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3 ways to maximize a small dental marketing budget (that have nothing to do with marketing)

March 22, 2016
Jessica Lalau introduces her new Apex360 column, which features responses to marketing questions from dentists. In this article, she explains how to maximize a small dental marketing budget with a marketing tracking system, staff training, and a marketing schedule.
Jessica Lalau introduces her new Apex360 column, which features responses to marketing questions from dentists. In this article, she explains how to maximize a small dental marketing budget with a marketing tracking system, staff training, and a marketing schedule.

Hello, dentists and dental professionals: My name is Jessica, and I'm excited to announce my new marketing column for Apex360. In every issue, I'll answer dental marketing questions from real people with genuine conundrums and curiosities. But enough about me-let's get started.


Alexa Alborzi, DDS, MDS, of Alborzi Orthodontics, asked: "What should I do if my marketing budget is small?"


Let me start by saying this: It isn't about the size of your marketing budget but rather the way you use it-the smaller your budget, the smarter you have to be about how you market. Smart marketing isn't always about whether you're following the latest trends. You need to have a few "housekeeping" tasks in place if you want to make a small budget work for your dental practice. I know, I know-"housekeeping" doesn't sound sexy compared to social media or mobile, but it's vital to a good dental marketing strategy.

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With that said, here are the three most important elements to a successful dental marketing strategy (that have nothing to do with marketing).

1. Put a tracking system in place before launching your next marketing campaign.

When you don't track your marketing, you don't know what is or isn't working. You will never maximize a small budget if you're throwing money at various campaigns with no idea how they're performing. Setting up a call-tracking service, signing your website up for Google Analytics, and training your front desk staff to ask questions are a few easy ways to begin tracking your marketing.

A call-tracking service is a low-cost option that lets you set up multiple phone numbers, all of which can be funneled to a line of your choice (e.g., your main number). Use a different number for each campaign (one for postcards, one for your website, one for your pay-per-click AdWords campaign, etc.). A call-tracking service will show you how many calls each campaign generates and how long each call was, and it will play back each call on-demand so you can assess good leads and bad leads (e.g., Medicaid callers, hang-ups, etc.).

Google Analytics is a 100% free tool that provides insanely valuable insight into how people are interacting with your website. You can find out which pages drive prospects away, which pages they visit after the homepage, and more. It isn't the most user-friendly interface, but the information it can provide is critical to optimizing your website.

Train your front desk staff to ask new patients how they heard about you. Your front office may be your single most important tracking tool, but it can also be the most difficult to rely on. This brings me to the next step in maximizing a small marketing budget . . .

2. Train your practice's front desk staff to really understand how new patients are finding you.

Three factors prevent this from happening like clockwork. First, it gets busy, understandably. Second, your front office is run by humans (unless Men in Black was based on true events)-we have the best intentions, but sometimes our follow-through may be lacking. Third, your staff simply doesn't understand the marketing path that may have led that new patient to your door.

The first and second you can handle with training and reminders. The third-your staff isn't looking at the big marketing picture-takes a little more effort. As a business owner, you see the big picture. Your success and livelihood depend on it. But your staff may have a different, more job-centric perspective. If your front desk consistently asks new leads how they heard about your practice, you've already won half the battle. To tackle the last part, give your front office a few scenarios to help them make the big-picture leap, like this:

Scenario: A new patient comes in and says she found your practice online.

Bad response: Your receptionist immediately marks her down as an online lead.

Online where? Did she see you on Facebook because a friend left a review, or did she find you through a search engine? Maybe she clicked on one of your online ads. Here's a better handling of that scenario:

Good response: Your receptionist asks, "Was this on Google or maybe social media?" And if the new patient confirms it was Google, the receptionist can go the extra step and say something like, "Oh, that's great! Were you searching for Dr. Jones, in particular, or just some services in the area?"

This gives you so much more insight about where you should channel your marketing. If most new leads are searching for a specific service or for a "general dentist," pump up your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts to make sure all of your local search engine listings (i.e., the results that show up as red balloons on Google) are optimized. This report can help. If most new leads are Googling your name or practice, they've heard about you offline. Enhancing your direct-mail campaign might be in order.

3. Plan ahead so that your marketing will be consistent, not sporadic.

If you're using marketing like a tool you pick up and use when new patient numbers are slow, you're bound to fail and render all of the effort you put into the first two steps completely useless. Marketing consists of tools (e.g., postcards, Google Analytics). It is (or should be) a part of your practice and business model-as routine and necessary as setting up a phone system.

Depending on where your dental practice is in its life cycle, you should allocate a certain percentage of your revenue to marketing. Once you know how much you should spend, sit down and create a plan for the entire year. Mail out 1,000 postcards a month. Set up a $100-per-week Google AdWords account and allocate $50 per week to Facebook. Dedicate an hour every Tuesday and Thursday to e-mailing recent patients and asking them for a review on Yelp or Google. Assess performance quarterly and make any necessary tweaks along the way.

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Schedule it and stick to it! A 12-month marketing program will give you consistency since 80% of sales are made between the fifth and twelfth contacts, and it will also give you more accurate data than if you were to measure your program's success over a shorter period of time (because responses will keep trickling in).

There you have it! Housekeeping might not be so bad now that you've got a plan.

Dental marketing questions? E-mail me at [email protected], and you might be featured next!

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the January–February 2016 issue of Apex360.

Jessica Lalau is the director of marketing communications, public relations, and social media at PostcardMania, a $22-million marketing company specializing in direct mail. Since its founding in 1998, PostcardMania has delivered results-driven marketing campaigns for more than 4,600 dental professionals across the nation. To request free dental industry postcard samples (with postage included), visit