local car dealer.

Dentists would be better served if they compared them to the cars themselves. This is especially true now that many dentists want to do more than maintain "used" smiles. The advanced dentist wants to give them, when needed or wanted, a new smile via a modern, restorative and/or cosmetic dentistry makeover.

Sadly, most dental practices are set up and have a dentistry image based on the "service department" mode. They see many dental patients who want work done on their used smiles and then try to sell them a new smile. Very few dental practices have patients coming directly into the "new smile department".

But let's say a dental practice has many patients coming directly to the new smile department. These patients often come in with no idea about the cost of the "new smile line". Since these patients have a "dental service department" mindset, they are often hit broadside by the cost of the new line of smiles. This is because they have never been marketed to (educated) effectively about the new line. Only the dental service (smile maintenance) department has done anything consistently.

The modern dental practice that wants to sell their new smile line more often needs to increase the "value upgrade" marketing and probably eliminate the discount and cheap methods from their current dental marketing. At the very least these dentists should separate discounts and money off promotions from this type of marketing. If you are only in the Yellow Pages, or are only doing mailers, or only doing Valpak, this is not possible.

If you want to test this theory of value or discounts, do two types of marketing at the same time. The marketing should be in two distinct formats such as Valpak and in the newspaper. Of course, because value is not easily translated into traffic (new patients) the test needs to last an appropriate and effective amount of time: 6-12 months is probably a minimum. The object of this test is to avoid presenting both images (discount and value) to the same people as much as possible.

Conclusion: Value-Added Dental Marketing

Before starting to market in an external source for enhancing value-based patients, remember to build up your image somewhat with a new dental logo and internal dental image materials and/or some type of upgraded dental brochure. A dental website is also helpful in verifying value. Value requires proof; it needs to be presented in various ways.

Dental marketing in today's environment, especially to increase smile makeover acceptance, requires more than hammering the consumer with "special" offers. Most dentists know their expertise should have more value than half-off. Select the type of dental marketer that can assess your image and develop dental marketing products that work the way you need (more patients) and WANT (more smile makeovers).

However, keep in mind that dental marketing products are only answers to minor questions. Many dental marketing firms base what they do on their products (sometimes just one product). This is wrong headed. I believe success is centered on your dental and smile expertise.

With your help, I will find the product or products that will best suit your needs and wants. That's what I have been doing since 1996: distinctive dental consulting. It won't be cheap, but if your expertise deserves more than a discounted image, can you go without it?


Dick Chwalek - President of NicheDental

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