Everyone loves a good yarn so it’s hardly surprising that storytelling as a marketing strategy for your dental practice can work a treat—as long as you do it right. By Kathy Graham
Once upon a time a young woman went to see the dentist because she felt self-conscious about her smile. Her bottom teeth were discoloured, her top teeth uneven and crooked. The dentist said he could help her and suggested a treatment plan: porcelain veneers and a gum lift. She agreed and could hardly believe her eyes afterwards when she looked in the mirror. The treatment was a big success and now she can’t stop smiling.
This story—and many others like it—are used to great effect by Dr Reuben Sim, principal dentist at Dental Boutique, Melbourne, to promote the practice he co-founded with his wife. He has no doubt they work. “If your goal is for people to look at you and come to you for services, creating honest stories is a sure-fire path to success,” he says. “These should be based on empathy and service—you have an opportunity to help someone solve a problem, to become the person they want to be. Those stories are what I think marketing should be.”
Rob Johnson, co-director of Engage Content, similarly sees storytelling as “mandatory. There was a time probably 12-13 years ago where you could get away with that older idea of just trying to blast an advertising message out to as many people as possible. But that was built on the idea you could just choose and target a target market. Over the last decade or so, we’ve found ourselves in this situation where media is so fragmented that you have to have another strategy; you can’t ever get in front of a mass market. And the most effective strategy really is telling stories because that’s what engages people.”
Certainly a look at the Dental Boutique website and its social media sites, notably Facebook and Instagram, reveal a plethora of very engaging patient stories, told in a variety of ways (first-person video journeys, patient stories, a picture gallery), using a range of technologies. They also all follow the same narrative arc. “I guess there’s a few steps with storytelling,” says Dr Sim. “You have someone with a problem. The potential client finds you to help them develop an action plan. That action plan then helps the client achieve a positive outcome, ideally some tangible outcome in emotions—happy tears and hugging—because humans are emotional creatures.”
Dr Sim says patient stories, in particular, work brilliantly as an exercise in ‘social proofing’, “in that they allow future clients to know that if they come about a particular treatment, that’s the result they can forsee achieving as well”.
And yes, every patient has a potential story to tell—just a different one depending on who they are. Dental boutique offers cosmetic, general, preventive and restorative dentistry to people of all ages and from all walks of life. “You just need to understand who your audience is and how to connect with them,” says Dr Sim. For example, if you’re treating children, you probably want to connect with their parents and communicate how gentle you are.
Knowing who your audience is will also dictate where you share their story, Dr Sim adds. “If you’re targeting smile makeovers and cosmetics, then maybe Instagram would be a good way. If you’re targeting implants, then your target market would be someone older and the most effective mediums newspaper, radio, even Facebook. If you’re targeting orthodontics, maybe school magazines around your area may be a good way to proceed.”
Dr Sim is unequivocal when asked if the patient’s story is more interesting to the patient than stories about him and his staff. “The customers actually don’t care about the practice or about me, or about how good we are; what they care about most is their own story and problems,” he says.
“It’s not so much they don’t care about your story,” Johnson demurs, “it’s they care about theirs more. And so, what they really want to see in a story is something that reflects their own problems and what they hope their own solutions are.”
Of course, even the most compelling stories—in their telling—can be sorely let down by a lack of professionalism. That’s why Dr Sim ensures all the written content on his website and elsewhere is of a high standard and that any photos and videos posted have high production values. “These things are a big priority,” he confirms “because they portray the brand. If you’ve got sloppy grammar and a badly written article, it’s not a good professional look for your brand. People will think, ‘if you can’t even write a sentence properly, what does that say about your work on me?’”
Flash production values are all very well, but Johnson warns, “this is a marketing strategy and marketing is constrained by your marketing budget which should be based on the amount of revenue you’re taking in. So you should think, ‘Okay, this percentage of my revenue is going to be devoted to marketing and these are my goals for growth. And so, if that’s the pot of money I have to play with, what can I achieve with that to get the best possible bang for my buck?’”
At Dental Boutique, they’ve practically turned storytelling into an art form. So, have there been any mistakes along the way? “It’s all trial and error, isn’t it?” replies Dr Sim. “The more you do, the better you get. So I wouldn’t say mistakes as such because you can never go wrong telling a story though you can always improve and learn from them.”