3 survival keys for the new dental economy

Know your patients because lots of other dentists want to gain the same new patients you do.

Mar 20th, 2014
Dentist Showing X Ray

According to the ADA Health Policy Resources Center, which recently published the research brief “National Dental Expenditures Flat Since 2008,” dental receipts across the boardhave been flat for the last five years. This is a very bleak number. When you consider the escalating cost of doing business, it’s obvious that true dental income is being eroded away like a sand castle at high tide.

The future does not look much better. Many economists predict the U.S. economy is on a roller coaster headed the wrong way and will pick up momentum this summer as the government sequesters takes effect. To add insult to injury, insurance companies are tightening their belts due to the Affordable Healthcare Act, and many employers that previously subsidized employee dental and medical insurance are organizing strategies to eliminate them.

This ultimate guide to dental marketing has something for everyone

If you cannot hear the train coming, you must be deaf. We are in a new dental economy, and the old rules do not apply. Here are three survival keys for the new dental economy.

Key 1 — Know your patients
You may not be aware, but today dentists are in fierce competition for patients’ attention and money. This competition is not necessarily amongst themselves, but with much more savvyopponents with multi-million dollar advertising budgets, and quite frankly, much sexier products.

Today’s dental patients are overloaded and distracted by choices. They are drowning in You-Tube, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. There are 400 cable or satellite channels, 41 varieties of Tide, and 306,554 phone apps from which to choose. Every decision forces people to make choices, and with each choice comes stress. Your dental patients are being bombarded at a rate of 5,000 marketing messages per day, and their attention spans are shrinking at a rate inverse to the growing number of distractions.

Marketing consultant and author Sally Hoghead discloses in her best seller, “Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation,” that in 1916 when the pace of society was slower, the average human attention span was 20 minutes, one minute for each year of age up until age 20. According to BBC News, “The addictive nature of web browsing can leave one with an attention span of nine seconds – the same as a goldfish.” The entire population, including dental patients, is suffering from ADD.

As you can imagine, grabbing patients’ attention long enough to share your motivating story about how you can help them is a daunting task. What is the secret of enlightenment? You have to know them before they show up. Marketing professionals call this target marketing.

Take a moment and ask yourself, what does my perfect patient look like? What gender are they? How old are they? Where do they live? What do they read? What type of care do they need? What makes them laugh? What makes them cry?

Now look at your current patient list. Who are they? If you cannot interpret your patient database, I ‘ll refer you to a friend of mine who can. Richard Seppala of Total Census Solutions and The ROI Matrix can give you the DNA of your practice, down to what magazines your best patients read and what they like to do on vacation. (Note: I have no financial connections with Richard other than I am a happy customer.)

Have a dental practice management question? Watch videos from the experts at Jameson Management for some answers

Back to who are you attracting? arketing expert Dan Kennedy says, “If you want to catch a fish, use a worm. If you want to catch a mouse, use cheese. Worms will not attract mice and cheese will not attract fish.” If you are attracting patients who have no money or are severely price sensitive, whose fault is it? Who is setting the bait?

Once you get a vivid picture of your desired patient, you are one third the way there.

Key 2 — Know your true product or services
As dentists, we’re taught how to provide many intricate products and services. Most dentists offer extractions, fillings, crowns, and cleanings. Many dentists have expanded their services to include dentures, partials, implants, braces, TMD appliances, sleep apnea appliances, cosmetic crowns, and veneers. With all of this on our shelves, we cannot figure out why our patients are not knocking down our doors and demanding all of this, andin the new economy it will be worse.

To better explain — of the 60-odd million cordless drills sold last year, not one was sold to a consumer who wanted the perfect drill. Rather, they were looking for the perfect whole. Your patients do not want cosmetic crowns, implants, or fillings. They want self-confidence, comfort, and security from future catastrophes.

While on a consulting call with a fellow dentist, he mentioned, “The days of full-mouth reconstruction or quadrant dentistry are coming to an end.” When I asked him why he would say that, he answered, “Just by what I hear from the news and what I am seeing in my office.”

Previously in our conversation he had told me that he, his wife, and another couple had gone to a reputable upscale restaurant and had a wonderfulexperience. Knowing the restaurant and my friend, I was sure he dropped at least $100 a person. I asked him if the restaurant was empty.

He chuckled and said, “Heck no, we had a 30-minute wait just to get in.”

Point made. A restaurant in the very town he was convinced was full of folks who could not afford his best dentistry was packed and doing the same thing he was doing — standing in line for 30 minutes just to pay $100 a person. People get what they want, not what they need.

Our job as dentists is to find out what our patients want and use what we have to help them get it. I don’t care about how many millimeters of tread are on my new tires. I just want the security of staying on the road if it gets slippery. I don’t care what the thread count is on my sheets. I just want them to feel good when I crawl between them. Your patients are the same.

People will get what they need. They always get what they want. When you know what your real products and services are, you can help people in any economy transition your dental care from a need to a want.

Key 3 — Know how to get your message out
This is the trickiest of the three keys. If you think your illustrious service and affable personality will attract busloads of patients, you might also still believe in the tooth fairy. “Build it and they will come” may work in the movies, but do not take it to the bank in a 21st century dental practice, especially in the new economy. You have to find people, grab their attention, motivate them to turn down the chaos, and call your office for an appointment. The difficulty of this task is typically underestimated.

Dan Kennedy is famous for his “triple M” — message, marketing, media match. If you know the message that will motivate your target, then you will need to create marketing campaigns that deliver that message in the right media. If your target is a 55-year-old empty nest female, the marketing campaign will be much different than for that of a 30-year-old mother of three. If you are advertising full-mouth cosmetic reconstruction in the penny guide, you will not have much luck.

The task of getting your message out is a deep subject I don’t intend to exhaust here, just reinforce the fact that reaping high performance with marketing resources demands a deep understanding of direct response marketing, and a diligent tracking system to validate the investment. It would be a wise move to seek the advice of someone who understands this industry.

The days of hanging a shingle out and building a dental practice are gone. Approaching the business of dentistry with a 20th century model is a formula for failure. Those who will thrive in the new dental economy will need to master these three keys.

Kelly Brown, DDS, is the founder and chairman of Custom Dental.

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