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Branding with the dental artist's brush

June 1, 2004
For as long as I can remember, I have marveled at the countless nuances that differentiate one human face from another.

For as long as I can remember, I have marveled at the countless nuances that differentiate one human face from another. It is no wonder that my life's journey led me into the field of dentistry so many years ago, for dentistry is a profession that demands attention to detail and an awareness of esthetic characteristics unique to each patient. What enchants me even more is that several years into practice, my love of dentistry led me to a love of painting. I became particularly intrigued with portrait painting, an art form that responds to and nurtures my attraction to the mystery of the human face. As I journeyed more deeply into the worlds of esthetic dentistry and portraiture, I became particularly fascinated with the somewhat elusive concept of "what makes a person glow?" The combined process of scientific and artistic study inspired me to realize something I must have known all my life (and what must have been a major reason I was drawn to dentistry) ... one's smile is a tangible and outward sign of one's inner beauty. And that "glow" has its origin in the smile.

An evening view of the tranquil meditation garden and koi pond as seen from the treatment rooms.
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As women dentists, we are blessed with an inclination toward beauty, balance, and harmony. We are verifiably focused on the visual perspective of beauty. Why? To paraphrase the words of an elegant and distinguished mentor, Dr. Nadine Levinson, we are attracted to beauty simply because beauty arouses within us feelings of happiness, bliss, security, and trust. Without a spoken word, the smile allows human beings to communicate with one another in ways that are crucial for interpersonal relationships. What a gift we have found in our chosen profession, a profession that allows us the opportunity for healing not only body, but soul. Yes, as dentists, we have the unique privilege of experiencing the beautification of a smile healing a soul. From a personal perspective, in my dentistry and in my art, my goal is to convey the beauty of the soul in the creation of the smile. From a professional perspective, I am eager for the world around me to know that I have the unique ability to do just that.

Several years ago, my vision for a new dental office began to germinate. I set out to groom myself for an updated, more sophisticated professional image. I was already a seasoned dentist, many years in solo practice, yet I found myself struggling with the passionate desire to become known and respected as a premier esthetic dentist. After all, in a short time I had become an accomplished, award-winning artist. I assumed that with my artistic talent, technical expertise, and commitment to excellence in comprehensive dental care, I was perfectly suited to attaining such a goal. I believed I had all that was necessary for a solid reputation as a world-class esthetic dentist, just like so many nationally recognized colleagues I had spent years studying under and emulating. But no matter how hard I tried, I felt as though I hadn't yet "arrived." Sure, I had done my share of exquisite esthetic cases over the years. But I wanted to be doing them more frequently. I wanted to be known as the "expert" in our community — the absolute finest at combining the art and science of dentistry. I wanted to become the quintessential dental artist.

Dr. Lisa Marie Samaha painting in "The Upper Gallery."
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After clearly sharing my dream with my office team, we began defining our practice mission, our vision, and further honing who we were and who we wanted to be. Although we were required to make some uncomfortable changes along the way, we are now finally nearing that "place." The journey — from vision to reality — went something like this ...

During a lovely and always inspiring afternoon with dear friend and mentor Linda Miles, practice-management consultant par excellence, I shared my intent. Upon glancing at my business card, Linda commented that to achieve my goal, I would simply have to get rid of the tag line, "Full Family Dental Care." This was an unsettling awakening as I had spent nearly 20 years caring for many of our area's children. In fact, in the early days, nearly 40 percent of my practice was made up of young patients. I had taken great pride in developing outstanding rapport with our children, and being able to successfully care for even the most defiant or fearful ones without papoose boards, nitrous oxide, or any other form of sedation.

Linda further explained that if I was hoping to attract more mature individuals — those who needed, wanted, and could afford esthetic dental care — I would have to give up some of the distraction caused by interactions with children. I would also have to focus my marketing on a well-defined target audience. After much deliberation and more discussion with my office team, we decided to heed her advice. That decision marked the beginning of the transformation from our office of 21 years to our new, personally designed, state-of-the-art dental office located in the charming, upscale development of Port Warwick (in Virginia), just a few miles from our existing practice.

Linda then suggested that I begin developing a method for "branding" my practice. Unfamiliar with that term, I inquired. In Linda's own words, "Take four or five words that you wish to be known for, tie them in a bow, and aha ... you have your BRAND!"

She led me to realize that branding is the process of establishing an identity; of creating an image that is strong, unique, and memorable. And the main purpose of branding is to differentiate yourself from anyone else. In the words of Tim Breiding, Breiding Dental Marketing, "Branding is the end-result of a well-thought-out marketing, advertising, or public relations strategy." Having your own brand identity allows for maximum, effective marketing. When someone finally meets you, your brand has already pre-sold you, thus enabling a much smoother transition into a relationship. Your potential patient has already determined that there is no other dentist like you and that no one else is capable of delivering the quality of service for which he or she is looking.

After my office team and I clearly defined our intent, we began to create our dream office. We went to the beach for a weekend retreat and tried to imagine what that dream office would look and feel like. When we began to imagine it, we reflected on a love and passion for nature. Our new office, we thought, will be a beautiful place, a sacred, healing space. It will be a place of harmony and tranquility, an unhurried place, and a place where our patients will feel honored by the service we provide with warmth, integrity, and professionalism. They will sense our unparalleled dedication to our healing art. And the setting will permit the soothing engagement of all the senses. Coming to our office will be an experience that our patients will graciously and gratefully receive.

Restless to further establish my vision through my art, I proceeded to develop a substantial piece of artwork that would carry with it a feeling of that sophistication and of the philosophy by which we operate. The intent was to use this piece of artwork as the focal point for the design of our reception room. Thus was born the piece titled "Integrity." This image has a strong, artistic presence with a distinct essence of nature. Since the concepts of esthetics and nature were the driving force behind my vision for the architecture and design of our new office, this piece of art pulled it all together. The title "Integrity" is representative of what we have determined to be the single most important characteristic of our practice philosophy.

We have since used the "Integrity" image (in its entirety and in segments) in our practice brochure, throughout our Web site, and on invitations to our groundbreaking ceremony and office dedication. For the ceremonies, we designed bookmarks with the "Integrity" image, along with our mission statement and a description of "Who We Are" (even before we became who we have become)! We continue to include the bookmarks in our new-patient welcome packets. "Integrity" graced the covers of our programs for both of those very spiritual ceremonies as well. We are in the process of preparing recare cards, referral thank yous, and all-occasion cards with the "Integrity" image for use in our practice. At our dedication ceremony, we presented each guest with an 8" x 8" signed and numbered giclee reproduction of the "Integrity" piece. The most exciting use of the image, however, is in the reproduction that was created for our 21-foot-high wall above the reception room desk. We digitally divided the original piece into four equal parts and had each part reproduced on canvas, creating a 64-square-foot image. All four pieces hang on that wall, enhancing the already dramatic entrance into our space. We continue to use the "Integrity" reproductions in a variety of marketing projects, and I personally give them to each new patient at the conclusion of the first appointment with us. In addition, when a patient refers a friend to the office, we send him or her a personal, hand-written note (I enjoy writing these myself) on one of my art cards, along with a small, museum-quality reproduction of one of my original art pieces selected just for that person.

For the holiday season, we chose another piece of my original artwork for our office greeting card. The same image was used for personal invitations to our patients, the local medical community, and our Port Warwick community for a holiday open house.

In a variety of ways, we are establishing a clear sense that in this dental office everything we do is through the eyes of a dental artist.

Port Warwick Dental Arts reception room with four-part "Integrity" image created by Dr. Samaha to establish the vision and philosophy of her practice.
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As a businesswoman, I am personally involved with every marketing decision. As an artist and writer, I am intimately involved with the design, text, and layout of every form of advertisement we use, including our Web site. I enlisted the services of a very creative friend who is a fine-art photographer, John Matney, to create images that would express the true essence of the facility. These images are consistently used in my marketing. I also work with a talented graphic artist, David Urhin, who tapped into my vision early on and helps do the technical end of ad layout. Our Web site was designed by a savvy Web master, Kevin Eggers, who realizes the importance of a site that is a well-integrated component of our branding. All in all, it was critical that we establish a network of individuals who are excited about our vision and understand our marketing goals.

Another way in which we focused our marketing efforts was by cultivating relationships and establishing credibility within our regional art world. Not only did we begin to reach out to the artists themselves, but we sought the connoisseurs of art, imagining that they would be able to appreciate the merits of a beautiful smile more than most. We chose to advertise in two very artful regional periodicals. As a result, featured stories of a variety of aspects of our practice have appeared in a number of issues. In addition, we chose to build our office in a new, upscale, and very artistic development that includes a hospital facility brimming with medical professionals who are extraordinarily responsive to our vision and generous with referrals of their patients and one another.

In addition to the tag line, "The Art of Fine Dentistry ... Experienced, Artistic, Compassionate Hands," we use the following verbiage to establish me as an accomplished dental artist: "Port Warwick Dental Arts (the purposefully chosen name of our practice) U Where Smiles Become Works of Art," and "Your Smile, from Vision to Reality." To further convey the experience we have created for our patients, we use the tag line, "Come visit us at Port Warwick Dental Arts U where the beauty and excellence of our dentistry is reflected in the facility we have chosen to create," along with artistic photographic images of our new office in the ad. Tag lines and images consistently reinforce our mission statement.

Shortly after we settled into Port Warwick Dental Arts, we hosted the first (of what we hope to be many) AGD-approved dental training seminars. In addition to using our 3,500 square feet of dental office space, we held lectures in the Advanced Dental Training Facility, our second-story, 1,200-square-foot space. We used our beautiful, state-of-the-art facility to entertain nearly 100 dentists, dental team members, and practice-management consultants.

When not being used for dental seminars, the upstairs is known as "The Upper Gallery," my art studio/gallery. Our patients frequently ask to visit the gallery before or after their appointments, and even arrange to bring a group of friends to share in the experience. The bonus for us is that we have the opportunity to escort these potential patients on a tour of our lovely dental office space on their way to the gallery.

The Upper Gallery also serves as a meeting place on Friday afternoons, where I gather with artist friends as we draw and paint from live models. A few times a year, we schedule opening exhibitions of my new work and send invitations to all of our patients, the local medical community, the Port Warwick community, as well as hundreds of art connoisseurs. We also offer the gallery and garden, pro bono, to nonprofit groups and civic organizations. This is an elegant opportunity for patrons of the arts who may know me primarily as an artist to see our new, esthetically designed dental office. Although about 200 pieces of my original art adorn the office, exhibitions also allow our patients the opportunity to enjoy more aspects of my art. The exhibitions give us an opportunity to get to know one another on a more intimate level, resulting in the development of deeper, more multifaceted relationships, one of the most wonderful things about being a dental artist.

After nearly four years of planning, we moved into our office in August 2003. In less than a year, we have managed to successfully impart our brand to our target audience. Our new patients are the types of people who appreciate our practice style and philosophy. By the time they call our office, they have determined that there is something special about Port Warwick Dental Arts, something special for them.

Click here to enlarge image

If you have a desire for a unique piece of artwork to help "brand" your practice, contact Dr. Samaha via her art Web site,

Lisa Marie Samaha, DDS, FAGD, PC
Dr. Samaha is president of Port Warwick Dental Arts and is an enthusiastic lecturer to dental and medical professionals on a variety of scientific and practice-management topics. Contact her at samahadds@portwarwickden and visit her Web site, www.portwarwickdental

How do I begin to brand my practice?

If you have not already done so, sit down with pencil and paper to brainstorm your mission and vision. (The two are different.) Do this alone at first, and then engage your team. Hopefully they will come up with many of the same thoughts you have. Clearly define your mission and vision so you'll know WHAT you want to "say" in your advertising.

Also ask, "In an ideal world, how would we be practicing dentistry? What procedures would we be doing, and who would we want to serve?" Then you will know WHO you want to target in your advertising.

Make a list of things that are unique about you, your facility, and your practice philosophy. Then you will know HOW to describe your practice. If you really don't have a clearly defined image of who you are, imagine who you want to become and take it from there. Don't worry; your imaginings will become reality with the right attitude and a single-minded vision.

Find a graphic artist and marketing specialist with whom you "connect." They must be excited about your vision, but remember that consultants can only help you communicate your brand. They cannot define it for you. Their job is to help you create relevance and credibility to prospective clients with the information you provide them.

When you meet with them, take your personally created vision with you. Also, take examples of advertising that appeals to you, whether or not it is related to dentistry. Reflect professional design, attention to detail, and exquisite quality in every form of marketing that is used to represent your practice. And remember, consistency in every respect — color, style, presentation, etc. — is paramount.