Marketing doesn’t come naturally to many businesses. But here’s how to diagnose some common marketing mistakes, and switch from the hard-sell to steady growth. By Daniel Warren.
There are jobs to do when you’re running a dental practice that you’d rather not do yourself. Like doing all the autoclaving. Or answering the phone. Or writing dental marketing plans. Which makes sense—it’s not really your job to fill the appointment book (here’s a shout-out to all the practice managers reading!). It’s your job to clear it.
But patients have to come from somewhere. It would be nice if they just walked in the door. But life doesn’t work like that. And marketing your practice isn’t as simple as you might at first think. Whether it’s your responsibility, or the practice manager’s, or an outside agency, it’s good to know some simple marketing mistakes many businesses make. Avoid them, and you’re on the way to filling that appointment book.
Mistake No.1: Thinking of your services rather than your patients
You might offer a full range of restorative and aesthetic treatments in your practice, along with all the latest gear like OPGs and CEREC machines and the full box-n-dice… but have you ever, and I mean ever, had a patient say to you: “Please use the OPG results to guide the CEREC for me?”
“No,” says Rob Johnson, a director of content marketing agency Engage Content. “No patient ever said that.
Patients want to know how you can help them feel better, or look better. Sometimes they have problems you can solve and they don’t even know it yet. If you just promote the services you offer, and the patient doesn’t know they need those services, you’re not going to get their attention.”
Put yourself in your patient’s shoes, Johnson suggests. Patients are interested in why their jaw is clicking, whether their teeth are white enough, if their breath is bad—anything that has to do with their subjective experience of being themselves. Your marketing should try to answer those concerns.
Mistake No.2: Sending the same message out to different patient groups
Another common mistake is only having the one marketing message, but sending that out to lots of different groups. “You may spend a fortune telling people how to get a ‘straight, sexy smile’ in slickly-produced ads,” says Johnson. “But not every patient in your local area wants a straight, sexy smile. Some just want a good enough smile. Some just want the pain to stop.”
Sending out a single marketing message around a product limits you to a single audience. A more targeted approach will always be less wasteful, so more effective.
“Not all your patients are the same,” Johnson says. “Older retired patients have different needs to families with young kids. Sending the same message to each of them lessens the odds of you connecting with either.”
Mistake No.3: Not using all channels available
In the past you could get away with just putting an ad in the Yellow Pages. Now there are more ways of reaching people than ever before. “But that doesn’t mean you can pick and choose the most convenient way of reaching them for you,” says Johnson. “If you want all of your patients in the one spot, you have to take responsibility for gathering them yourself.
“That means using social media ads, ads on Google, optimising your website, direct mail, email newsletters, local events, and any other means you can for letting people know you exist.”
“Patients want to know how you can help them feel better. If you just promote the services you offer, and the patient doesn’t know they need those services, you’re not going to get their attention.”
Rob Johnson, director, Engage Content
Mistake No.4: Not optimising websites for local search
One of the reasons any practice cares about being on the first page of a Google search is so potential local customers can find you. Google’s algorithm has become quite clever in working out where your business is—but there is a way you can make that process foolproof. You can tell them where you are.
“When you register your business with Google, you can improve your local ranking on the search engine’s pages,” says Johnson. “You can’t buy a better ranking from the search giant, but you can improve where you appear in results if you have a more popular and active web presence, and Google knows that you are who you say you are.
“So setting your business up on Google is stage one. It’s the base from which you start. If you don’t do it, you’re giving away your own place in search engine results to competitors.”
Mistake No.5: Not blogging
The one thing that often bothers dentists about marketing their practice is the actual ‘selling’ bit. Most of you bite the bullet and say, well, I have to market myself … even if I don’t like it. But there is another way.
“It comes down to being helpful with the content on your website,” says Johnson. “If you approach your website and marketing collateral as being about education, rather than selling product, you are going to find patients will seek you out, rather than feeling like you’re giving them the hard sell.
“If you approach having a blog on your site as an opportunity to educate your patients and potential patients, you will find you naturally have a lot to say.”
Mistake No.6: Using social media without a plan
Everyone knows how to use social media. But do you know why you use it?
“Your practice’s Facebook page shouldn’t be like your personal page,” says Johnson. “On your personal page you probably spend a fair amount of your time lurking, followed by posting a couple of funny things and liking a pile of your friends’ posts. But your practice page has one goal, and one goal only. To attract people to your website.”
That’s different to attracting people to your practice, Johnson says. “The goal is actually to get them to your website, where you can get their permission to communicate with them directly. Starting that process will lead to them walking in the door of your practice (as opposed to anyone else’s) when they want a dentist.”
It’s easy to change
The great thing about correcting these common marketing mistakes is you can do it at any time. It’s not like you have to rebuild your website or anything. All you need to do is start planning with an end in mind.