By Sharyn Weiss, Pride Institute Consultant/Trainer
I watch too much T.V. I know this because commercials have started to infuse my consulting advice. There are patterns or themes that advertisers use to sell their products, and I recognize that these themes can be applied to selling dentistry. There are three themes that commercials employ to motivate buyers.
You might not have been aware that your dry scalp can lead to dandruff, which will make you unpopular. So the viewer must address this terrible situation with a specially formulated shampoo that will make hair shiny and healthy. Prescriptive motivation uses fear as its engine — fear that if the problem persists, the viewer will be in particularly serious shape; fear that other people who do not have this problem will be more successful; and fear that if the problem isn’t solved right now, with this particular brand, the viewer will fail and be unhappy. Think about all the medication commercials you’ve watched. They show a person suffering, and then show the same person thriving and active. Even while the commercial is revealing all the side effects of the medicine, the viewer sees the individual happy and involved in life, belying the voiceover of bad news.
The fix-it approach is the one dentists use most often. “Mrs. Patient, you may be aware that you have a problem. This problem will not go away. In fact, it’s going to get worse. Let’s talk about the treatment plan that will take care of this.”
This approach works well if a patient agrees he or she has a problem that is both urgent and weighty enough to fix. This approach does not work so well if the patient believes that since they are asymptomatic this problem must not be real. Fear only works for a while and then you have to raise the stakes. Telling a patient that the tooth can turn into an emergency only works if the patient is afraid of emergencies. People are gamblers. They gamble that this situation will not happen to them, or if it does, it will not be as harmful as the dentist suggests. Advertisers know that fear doesn’t work for everyone, so they also employ two other themes.
I call this protective motivation. Advertisers know that people are motivated to protect themselves and their family’s well being, so these commercials highlight how the product will shield the viewer from harm. Car commercials that show how the car will alert someone to objects scooting behind the car, and insurance commercials that show how this insurance will guard against future loss, use protective motivation.
Dentists and hygienists use protective motivation when designing treatment plans that prevent further decay. “Mrs. Patient, I know how crucial having a healthy smile is for you. That’s why we’re going to have you come in every four months for your hygiene treatment.” Protective motivation assumes a patient has something about their oral health they want to protect. It assumes that health is something the patient desires. But sometimes protection is not enough of a motivational force, so advertisers use a third theme to promote their products.
Let’s call this aspirational motivation. People aspire to a lifestyle or image of themselves. Most people aspire to be more successful, youthful, and sexy. Commercials that use this powerful motivational force show the viewer how this new car or even particular cereal will make someone feel richer, be thinner, or even become a better parent.
I believe that dentists can use aspirational motivation more often and to greater success. It’s easy to sell cosmetic dentistry using a patient’s desire to look more attractive. You can even sell getting rid of old amalgams by appealing to a patient’s desire to have a mouth that is consistent with their attractive image of themselves. Everyone aspires to something, the key is knowing what motivates a particular patient.
Advertisers often combine fix-it with aspirational motivation. The viewer has a problem. Not only is this product the solution, but it will help you to feel better about yourself. This solution solves problems you didn’t even know you had! For the dentist, the message is that while the patient has a problem, the focus is on the benefits of the treatment plan. Most dentists focus on the process of getting treatment. However, aspirational motivation tells us that the focus should be on outcomes. People do not buy crowns or implants. They buy what the crown or implant will bring to their lives. Treatment presentations should highlight how this solution will help the patient to feel happy about him or herself.
Choosing which theme will work best for which patient means you have to understand your patient’s emotional and psychological point of view. Share this information with your team, and at morning huddle talk about the patients who have delayed treatment. Use your team as a focus group to decide which motivational theme you will use with each patient. If it works for leading advertisers, it can work even better for you.
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