Best practice in digital marketing is about growing patient numbers through building relationships, testing your options to see what’s working, and being smart about your target market. Here, we meet two practices doing it right. By Rob Johnson
Six years ago, Dr Joanne Davies knew a lot about dentistry, and not much about marketing. She had relocated her practice to a business district in Ryde, in Sydney’s northern suburbs. All around were large business campuses of major corporates—a ready-made patient base, you would think. But how to tell them she was there?
“If you were in a suburb six years ago, you would do a letterbox drop, go in the local paper, things like that,” she explains. “It just didn’t apply in a business district. In all honesty, I struggled for a couple of years and did very little marketing and just relied on word of mouth. I just couldn’t figure out what to do.”
Even though Dr Davies had a very specific situation, it stemmed from a more general problem affecting all dental practices now. After years of operating within a small and quite controlled cottage industry, modern practices face more competition than ever before from other practices—some of which are backed by big corporate entities with large marketing budgets.
Not only is there more competition than ever. The cost of doing business keeps rising, profit margins are squeezed by preferred provider deals with insurance companies, and the local community are paying less and less attention to ads in the local paper or letterbox drops.
Add to all that setting up in a business district and your practice can suddenly feel like a very small and vulnerable fish in a very big pond. “I tried to connect with some other local businesses around here,” Dr Davies recalled. “One that’s just around the corner from me has 6,000 employees on their campus. I tried to [market] to them, to get into their marketing paper, get into their staff paper. I went to various business forum meetings to try and connect, but I just couldn’t break through it seems. They just came back to me and said the only advertising I could do to their staff was on a national level. I was too small for them.”
The digital solution
According to Mark Brown, co-founder of yourblogposts.com (and of Bite magazine), Dr Davies and many other dentists face the same problem: too many marketing choices, and all of them expensive and difficult to track a return on your investment.
“You get paralysed by choice, and every one of those choices involves spending tens of thousands of dollars upfront before you get any return,” he says. “They also involve a lot of wastage. You can spend a small fortune on advertising to a large audience, but only a small percentage of them are going to want your services at that time.
“They may want to go to the dentist a month, or two months, later. But they will have forgotten they ever saw or heard your advertisement by then.”
“You get paralysed by choice and every one of those choices involves spending tens of thousands of dollars upfront before you get any return.”—Mark Brown, co-founder, yourblogposts.com & Bite magazine
That’s the main reason he finds himself recommending digital marketing—a combination of social media ads, Google ads, and creating your own email newsletter and online content. “Especially Facebook ads and Google ads just make sense,” he explains. “They can be very targeted—right down to the gender, area and company people work for. But also, that’s where people spend their time. They use Facebook for news, either from their friends or from the outside world, and they use Google when they want to find something out. Just catch a train or a bus nowadays and see what people are doing. Everyone is glued to a mobile screen.”
Calling in the experts
That was the approach Dr Davies took. “I would love to have a marketing person overviewing my marketing all the time, and saying, ‘Nope, this isn’t working, do this, do this, do this’, but that’s not cost-effective,” she says. “I chose to go ahead with the newsletters, because I felt there was a lot of sense in that. It’s a continual contact with my existing patient base, so it’s trying to keep the attention of the people that already like you. I’m using that for my existing patient base and mainly Facebook for trying to connect with new people.”
The advantage of this approach, according to Brown, is not only that you have more targeted lines of communication open with your patients; you are also spending less money up front.
“It’s just smart to test the kind of marketing you’re doing to make sure its cost-effective. The difference with this method is you’re building your own audience, rather than paying top dollar to be in front of someone else’s.”
Approaching marketing with the intention of testing it made a lot of sense to Dr Greg Normoyle of Centre Street Dental in Casino, in northern NSW. “Because I haven’t done any real full-on marketing, I’m just hitting it with everything and then I’m going to pare back the stuff that doesn’t seem to be having any impact,” he explains.
While Dr Normoyle’s practice is in a regional centre, with a traditional mix of patients, he was aware that patients didn’t just appear magically. He sought out marketing help from specialist marketing group My Dental Marketing, whose owner, Carolyn S Dean, literally wrote the book on the subject: Fully Booked; Dental Marketing Secrets For A Full Appointment Book.
“As a marketing expert, I make a great dentist,” he laughs. “That’s why you put your eggs into baskets with people that know what they’re doing.
“As a marketing expert, I make a great dentist. That’s why you put your eggs into baskets with people that know what they’re doing.”—Dr Greg Normoyle, Centre Street Dental
“Dentistry is like anything else in the current marketplace, where things get a bit tight. As much as we’re going really well at the moment, you can’t expect things to cruise along. You could do that 20 years ago. You can’t do that now.”
Both Dr Normoyle and Dr Davies point out there are unexpected upsides to the digital approach. “One of the things I think is important about our blog, for example, is we’re educating patients about who we are,” says Dr Normoyle. “If you’re going to establish a relationship, then your patient needs to have some understanding of who you are. Now, you can create that via appointments and whatever else but, if you can also have that in an online setting, as much as it’s educating patients about dentistry, it’s also about trying to cement those relationships you have with your patients.”
And Dr Davies says there is a kind of halo-effect from having a slick online presence. “I’ve had the head of sales and marketing of a large radio network in chatting to me about advertising on radio. He said, ‘I think your monthly newsletters, they’re fantastic. It’s giving me an impression of a good operation. I think it’s more than just the content, and the actual words you’re saying—it shows people you know what you’re doing.’”