Aimless advertising is a waste of time. If you do intend to market your business, make sure you some goals in mind. By Steven Coby
If dentists approached dentistry the same way they approach marketing, an appointment would be terrifying for patients. As the patient lay in the chair and opened their mouth, the dentist would shriek as if they’d never seen a set of teeth before, then start drilling randomly.
“We’ve encountered dentists who are quickly sending themselves bankrupt by marketing their practice,” says Rob Johnson, a director at Engage Content, who produce content for dental practices (and who publish this magazine). “I heard about one recently who boasted that he was at the cutting edge with his marketing, spending $2000 a week on Google ads. Problem was, he was only getting a couple of appointments a week from it.”
Johnson adds that this particular dentist thought his marketing was successful—he was just concerned that it seemed to cost more than it earned. And he didn’t know when that investment would start to reap greater returns.
Whether your practice is growing or established, you are going to lose up to 20 per cent of your patients each year just through churn. When you recognise that, you panic and throw money at someone to do lots of Google and Facebook advertising for you. While you seem to be getting a lot of engagement, it’s not always from the audience you’re targeting.
“His problem wasn’t that he was buying Google ads,” Johnson adds. “It was that he was advertising without any proper goal in mind. If you’re going to market your business, your first step is set some SMART goals.”
What are SMART goals?
SMART is an acronym that was developed in 1981 in a journal called Management Review. It originally stood for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time-based. As time went on, the ‘A’ was changed to ‘Attainable’ or ‘Achievable’.
“‘Specific’ refers to an actual number you want to achieve,” Johnson says. “It’s not specific to say, ‘I want more patients’. Your goal should be to have, say, one more patient every day. Or five more per week. Being specific is the difference between a goal and a wish.
“‘Measurable’ means measurable against your goals. It’s not just measuring the number of patients. It’s measuring where they came from, and whether your marketing efforts are working.
“If you’re not chasing specific outcomes from your marketing … then you’re not marketing at all. You’re just polluting. And you’ll slowly send yourself broke.”
Rob Johnson, director, Engage Content
“‘Attainable’ means a goal you can actually reach. There’s no point in saying you want 10,000 new patients if you live in a town with a population of 5000. ‘Realistic’ goals are based on your own benchmarks—not some generic number from ‘all dental practices’. If all your past experience suggests you’re not going to double your number of patients after one campaign, it would not be realistic to set that as a goal. ‘Timely’ means within a specific time frame, keeping all those other elements in mind.”
Working out SMART goals for your practice
To set a SMART goal for a dental practice, you should start with your current caseload, and the number of new patients you already get a week. This number will be different for every practice. The appeal of setting goals against these criteria is that you can create a logical path to them, and recognise when things aren’t working.
Johnson explains: “How this works in practice is, let’s say you decide you can take on a new patient every two weeks. You are in a suburb of a major city, and the local population is 25,000. A SMART goal may be you want to get 25 new patients within a year, which you will get from 250 engaged leads, which will come from one per cent of that suburb’s population.
“That gives you two benchmarks to measure—the percentage of the population you aim to engage with, and the percentage of them who should become patients. They are realistic numbers, and you’ve given yourself a time frame—a year—to achieve them.”
By setting those goals, you can work out how you want to achieve each one. If you want to engage one per cent of the population of 25,000, you can try to attract them using social media or email marketing, or any other tactics you like.
Working out what doesn’t work
“It is never a smooth or immediate process,” Johnson adds. “But if you can see how many people you are reaching versus how many are engaging with you, you can know what part of your marketing you need to tweak. That might mean changing your ads, targeting them more carefully, or using a content approach.”
The important thing is with goals in place, you can measure at regular intervals. That may be every three months, or every six months. They let you know and react when you are under-achieving at some stage of your marketing process. Are you not reaching enough people? Or are you reaching everyone, but they’re ignoring you? Or are they paying attention to your message, but just not booking appointments?
By working out smart goals for your dental practice, you can measure your marketing at every stage of a buying process—from when a patient thinks they have a problem, to when they sit in your chair. SMART goals let you work out an ROI for your dental marketing, which is the Holy Grail all dentists seek.
“If a dentist is just marketing their practice to build brand awareness, or to ‘get themselves out there’, they’re not really achieving anything,” Johnson says. “If you’re not chasing specific outcomes from your marketing—whether that’s advertising, or digital content, or letterbox drops—then you’re not marketing at all. You’re just polluting. And you’ll slowly send yourself broke.”