There are various difficulties when you offer discounts or freebies to patients, so what are the alternatives? Rob Johnson reveals eight inexpensive dental marketing campaigns that will win over prospective customers.
Dental promotions that work well have two things in common. They are appropriate to the life stage of your practice, and targeted to a specific group. Tick those two boxes, and the promotion will encourage new and repeat business from loyal patients. But if the promotion is poorly planned or targeted, it can have the opposite effect.
Most promotions I’ve seen from dentists are built around a discount offer or a freebie. It may be a free consultation or ‘10 per-cent off our regular price’ of a particular service like an X-ray or a scale and clean. Practice owners don’t want to discount too much with these offers for good reason as services can be expensive to supply. And practices are expensive to run.
Discounts aren’t a bad thing in and of themselves. The problem with offering a discount or freebie to a wide group is you will probably only capture people who were planning on coming in soon anyway. So all you achieve is tricking yourself into charging them less. Also, you have to be very careful with how you word your promotion. Ensure it doesn’t fall foul of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency guidelines on encouraging unnecessary treatments.
What’s the alternative? Well, as with any dental marketing you do, you should start with the end in mind. Choose a group of people you want to attract. That group might reflect the demographics of the area you’re in. Or it may be a specific group of people, like 25-year-old female hockey players or 56-year-old men planning their daughter’s weddings.
Then think about what stage your practice is at. Are you in start-up mode, so looking to grow lots of business quickly? Or have you been around for a while, and want to grow enough to just keep ahead of the natural cycle of patient churn.
A classic and well-worn method for finding new patients is teaming up with another business, different to yours, and cross-promoting to each other’s customers.
Finally, create some content for your website that explains the benefits of certain procedures for your target audience. This gives people a bit of information they can assess before taking the next step to make an appointment.
Once you choose a group to talk to, try a combination of the following promotions. Try all of them if you’re starting out. Or just try a few if you’re growing or consolidating your practice. Once you’ve figured out which ones work, just keep doing it. Here are eight promotions to try…
1. A friend-get-friend campaign
Print out a card or a slip of paper that says, “Your friend _____ is a patient of ours at _____” and include the name of your dental practice. Explain that you’re new to the area, or what’s great or unique about your practice, and offer some kind of ‘new patient’ promotional offer if they bring the slip in to their appointment. As each patient leaves their appointment, offer them the slip of paper with their name on it to give to a friend. When the friend books, take a note of who referred them (from the slip of paper), and send either a thank you or, if you want, an offer to the first referrer to get them back in.
2. Event-based promotions
Teeth whitening promotions are common, but they’re almost always about teeth. “Come and get a straight, sexy smile” or “Get whiter, brighter teeth” are common offers. But for some, getting a straight, sexy smile is a higher priority in their life than others. To filter out those people from the rest, create a landing page or blog post with your teeth whitening. But then link to it with a social media campaign on Instagram or Facebook that talks about getting whiter teeth for a particular event, such as a wedding or Melbourne Cup day. You can target a message like, “Get whiter, brighter teeth for your wedding day” on social media to people in your area of a certain age and gender who have shown they are interested in weddings or wedding-related products. It will give you a much higher rate of return than a general promotion.
3. Activity-based campaign
A mouthguard promotion through local sporting clubs reinforces the message for parents, as it’s coming at them from both the club and the medical professional (you). An article explaining why they’re important on your practice blog can be reprinted in a sporting club newsletter—all you have to do is ask them and supply it. Reinforce that with a specific promotion and you may prevent the resistance parents have to cost.
4. Business-based options
If you have large businesses or office parks near your surgery, it may seem like a good idea to offer a flyer for them to distribute to employees. But it isn’t. You’ll find all of these larger businesses have gatekeepers that will keep you from giving anything to staff, or may charge you for access to them. But small businesses don’t have those gatekeepers. There’s a good chance your quietest times of the week are the same as theirs. A promotion targeting retail shops around you, for example, where they get a discount for coming in at one of those quiet times, could fill your appointment book quickly.
Discounts aren’t a bad thing in and of themselves. The problem with offering a discount or freebie to a wide group is you will probably only capture people who were planning on coming in soon anyway.
5. Charity-based offers
Helping out at charity days such as those organised by the National Dental Foundation will help some of the more vulnerable and needy members of your community, which is a good thing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with telling the world that you’re doing that. Take a few photos of the team on the day. Write a blog post about the type of problems you see, and how you address them. Send it to the local paper, and/or post it on your Facebook page. It sends a message to your community that you are an active member of said community. Promoting the fact that you’re helping people makes patients feel good about booking an appointment with you.
6. Time to team up
A classic and well-worn method for finding new patients is teaming up with another business, different to yours, and cross-promoting to each other’s customers. The more complementary your two businesses are, the more effective this promotion will be. There’s not much point doing a cross promotion with clients from your local Jim’s Mowing Service. But you could have some success teaming up with a local restaurant if, upon leaving, their clients get a postcard saying, “Feeling guilty about what that dessert you just had will do to your teeth? Pop in for a check-up…”
7. Promote gift bags
Many dentists give out goodies packs after appointments, containing a toothbrush and some floss or toothpaste. But surprisingly, few actually tell people they’re going to do it. You’ve probably been doing it for years, and just take it for granted that people are going to know they’re getting a goodies bag. But while no-one comes in for a dental appointment based on the free toothbrush they’re getting, as a promotion, it’s great for cementing loyalty. So why not tell people you’re going to reward them before they come in?
8. Promote your promotions
Many dental practices have websites, and a few even have blogs on them. But very few of those sites use the regularly updated blog pages to steer readers towards the promotions they’re offering. They will have a landing page on the site, but it sits on its own, with nothing linking to it, and no pointers to it anywhere else. The uptake of your promotional activities will increase significantly if you just add a call-to-action at the end of each appropriate blog post telling people about the promotion, as well as the usual calls-to-action in your practice newsletter.
These eight ideas all have something in common. They focus on the patient, not on your product. It’s a bit of a mental leap to put yourself in your patient’s shoes. But once you do it, you find you’re talking with people, not at them. It was harder to do this in the past, because it was so difficult to target messages to small, distinct groups. Technology has changed that. It makes it possible to communicate en masse with individual patients about their individual problems. Dental promotions that work for your practice are ones that address specific problems of those specific groups.