The term “external marketing” broadly describes the process of eliciting support and generating business from outside sources, but there are many elements and concepts to consider in your external marketing plan. The success and return on investment that individual external marketing concepts bring to your practice will vary for each practice, therefore, it is important to keep in mind that not all ideas listed below will be feasible for every practice. With that in mind,
consider this checklist a comprehensive overview of areas and tactics to consider when creating your practice’s external marketing plan. Factors such as your practice location, demographics, budget and stage in your career will determine whether an idea listed below is achievable as part of your marketing plan.
Before spending time and money on websites, print advertising and direct mailings, establish your business niche. As dentistry becomes more and more competitive, separating your practice from the rest is critical. Identify the core strengths of your practice and market those as your area of expertise. Carry these same key messages throughout all of your external marketing efforts. Repetition of the same consistent messages will create your practice brand and establish your niche in the market.
Engage in a wide variety of opportunities and networking events that will establish you as the recognized area expert in your field. Your expertise may go beyond clinical knowledge – maybe you have an interest in business management or marketing for small businesses? Find ways to make yourself visible, such as giving speeches or talks to different types of business professionals, writing articles or contributing to local publications, writing press releases about your practice or joining networking organizations. In addition, as a benefit of being involved in your local dental society leadership, often your name will be printed as a new officer or board member in your local newspaper. Patients like to see that you are giving back to the community and staying abreast of your professional organization.
The cost of external marketing can easily spiral out of control without a pre-determined game plan and budget. Prior to engaging in any external marketing and hiring any professionals, write down your marketing goals and purpose. Your goal could be to increase the number of fee- for-service or cosmetic patients, or maybe you are looking to brand your practice in a particular way among your community and colleagues. Regardless of the goal, the first questions any professional marketing company or consultant will ask you are, “What are your marketing goals?” or “What results are you seeking through our work together?”
Also, know your budget and track your expenses. Marketing budgets for dental practices typically vary anywhere from 2 to 15 percent of practice collections. Factors such as the stage of your career, market conditions, neighboring competition, decline in patient volume, and transfer of practice ownership will impact the budget you are comfortable setting for your practice. With every budget, you must measure the projected expenses against the actual to see where you under or over estimated. Finally, measure your goals against the marketing strategies you implement. If you reach your goals, you will know which strategies worked. If you don’t reach your goals, you will know what adjustments need to be made for the next year.
Develop one or two brief presentations on topics you are comfortable presenting to a small group and invite local practitioners (and possibly their staff) to a Lunch and Learn. The Lunch and Learn could be hosted at a local restaurant or hotel meeting room, or you could host it in your reception area or conference room if your practice can accommodate the group. If the other practice is not willing to come to you, offer to go to the practice during their lunch hour. Bring lunch for the practice and give a brief presentation to the doctor and team while they have lunch. This strategy is especially effective for specialists looking to build rapport with referring general dentists or medical practices, such as pediatricians or obstetricians.
Not only do your sales representatives have a strong sense of the market conditions and your competition, but they can also be excellent sources for promoting certain services and products to patients and your referring practices. Sales representatives often have patient education resources and may even be willing to have their companies sponsor or co-host seminars or events.
When reaching out to local businesses, think about which businesses in your area may be targeting an audience similar to your practice’s. Assess which business alliances in your area will provide you with the greatest return on your investment.
Think about the type of businesses you plan to contact and the services they offer. Assess whether a partnership of some sort or offering promotions to their clientele or employees will boost your business. For example, you may choose to reach out to local small businesses that are financially unable to offer their employees dental benefits and offer a discount or promotion of some sort. You may have neighboring health or social clubs that sponsor other local businesses and promote your business to club members. There may be an opportunity to partner with a local salon, spa or boutique to display your brochures or business cards in their reception area for a similar exchange in your office. Finally, you may want to contact the human resources personnel of some of the larger businesses in your area to offer oral healthcare resources and obtain more information about the employer’s dental benefit plan.
When reaching out to the community to get to know neighboring businesses and help promote your practice, local organizations or chapters of international and national organizations can usually help. The local chamber of commerce can provide excellent networking opportunities and often will conduct ribbon-cutting ceremonies for new businesses and chamber receptions hosted regularly at businesses in the area. The networking opportunity with the chamber of commerce may vary by area and is generally more involved in smaller communities compared to larger metropolitan cities. Other clubs that offer business networking opportunities are the Rotary International Club, 20-30 Club, Business Networking International and Toastmasters.
Research if the development has a local publication or newsletter. See if you can advertise or offer a direct mailing to residents of the development.
Develop a press release template with standard information about you and the practice to make the process easier on you, so that you have standard information about you and the practice that is included on every press release. Then, simply write a few paragraphs about the most recent event, milestone, award, presentation, fundraiser or announcement you would like to publicize. The key to sending out press releases is in the follow-up. Try to establish a contact person with each publication you target and follow up with the publication to ensure they saw your press release.
Often less costly than the phonebook, local publications are an excellent way to target specific audiences. For example, if there is a magazine directed toward women or mothers in your community and you are a family practice, this could be good exposure for your practice. Or, you may be able to narrow down your target audience to a specific neighborhood through a neighborhood newsletter or publication.
The relevance and importance of this approach will of course depend on the type of community in which you serve. It may not have as much of an impact in a bustling urban neighborhood as it would in an area with designated suburban neighborhoods.
This is typically quite costly and must be carefully evaluated to determine if it is an effective marketing approach for your practice. Before going down this path, first analyze the mile radius in which the majority of your existing patients live or work. This will vary dramatically from practice to practice. Some practices in urban areas may primarily see patients within a one-mile radius, whereas a practice in a suburban or more rural area could be attracting patients in a five- to 10-mile radius. If 80 percent of your patients are within a two-mile radius, you will see that it is most effective, both in terms of cost and effort, to send your mailing within those two miles.
Once you have determined your mile radius, choose the message you want to send. You may choose to send an upscale mailing that invites residents to come to your practice for a “new patient and smile enhancement consultation” or perhaps you will want to promote a specific service, such as Invisalign or Zoom teeth whitening. The choice is yours, but keep your message clear and concise. You can easily lose this audience with an overly cluttered and disorganized mailer. This is where determining your niche in advance becomes relevant. If you have established your niche as a family-friendly practice, it would not be appropriate, and would actually be a deterrent, to send an upscale invitation-like mailer to the stay-at-home mom with three kids. Consider using a tracking phone number to report on the return on investment. There are a variety of call tracking providers in the market, so make sure to do your due diligence and partner with a reputable company.
In today’s competitive market, it is essential to have a presence on the internet. There are constantly new advances in website design and capabilities, which makes website marketing even more competitive. Although it is possible to design your own website, it is best to seek professional advice and service for website design. The goal is not simply to have a website, but rather to have a website that is visible and visited frequently. Search Engine Optimization and Marketing, which is essentially the process of marketing your website through “keywords” entered on search engines, has become a business in itself. Listings are algorithmically determined by search engines (e.g. Google, Bing and Yahoo secret formulas) and are based on over 200 “relevancy” factors in the algorithm. If you are looking at companies that offer web design, be sure to closely evaluate the services and know all that is included in your contract or fee. Research and understand the services offered, such as the process and cost of making changes to the website once designed, search engine optimization services, website capabilities such as patient account management and interactive options for patients.
This is a great avenue to consistently communicate with your patients and referring offices. Simply collect email addresses and give individuals the option to receive the newsletter. Many third party vendors integrate with practice management systems to manage an “opt-in” mechanism. A quarterly or monthly newsletter is a great way to send updates about the practice, your dental team, advances in technology or equipment, and reminders. This can be a fun way to display your practice philosophy, approach and show off your personality. See our Rules for Communicating via Telephone, Cellphone and Email.
Patients likely look to you and your team first for oral health education. In addition, your referring doctors or specialists in the area may rely on you for current dental management or clinical information. Rather than spend the time and money developing your own educational resources, provide links to your top dental or medical websites. Your professional association is a great place to start, as most associations have multiple resources dedicated to patient education.
Serving many functions in the sales funnel, it is defined as a “group of internet based applications that allow the creation and exchange of user generated content.” Some of the most popular platforms allow users to create specific business pages that allow you to provide information about your business hours, location and services and solicit reviews. The most popular platforms include Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat.
An internet advertising model used to direct traffic to websites, website owners pay each time their ad is clicked. Paid search is a quick way to bring your practice to the top of a search engine page (i.e. Google). One way to have a strong PPC campaign is to use geocentric terms such as “Sacramento dentist” or “Pediatric dentist in Sacramento.” Budgets are set monthly and can be adjusted according to performance.
Again, you never know who will notice your practice logo and name on a license plate frame, a lunch cooler, or a fold-up lawn or camping chair at the soccer tournament. Your staff will appreciate the gift and you gain inexpensive marketing exposure.
This is especially important when your staff leaves work in their uniforms to go directly to their children’s evening activities, meet up with friends for dinner, or even go pick up the dry-cleaning. If your practice name and the staff names are printed on their attire, they represent your practice until they have changed out of their uniforms. This applies as well to any team functions that are held outside of the office. It is always nice to reward your team with a fun activity or event, but make sure it is business appropriate and reflects you and your practice in a manner you wish to be viewed.
Whether you are just opening your doors or have been in practice for some time, an open house is a great way to invite local residents, business owners and referring doctors and staff to your practice. Establish a fun theme for the open house to generate more interest and entice those invited to attend with food, raffle drawings or a creative contest. Be sure to conduct your follow-up contacts after the event, especially to attendees you had not met prior to the event.
Quite a few educational opportunities are available in schools in every community providing you with indirect marketing exposure through multiple audiences – school teachers, administration, parents and children. Start by introducing you and your practice to the school administration and provide the administration and district nurses with education on the importance of preventive oral health care. It may even be helpful for the school administration and nurses to know quick and easy solutions they can provide to students for common discomforts children may have after visiting the dentist or orthodontist.
For practices that see a high volume of children, ask if the schools have health fairs or health education opportunities. If they don’t, offer to talk to students during “National Dental Hygiene Month” (October) or “National Smile Month” (April). Offer to speak to students about oral health and come up with creative ways to deliver your message. Read a storybook, dress in a costume – tailor the talk to your audience. Offer to speak to parents at after-school events about the importance of preventive oral healthcare for their children. Educate parents on techniques to use at home with their children or share the advantages of early intervention with orthodontic treatment. Talk to district nurses – in California, every child must visit the dentist prior to the first day of kindergarten. Become an educational resource for the district nurse and provide the nurse with your referral cards for parents who do not have dentists. The nurse is generally responsible for ensuring all students meet this requirement and may be in a position to refer parents and patients to your practice.
Finally, remember that most teachers and school administration are also potential patients or parents of potential patients. Offer teachers and administrators discounted or complimentary services to experience your practice. Those who have a positive experience with your practice are more likely to promote it to other parents and students.
Support your local community and work to have your practice name associated with positive events and activities that support the community. Sponsors of events or activities usually receive publicity either at an event or in printed materials related to an event. Make sure your message is tied to the event or gains some type of exposure from your sponsorship. Be cognizant of the message you send – it is wise to position yourself as an educational resource or as a professional bettering the community.
It is easy to create a nomination form to distribute to your current patients and sponsor either a treatment “scholarship” for a deserving patient or a “smile makeover” competition. Patients can either nominate themselves or someone else. You can even get your referring practices involved and have them nominate a patient who they believe is deserving of your services (i.e. a patient who cannot afford orthodontic treatment but is deserving of the scholarship). The nomination form can ask the individual to write why the person being nominated deserves to win the scholarship or competition.
Parents often are unaware of the importance of customized mouthguards for their children, especially for children in braces. This is not only a fun educational event for your practice, but it can develop into an excellent press release to send to local publications. And don’t forget the athletic adult patients – many adults still play their favorite team sports on the weekends and need customized mouthguards as well. Your promotion of this event can be to compare the cost of a mouthguard to the cost of tooth replacement - priceless!
Community based strategies should be centered around the concept of providing the community with oral health education and/or access to care. The marketing benefits should be seen as an indirect benefit from the exposure you and your practice gain through positioning yourself as a resource in your community. For more information on professional conduct related to marketing, please reference the CDA Code of Ethics.