What Will Happen To Dental Marketing in 2009?

The economy has changed in a dramatic way. Even if you had a good year, the ground has shifted and consumers will react. Dental practices that follow the crowd could end up heading off the cliff of generic malaise or getting little to drink at a very dry lake.

Recently, a client sent me a newsletter from a dentist who helps practices make decisions about their strategies. The consultant's idea was to start focusing on insurance patients and family dentistry. Basically, because money will be tight for consumers dentists should find ways to do dentistry that costs less. Sounds like a common sense business and dental marketing strategy in these tough economic times.

The problem is NOT that it won't work. It will work very well for many dentists. But what you need to consider is: are you 'many' dentists? Or look at it this way, would it make sense to tell all businesses to become Wal-mart when the economy goes down hill?

The dental practice management consultant also said that cosmetic dentistry as an overriding focus would be a problematic strategy in this environment. While I agree, cosmetic dentistry has never really made huge inroads - staying around 3-5 percent of overall dental treatments in the U.S.

Unfortunately, dentistry as a service has hardly moved at all in its utilization by the public even with the exciting elements of cosmetic or aesthetic enhancement. From 1996 to 2004, there was no change in the percentage of consumers with a dental visit ( This dental care statistic, while seemingly problematic especially in this economy, offers a good perspective in determining how to market YOUR practice (not every practice).

Things will change but not everything will change. Here are some realities you want to consider as you decide on what direction your dental marketing and business strategy will go in 2009...

First, the consumer is still stuck in a rut of dentistry tradition and dental fears. Their needs and wants are often conflicted because of this dilemma. While it can be frustrating for dental professionals who want improve public health, it shows how the economy has little to do with when they will go to the dentist. When they have significant dental problems, the economy has almost no impact on them. Historical memory, human emotion and dental pain are recession proof.

Second, the general consumer thinks about health when dentistry is brought up. Everything else is sidelined in some way. Cosmetic dentistry is marketing icing. No matter how ugly your smile is dental fears are not removed. The nice smile on your advertisement gets people to look and consider dentistry more so than a diagrammed root canal. Yet one look does not equal a dental visit. Your dental marketing needs to have reality infused in it so it does not look too unfamiliar. Most everyone would like a beautiful smile - just like most would like to have a hard body. But getting it done is another matter. 

Finally, the money is out there, just look at the numbers. Even if the employment goes as high as 11% (what most see as the high end) there are still 89% who will still have a job. While there will be areas that get hit very hard, overall there are people who will find the money to get it done. Those who have a lot less - will probably just hold off unless everything is paid, and go to the real Wal-mart--not practices that resemble them.

That means you won't make it up on those who rely solely on insurance or the family dentistry group with a big dental treatment plan or a couple crowns because more of them will just sit on their hands. And think about it, who is hit harder in this economy, those with kids or those without? People without kids have the money to spend, and will do it if the value is evident.

What would you do with extra money right now? Buy and flip some houses? Pile it into the stock market? Open a restaurant? Buy a new car? It might be 12 months to 5 years before at least some of these things seem more palatable. 

Yet, if you had money - like most people 45 and older who are in the upper 25% of incomes and household wealth - and your teeth were falling out, oral pain was a daily issue or your smile was yellow and worn - would you wait 12 months to stop the pain and the embarrassment?   

You can follow the dentistry marketing herd towards the watering hole that is quickly drying up or run off the cliff with a generic dental practice strategy. Take your pick. 

However, I suggest you survey the 'reality geography' more closely as it relates to the dentistry you want to do. Then find YOUR dentistry-plush savannah to graze in and avoid the fall into dwindling returns. Or dig a well to create YOUR dental care oasis

What exactly do you do to make it happen? That requires a phone call and a some reality time to make it work for you.  
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  •  Generic and magical-thinking dentists and dental practices apply elsewhere.
Remember just like all politics are local - every dental care decision is personal with a good dose of tradition - not about family, insurance or cost.

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