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Creating Your Practice Identity

June 1, 2004
If you are considering implementing a marketing plan for your dental practice, you are probably overwhelmed with the decisions to be made.

If you are considering implementing a marketing plan for your dental practice, you are probably overwhelmed with the decisions to be made. Should you focus your efforts internally or externally? Should you invest in Yellow Pages and newspaper ads or direct mail? How much should you be spending on marketing? While these are all valid concerns, there is a more basic question that you need to consider before making any decisions related to your marketing efforts.

What sets women dentists apart?

Ask yourself: What is unique about my practice that will allow consumers to differentiate my dental office from every other dental office in my area and motivate consumers to select my practice? When you can answer this question, you will have found what is known in marketing circles as your "unique selling proposition."

Based on this knowledge, you will be able to develop an image or identity for your practice in your local community that sets you apart from every other dental practice. This identity is known as your brand. A unique and marketable brand identity for your practice will allow you to compete on your own terms based upon factors other than location and low fees.

Creating an effective brand identity for your practice starts by stepping out of your dentist's role and into the mindset of the typical consumer to identify a market niche upon which to focus your marketing. This niche must be consumer-centric — based not upon specific clinical skills or technology, but rather on the needs of the consumer and the solutions that you can provide.

When selecting your market niche, you must ensure that your chosen target market is of sufficient size to provide opportunities to meet your growth and profitability targets. It must also be one in which you can take a leadership position. There is not a lot of sense, for example, in deciding to focus your practice on sedation dentistry if there are already three established practices in your area that promote themselves primarily as providers of that service. Finally, ensure that your resources (i.e., your clinical skills, personality, staff, and facility) are capable and willing to meet the needs of your selected market niche.

Discover your niche

The next step is to actually create an identity for your practice that connects with and addresses the needs of your selected target market. Review virtually every aspect of your dental practice to ensure that the messages you are communicating through your words and actions are consistent with the image you are trying to create.

We recently worked with Dr. Joyce Levitt of Milton, Ontario. Dr. Levitt had decided to open a new practice in this middle-class suburb of Toronto. The town has a population of approximately 40,000 people, but is growing rapidly as new housing developments spring up around town. These new neighborhoods are attracting significant numbers of young families looking for affordable housing and clean, safe neighborhoods.

Working with Dr. Levitt, we identified the fact that there were no pediatric dentists in Milton, despite the fact that the town has a large, growing population of families with young children. We also discovered that the other dentists in town were doing little in the way of targeted external marketing, and that the advertising they were doing was either very general in nature or related to cosmetic dentistry.

Based upon this research, we recognized an opportunity to create a practice focused on treating young families with children who are moving into the area by emphasizing Dr. Levitt's ability to treat children and adults who suffer from a fear of dentistry. Dr. Levitt's extensive training and experience in treating patients suffering from dental anxiety and her love of treating young children made this a great match of her resources to the needs of her target market.

Build your practice with visual distinction

Working closely with Dr. Levitt, we created a name, logo, and visual identity to meet the objectives of her new practice. The Mill Ridge Family Dental Care name and logo utilize words, colors, and images to communicate specific emotions and beliefs to the consumer. The vibrant green and blue colors are appropriate for a health-care provider, but are also friendly, welcoming, and relaxing. The imagery of a flowing stream surrounded by mountains and trees further communicates a calming, soothing message and is appropriate for a family practice. The "Mill Ridge" name connects with the many people who have escaped the big city for the more relaxed lifestyle found in Milton, and the "Family Dental Care" designation communicates the services offered while reinforcing the patient-centered focus of the practice.

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Click here to enlarge image

Dr. Levitt recognized that the creation of this visual identity was just the first step. She realized that she needed to communicate her new brand identity and the unique features and benefits her practice provides to her selected market niche. With this in mind, we created a direct-mail marketing campaign, targeting the new residential areas.

This direct-mail series consistently communicated Dr. Levitt's position as the leading provider of dental care for young children and their parents, and for people who suffer from a fear of dentistry. Mailers delivered every 30 days to homes in the new neighborhoods communicated Dr. Levitt's special interests and skills, reinforced her unique practice philosophy, and invited young parents to bring their children to the practice for free tours and consultations.

Dr. Levitt also worked closely with her clinic designer, equipment supplier, and staff to create a facility that provides a relaxing oasis from the busy world outside. The reception area features soothing colors, background music, and a separate children's play area. Each operatory ensures privacy and overlooks a meadow surrounded by a clear, running stream and mature trees. Dr. Levitt's staff is trained to expect and welcome questions from patients and concerned parents. Extra time is scheduled to ensure patients are comfortable and at ease. The end result is that patients attracted by the practice identity and marketing messages find their expectations met during visits to the practice.

The results? Dr Levitt is thrilled with the growth in her practice during the first year. She is experiencing impressive new-patient flow from her external marketing and patient referrals, and is performing the kind of dentistry she enjoys for patients who appreciate her skills and philosophy. She attributes much of her success to the time she invested in identifying her market niche and creating a unique practice identity that communicates her ability to meet the needs of this market segment.

Regardless of whether your practice is new or well-established, creating a unique position for your practice will allow you to focus your future marketing efforts and expenditures more effectively, maximizing the growth of your practice.

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Jim Ronalds
Mr. Ronalds is president of Full Contact Marketing, a company specializing in helping dentists across North America to grow their practices through the implementation of internal and external marketing programs. You may contact Mr. Ronalds at (800) 728-6651 or jim@fullcontact