Dental Marketing Editorial: Practice Marketing Through the Down Times

Practice Marketing Through the Down Times

Special Marketing Feature by Chris Barnard

The economy is bad, new patient flow has decreased, and elective treatment plans have dried up. This means we should all abandon our marketing efforts and hunker down until the sun shines again, right?

Dental marketing consultantWrong! Now is the time to increase your marketing exposure — not the other way around. While you may think your marketing budget is a discretionary item, it is more important than ever to promote your practice message during the down times.

One of the biggest mistakes we see is doctors pulling out of marketing campaigns too soon — before they give them enough time to provide an adequate ROI. (Search engine rankings don’t change overnight, folks!) However, due to the current economic situation, I thought it apropos to discuss the need to continue (and even increase) your marketing exposure during the bad times — in other words, during the current downswing.

Many practices we work with are actually noticing a significant increase in new business and new patient acquisition because their competitors are subscribing to the “hunker down” approach. You see, the competition has eliminated or reduced their marketing exposure, and now they are hiding under a rock waiting for the tide to rise. What a prime time to capitalize on that additional market exposure – probably at a reduced cost!

Spend less, get more — what else do you want?!?

Practices that succeed and even thrive throughout the down times have a few things in common. First of all, they are smart and creative. Remember, increasing your market exposure doesn’t necessarily entail additional expense. Here are some common ways to keep your marketing message loud and clear while the sky is falling:

  1. Stay in touch with your existing patient base.
    Here’s a simple axiom: it costs more to obtain new patients than it does to retain your existing clientele. Make them feel like a valuable part of your practice! After all, they are essential to your success.
    How?
    Call them, send them handwritten notes, or email them. Tell them about new promotional offers, industry breakthroughs, community service you’ve provided, or anything else that might be of interest to your patients. And for goodness sake, take two minutes every month to make sure your entire patient base is receiving your monthly dental practice newsletter! The point is: stay in touch!
  2. Start a patient referral program.
    Enlist your existing patients in your practice success. Actively seek those all-important word of mouth referrals from your patients.
    How?
    Internal dental marketing using a quarterly communication letter provides a convenient way to distribute your practice message to family and friends. Even a little note is greatly appreciated. You can also consider going outside your practice for referrals: hair salons, day spas, chiropractors… you name it! And remember to reward the referrer. That might be with a $10 gas card, a gift certificate to your favorite restaurant, or entry into an iPod raffle. This helps establish connection with your patients, letting them know who you are beyond that white lab coat!
  3. This naturally brings us to a little self promotion… Network!
    This one may call for some creativity, but you didn’t make it through dental school on smarts alone, did you??
    How?
    What we mean by networking is taking the time to solidify those relationships you have already cultivated in the past. How are your study groups going? How many associations do you belong to? Are any of these memberships providing you with a referral pipeline of new patients? They should be. Sure, professional associations are for your enrichment, but you should be looking to capitalize on every opportunity you have to showcase your practice.

    • Maybe you develop a cross-referral program with the MD’s office down the hall.
    • Maybe you start attending some of those Chamber of Commerce meetings.
    • Maybe your kids are in high school and you decide on becoming a sports booster. You might set up the entire team with mouthguards — for free. Surely some of those kids will at least need an exam, cleaning, and x-ray. Surely some will need additional dental work. Surely some kids are part of a larger family unit as well. Surely their family members also have teeth.

    Get the point? Get creative, improvise, adapt, and overcome.

The sun will shine again, and the hay will be made. In the meantime, take some responsibility and audit, adjust, edit, increase, or refine your message. Just don’t abandon your marketing plan to save a small amount of money now that could very well be the equity needed to realize significant dividends in the future — in good or bad times.

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