Th Weinsteinsherry

Neither Hypnosis nor Hype : Rethinking Practice Marketing

April 1, 2005
Three cheers for the end of gender discrimination in dentistry. Well, not quite the end, but pretty close. Although bigotry still rears its ugly head every now and then, I think it’s safe to say that women dentists today can really rule!.

Marketing the woman dentist - vive la difference!

Three cheers for the end of gender discrimination in dentistry. Well, not quite the end, but pretty close. Although bigotry still rears its ugly head every now and then, I think it’s safe to say that women dentists today can really rule! And that means being able to let go of the angst that comes from trying too hard to prove that you’re every bit as good, smart, talented, skilled, or technologically savvy as your male counterparts. Having established this hard-won independence and autonomy, legions of women dentists have actually achieved a preferred status among patients and prospects who would rather go to a woman dentist.

Getting past the notion that marketing is for new patients only

Contrary to popular belief, practice marketing means far more than bringing in new patients. Good marketing can significantly improve retention rates, help create lifetime patients, and boost treatment acceptance through a continuous, quiet process of building profound trust in you and your practice. No hypnosis or hype is necessary. Without any arm-twisting whatsoever, it also fosters excellent secondary and tertiary referrals from very satisfied patients. And it can go a long way in shaping your patient base into your ideal patient mix. When it comes to making your practice as productive and gratifying as it can be, good marketing is second only to good dentistry.

All checks, no balances? What to do when marketing efforts don't add up

Just to set the record straight, being an effective marketer should not have to mean being a big spender. The simple truth is that some of the most effective marketing tools cost next to nothing. So if you’ve written one too many checks to some marketing guru who appears to be a master of illusion … and the rewards don’t appear to be adding up ... you may want to try some of the virtually free marketing ideas in this article.

Practice identity and your ideal patient mix

Practice identity, in its broadest sense, is much more than the reflection of your practice by some combination of logo, letterhead, marketing materials, office décor, and signage. In real world terms, practice identity has as much to do with your persona as it does your professional image.

According to current statistics, there are plenty of patients to go around. Appealing to those patients who are on your wavelength, therefore, is not only good for you, but beneficial to your patients as well. Whether you’re looking to attract those who share your interests, hobbies, talents, skills, political or religious affiliation, or commitment to family or community, just put the information out there, and in time, your model patient base will begin to take shape. Let’s say that you really enjoy being with young parents and their children. You might want to make a presentation to a Lamaze class about nursing bottle syndrome, or offer office tours to preschool groups and send each student home with a dental care kit or gift certificate for a free consultation. Believe me, Doctor, this is not some flight of fancy. This is practice marketing at its best! By providing some subliminal promise of suitability between patient and practice, and by deliberately shaping your practice identity to invite your ideal patient to the patient mix, you are bringing about an important turning point in both your practice and your life. Where serendipity leaves off, tenacity needs to start up.

Quantifying the costs of undereducated patients

Consider the lost opportunity and thousands of dollars in lost revenue from treatment plans that are rejected or reluctantly pursued. When patients don’t fully understand the necessity for treatment, they’re typically not willing to pay for it. As the patient becomes better educated about the quality of care, the gap between insurance benefits and what’s available in dentistry today narrows, thus many patients become more receptive to greater out-of-pocket costs.

Willingness to pay a higher price for dental care is also a function of patients’ needs being identified and satisfied in ways that meet or even exceed their expectations. With that in mind, imagine the impact of a patient receiving a magazine article sent by you, along with a brief note telling her why you thought of her when you read it. This is a marketing gesture that’s sure to earn you some bonus points and rank right up there with the best on the patient-education scoreboard.

Marketing to the most overlooked market segment: established patients

Rather than always prospecting for new patients, make your top priority keeping your patients … and keeping them happy. Once a patient feels well-cared-for and has ultimate trust in her doctor, that willingness I spoke of earlier - to pay a higher price for dental services or pay for noncovered procedures - comes into play. Furthermore, the bonus is new-patient referrals that you don’t have to solicit. Happy, satisfied patients refer new patients who - because they’ve heard such sterling endorsements about you - are very likely to become happy, satisfied patients themselves. They will, in turn, refer even more patients your way. And so it goes, ad infinitum.

Relationship-building via practice marketing

A single common thread winds its way through these marketing ideas, and that is relationship-building. It will serve you better than any other marketing strategy, because there’s simply a higher degree of satisfaction among patients who have a good relationship with their doctor. That means the patients are more pleasant to be with, more inclined to accept your treatment recommendations, happier to pay, and better at making your practice the practice you want.

Remember, patients don’t really care how much you know until you show them how much you care. Fortunately for the woman dentist, that’s second nature. So seize the moment!

So, how does one “market” to patients-of-record? That’s easy. Recognition and thoughtfulness are always well-received. Here are a few top scorers ...

• Send completion-of-treatment letters.

• Send cards to congratulate patients on important events - milestone birthdays, anniversaries, job promotions, weddings, births, and graduations.

• Reward patient loyalty by presenting a coffee mug (or a 10-pack of Post-it pads) printed with your practice logo and “We Like You” to patients when they’ve been with the practice for a specified number of years.

• Call not only postop patients, but those who were fearful during treatment or those who have a new smile.

• Have hygienists call patients who received anything more extensive than a prophy.

• Have the front desk telephone patients if you’re running late so they can plan accordingly.

• Buy a subscription to a theatre company, symphony, opera, or season tickets to a sporting event. Hold ticket drawings for patients who have completed a smile makeover that month.

• Send movie passes and personal thank you notes to patients when they refer new patients to your office.

• Post info on your bulletin board about CE courses that you attend. Patients like to see that.

• Write personal notes on your patient’s chart that you can ask about at the next visit.

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Sherry Weinstein, MA
Ms. Weinstein is president of Communication Finesse, a dental practice marketing communications firm specializing in practice brochures, ads, and identity packages. She can be reached at (623) 214-5008 or [email protected].