Dental Consumers Don't Want Everything Dentists Offer, They Want What They Want
After nearly 20 years of working with dentists on marketing high level dentistry, I would say that the headline states what's probably a fairly common mindset the dentist must understand about dental consumers. That is to say thinking about dentistry from the consumer perspective rather than from how the dentist has been trained up to that point.
Let's say a dentist has 10+years of experience, and thousands of advanced continuing education and training hours in various expertise "categories". This advanced expertise may be in implants, orthodontics and sedation or high level smile makeovers and prosthodontic training. In the day to day, it doesn't really matter which areas advanced, it's just that they have more extra training than the average dentist. The farther the dentist takes this training, the farther they are from their patients. It is not a bad thing necessarily, but the reality that more and more patients are much farther in the dark about "advanced" dentistry than they are from the dentist with less training is true.
The consumer may be impressed by this level of training, but their ability to make decisions about their care will be very limited initially. In most cases, it won't change even over time, in a way that comes close to comparing with the level of training the dentist has.
That said, it is less about one dentist's expertise compared to another dentist, but more about "what the dentist offers" in services and expertise to the patient that is not in the patient's knowledge base or level of value understanding. As to value, most consumers (which is also the infrequent, long term inactive and never been patients) and current patients, they see straight ahead, without widening their peripheral (value) vision, when it comes to dental care.
It's not possible for consumers or patient to widen their view every time there's an advancement, so they're forced to move forward with "more" tunnel vision in more areas of life. For example, a larger percentage of kids in the 1960s & 70s were able to learn how to "fix a car" than the same percentages of kids today because a myriad of automotive techological add-ons. Likewise, dentistry actually making tunnel vision narrower in respect to the complexities added on. Because of this adding on of complexity, developing a higher level of value appreciation of dentistry and for dentists is then much more difficult today than in the past.
I'm not talking about the ability to download and research dentistry services and such. That is much easier because of the internet, but having a general sense of what is going on in dentistry is less likely to permeate society with the complexity of Moore's Law affecting almost every area of services (dental and other). Again in the 60s and 70s, a much larger percentage of teenagers could have taken a phone apart, named each part, and put it back together in less than an hour. Growing up back then, I know many people had the same phone for 10, 20 or more years! Almost nothing we consume today stays that constant.
Expecting consumers to appreciate most every update in a new phone (which is now a complex computer) is one thing, but understanding how they work internally is not. Dentistry also falls into additional value appreciation categories than a phone. A major difference is the "expert" interaction that a phone does not require. No one talks to a phone engineer, probably not even a technician, they either call a customer service rep, go online or buy a new one.
Making an appointment with and paying for the dentist's (engineer) expertise is a much higher plateau to navigate, and therefore makes value appreciation much more complex, and often fraught with concerns and misconceptions.
Developing deep value in dentistry has always been limited to two basic areas: how patients are treated (interpersonally as well as the dental care itself) AND their experience knowledge base. This knowledge base comes from what others say about their experience not just the patient's personal experience. So parents, siblings, other family, friends, and media are part of the mix.
The two deep value experiences are what permeates their life. It's an intertwining that occurs without an intentional search for answers. The answers come to them unsolicited (in most cases). No one has more time than anyone did before to learn value (as in a 24 hour day). Few parents are sitting down with their children and talking dentistry, then did 30 years ago, to any quantifiable extent. Office visit communication also has not increase significantly, mostly because the average number of dental visits is still about two visits per year for the active patient, less for others.
To add to, widen or improve this "common" level of information dispersal and value appreciation development, which is inadequate (especially considering all the advances), requires some type of outside-the-office marketing. Dentists who want to attract consumers who will be more consistently amenable to a higher level of services must realize that most patients and consumers will want what everybody else has always wanted first, before they are convinced to move higher, even if they seem to put forward an interest some kind.
The type of marketing required to widen their tunnel vision scope must be proactive, assertive, and public communication. Otherwise, the status quo (two visits per year and common value experience) will prevail. Therefore, not advancing in any way, shape or form in correlation to the advances made by their dentist.
However, the reality of the situation is that many people will continue to stay in the "common knowledge" zone, with a smaller percentage arriving with only the common knowledge, and then building up minimally or in fits and starts overtime as a society. It is very slow because the "common" information flow is already a flood in their narrow tunnel, as we can easily see with all the misconceptions and fears that are still roiling through the tunnel after all these years. These negatives are obviously not removed merely by the dentist increasing their expertise; that expertise just becomes a larger torrent in the information super tunnel eye way.
So what is it, will dental marketing work or NOT!?
Definitely, it will!
Yet there is no magical dental marketing solution available. A few drops of marketing fluoride a day is unavailable. What is available is targeted communication to a group that is "more/better prepared" to proceed, which opens a tributary to enlightment.
The ready-to-proceed consumer is yearning for a change, but has not been “updated" in a way that pushes them out of the normal common knowledge tunnel of the past. Dentists who recognize that consumers are NOT widening their tunnel vision without consistent external guidance, and use this insight to better inform consumers, will benefit.
The most important nugget to remember is that each dentist does not need to change the way society accesses information, and/or builds value. Dentist need only to "effectively reach” (within a larger potential cohort) an additional 3 or 5 families or 5 to 10 additional individuals each month through a “connective communication" approach. That's because each patient updated in this way will be a better referral source than the common source in the past. This updated group will have a slightly wider tunnel vision that then will spread a more value understood message about the expertise and/or advanced services available.
Sincerely, Richard The Chwalek
Follow me at Twitter.com/NicheDental
Dental Marketing Consulting, Consumer Communication Coach for Dentists
Developer of Connective Communication©
NOTE: I have purposefully left out the term cosmetic dentistry and teeth whitening in the above article. The reason? Increasing value has so many other avenues in dentistry that consumers and even patients are missing out on. This article is not about the perfect smile patient specifically, it's about increasing value appreciation for dentistry in any form. I did not want to come across as saying only "SELL MORE COSMETIC CASES" even though this can happen in my Connective Communication© approach. The function of the marketing can be directed in any direction your practice is going. But it requires an understanding of how the consumer spends their 24hours tunneling through the world around them. Something must be excluded, but my method gives dentistry a greater likelihood of being within their vision more often, and more effectively.