The marketing mistake

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know your demographic
Photo: Kurhan – 123RF

Rule number one for marketing is to know your demographic. But demographics don’t buy dental services—people do. And your marketing should reflect that. By Daniel Warren

One of the fundamental rules for marketing is to ‘know your demographic’. Anyone starting a practice does basic research into the demographics of the area they’re setting up in. But while demongraphic information is important for understanding who might walk in the door, there’s a fundamental disconnect between that and your day-to-day work.

“Have you ever performed a root canal on a demographic?” asks Mark Brown, co-founder of Engage Content. “Ever had a demographic sitting in your waiting room? When we talk about marketing dentistry, there’s a mismatch between what you see in the surgery and what marketing people go on about.”

Brown explains that dentists are trained to look carefully for what’s different in each case so they can make an accurate diagnosis and devise a treatment plan. But advertising and marketing is all about ignoring subtle, unique differences in order to communicate efficiently with a large group of people. 

“It’s why dental advertising can feel a little false,” he says. “To make your marketing feel a little more real to both yourself and your patients, we have to find a halfway point between what marketing tries to do, and what you see every day.”

Thinking about patients

Although everyone will need to visit a dentist at some time, not every dental product or service is right for everyone all the time. Some people need a little cosmetic boost before a big event like a wedding or job interview. Some people need ortho. Some just need a boot in the pants to get their oral health in order.

“That all is objectively true if you say ‘some people’—not ‘some groups’,” says Brown. “It’s a mistake when you’re marketing dentistry to these people to treat them like a faceless member of a larger group. Your challenge is to find a way of communicating with those people that treats them like an individual.”

If you are promoting products—like teeth whitening, for example, or clear braces—it is almost inevitable that your ads will be more focused on the product than the person. You can’t avoid it. So you automatically start to treat the people in the equation as a group.

“I know it’s difficult to not think of your products and services.” Brown adds. “You are marketing your practice, right? Instead I’m asking you to think about them in a slightly different way.

“Take tooth whitening, for example. All dental practices want to market their teeth whitening services because they know people will pay for it, and it’s a good thing for many people. But instead of just telling people you offer teeth whitening, pause and think about who benefits from it.” He says generic messages just won’t cut through all the noise that individuals are dealing with in their everyday lives.

Brown has been advocating dentists use a content marketing approach to their marketing to solve that problem. 

“I was talking to a dentist the other day who pointed out that teeth whitening is great for more mature patients,” he says. “But those patients don’t ask for it because they think it’s vain or not for them. She wanted to make the point that teeth whitening is very much a service they can benefit from. And she’s absolutely right.

To make your marketing feel a little more real to both yourself and your patients, we have to find a halfway point between what marketing tries to do, and what you see every day.

Mark Brown, Engage Content

“If you think about both your product and who that product is good for, you’ve got a much more powerful marketing message.”

Dental marketing experts have been advocating the use of blogs on your website for some time as a solution to this problem, Brown says. Blogs give you the opportunity of explaining

the various benefits of any product directly to a very unique audience. So a blog post on teeth whitening for older patients would be different to a blog post on teeth whitening 

“As an example, think of a patient who is married with two kids. What are three ways teeth whitening can benefit her?” Brown suggests. “Think of another who is leaving school this year. And another who is retiring. As you explain the three benefits of teeth whitening to each one, know that you’re creating three basic blog posts. Or three really powerful, targeted marketing messages.”

Criticisms of the content approach

One of the primary criticisms of the content approach is that it takes time. “Everything takes time to work,” Brown says. “Teeth whitening takes time. So does orthodontics. Same with advertising. Not to mention content marketing.”

It’s not uncommon to want an immediate return from any type of marketing activity. Brown adds that the type of return on investment dentists are seeking is someone booking an appointment. If you’ve ever done any form of advertising, though, and someone has booked an appointment immediately, is it really your advertisement that pushed them to do so?

“Those people would respond to any type of marketing,” Brown explains. “They’re not really indicative of the results of your activity. Having said that, you can get fast results from any type of marketing—as long as you have a sensible idea of what type of results.”

In the initial phase of your marketing, he says, you should expect to build interest and awareness. That’s a reasonable goal, given you will often be talking to people who didn’t know you existed previously.

“The only way you can know if that initial phase is working, and if the interest is there, is if you measure and categorise your audience. That means keeping track of subscribers to your newsletter, visits to your blog, and Facebook fans and followers.

“Some of these people will book with you directly as a result of your content or advertising. But many won’t follow such a clear (and easily measured) path. You will need to allow at least 18 months to get a clear picture of how many people are interested in what you have to say and share, and how many of them become your patients.”

It’s a turn-off to be faced with product all the time. And it’s depressing to feel like you’re shouting into the void when you try to talk to patients as a group.

“The happy medium is where you can think of how a particular patient would use a particular product, and how that product solves their problems,” Brown says. “Then write a blog post about it. You’ll be surprised how well patients react.”  

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