5 Simple Ways Dental Group Marketers Can Attract More Patients

A chief marketing officer, who has led two of the country’s largest DSOs’ marketing departments, shares some insights about marketing to patients in the modern digital age.


Over the past several years, patient experience has undergone significant changes. Patients (consumers) now expect real-time, context-driven personalized responsiveness from brands throughout the entire interaction. If they don’t get it, they are quick to tell you and thousands of others through social media within a matter of minutes. In healthcare and dental, this means reaching the patient before they come to the office, at the office, and outside the office. It’s the same whether you are a DSO with 5 offices, 150 offices with the same brand name, or 300 offices with multiple brand names.

To provide this type of personalization, marketers must move beyond a demographically focused, impersonal communication process with the patient in favor of engagement, making marketing decisions based on metrics that truly matter (not vanity metrics, more on those later), and getting the most out of their marketing dollar.

In today’s world, we are all busy, people are on their phones all the time. Look around next time you go out to eat, you’ll see more people on the phone verse interacting with the person they are with. Phones give people easy access to lots of options at their fingertips and they are quick to search their options. The average consumer encounters 3,000 commercial messages per day (sounds like a lot but think about the radio ads you hear in car, mobile ads, retargeting ads on the web, promotional ads you walk past in stores, etc you encounter daily) with most of them being ignored. As marketers, you only have a few seconds (if you are lucky) to grab the target audience attention and get them to remember your company. So marketers have to be really clear about what we want the patients to know about our dental group.

So what’s the key to reaching the patient?

Here are 5 things you can do to better your chances at reaching the patient:

1.) Do your research

Start by looking at your competition and see what they are doing in terms of the audience they are targeting, messaging, offers, etc. Build a matrix to compare all your competition, this will give you one view of what they all are saying. By doing this you’ll get a clear picture of where your opportunity is for each field on your matrix, if everyone else is saying the same thing then you have an opportunity to differentiate your brand by saying it differently.

Next, do research on your current and potential patients, but you can’t just go out and ask them what they want in their next dental visit or what’s the next big thing they want at the office. If you do that, they will tell you useless information like, “I want to pay less,” of course they do. We all want to pay less for products and services we engage. There’s a great quote by Henry Ford, he said, ‘If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me ‘A faster horse’’.

The point is this, you need information that you can act on and you do that by figuring out current and potential patients needs and pain points through things like surveys (with true research methodology that gets true learnings from the patient), focus groups, research study, etc. If you do the research right and design the survey with a true methodology, you’ll likely find valuable insights that you can act on like ‘haven’t been to dentist because making dental appointment was too big of hassle (e.g. no one called me back)’, ‘too busy to go to dentist’, ‘no appointment soon enough’, ‘didn’t offer live chat online’, etc.

Maybe you don’t have the budget to do a full-blown research study. That’s ok, you can always look at third party research from a reputable source in the industry that can give you general insights. This data is not as impactful as your own patient/potential patient research, but it is still extremely helpful and can guide your marketing and strategy in the right direction.

Bottom line, if you have research you will better your chances at building a more effective marketing plan, communications, and strategy that can move the needle.

2.) Master the message

This sounds a lot easier than it really is. Look at your core messaging, then look at the messaging of your competition. I bet you will find a lot of practice(s) saying the same thing….“I want to help give you a great smile”, “We pride ourselves in providing the most personalized and compassionate care to our patients”, “We welcome patients of all ages”, “We accept all insurances”, etc. Here’s the problem. These are things the patient already knows or assumes about your group and none of it differentiates you from your competition.

It’s not about making your practice the hero, the patient should be the hero in your messaging. It’s not about fooling people, and it’s not about convincing people that they want something they don’t. People figure out what we want when they see something that resonates with them and is different from other options.

How do you differentiate your brand in your message? Think of your message as a story, but it is not about telling your story. It’s about inviting patients into your story where they are the hero and you are now able to engage them. Your group is there to guide them successfully through their challenges. Think of it this way, your brand is the Genie to guide Aladdin (your patient) to reach his/her goals.

Said another way, build your messaging in the following way: the hero has a problem, meets a guide who gives a vision of better life, call to action, failure is not an option, lead hero to success. After you lay out the story, refine your message to keep it simple. For each step in the messaging process, keep it simple. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. When you get it there, simplify it even more.

So if you take a dental message like, “The power of Invisalign for teens who want a better smile” and follow the process above, you create a message like, “We help teens take better pictures.” Which one resonates more within 3 seconds? Which one separates you from the competition?

3.) Be consistent regardless of the touchpoint

As marketers, this is one of our biggest challenges. After you’ve worked tirelessly for months to come up with a great benefit position messaging aided by research findings, awesome original look and feel, and testing the best marketing vehicles to deliver your campaign, someone in your organization will give you their thoughts on how it should be changed or said differently. They have thoughts and logic on photos for the creative, color changes and phrases. And at some point, they will utter something like, “I know this will work.” So against your better judgment (after all, you want to make your peer happy), you go with their great idea on the next campaign. A couple of weeks later you are reviewing the numbers and they are horrible and now you have to justify why you spent $50,000 on a campaign that looks nothing like the brand and performed poorly.

Welcome to the club! All marketers have made this mistake at some point. The trick is to not make the mistake again (repeatedly) and here’s how.

If you built your core messaging and brand right (hopefully with research and testing to back it up, with buy-in from key stakeholders in your organization) you should be confident that the messaging and brand resonates with the audience. After all, does McDonald’s change the golden arches to pink because an employee at store #258 thinks pink resonates more with women? No, because the brand matters!

Marketing is the keeper of the brand and a key responsibility for marketing is to protect the brand. After the research and testing phase, you should build a core messaging document and pull from that each and every time you are designing/writing creative. Those core messages and themes should be woven into all touchpoints (digital, email, social, events, print, signage, etc.) so when a patient engages with your marketing, they get a clear and consistent message quickly. Note, If your message is not clearer than the few seconds you have to reach your patient, you will have lost the opportunity.

Each time a piece of creative or campaign is being proofed, check it against the core messaging document.

As for people in your organization who give you their opinion on marketing, I taught my team to provide customer service and listen. Most people have an opinion on marketing, so part of our job is to listen (notice I said listen, not go and do it) but as the expert, we have to decide if it is something we should pursue or not. If it’s something you can execute that will drive positive Return on Investment (ROI), can fit within the brand and something your team can execute effectively than test it. If it tests well then expand the test. Otherwise, simply file the feedback in the trash bin and move on to marketing you can track.

4.) Stop focusing on vanity metrics, focus on impact metrics

Ask most marketers today and they will likely tell you their number one priority for their media plan is to maximize overall campaign reach, online impressions, views, etc. These are “vanity metrics” which pretty much have no impact on our business and I find useless. I’m sure many of you have gotten burned by a vendor that promised a lot of online business to have them show you a report a couple of months later with tons of impressions but no new patients (or they can’t prove they drove the new patients). To understand the relevance of our marketing, as well as the reach we generate, we need to start looking at the impact we have on patients’ behaviors and actions. It ultimately boils down to measuring office-level “sales” data (e.g. booked an appointment, increase in services purchased, more healthcare products sold, etc.).

We live in a digital age and the great thing about digital is you can track the impact. If you set it up right, with tracking pixels to the point of online appointment request/booking on your website, you can easily calculate ROI.

Sure, there are other tracking methods like unique phone numbers and promo codes that exist for both online and offline media which can show you if the appointment was booked or if the product was sold. Lead forms/iPad sign up at community events allows you to track patients who requested an appointment. The key is they are metrics that impact the office in terms of revenue, and as a marketer, you can calculate cost per acquisition (CPA) and ROI to see if your marketing is effective.

Other vehicles are trickier to track, like billboards. Sure, you will know how many people drive down the highway, but that metric tells nothing in terms of impact. You can put a tracking phone number on the billboard, but who really drives down the highway and writes down phone numbers? Non-trackable marketing items serve a purpose and certainly could be a smaller part of your marketing mix. If you deploy these marketing vehicles, it’s best to be transparent and educate the board/your boss that you cannot truly track performance or justify the impact, the best you can do is provide a vanity metric.

5.) Measure the effectiveness. Collect the right data, analyze it

With the right data collected and analyzed, marketers can leverage these deeper insights and make real-time improvements to a campaign. Tying together viewing behavior and purchase behavior effectively can improve your return on advertising spend (ROAS).

Let’s take a look at an example, for the same spend. Would you rather have 8 million impressions with 200,000 clicks that generated 10 appointment requests? Or 1 million impressions with 100,000 clicks that generated 40 appointment requests?

Every time you’ll take the 40 appointment request because it drives revenue, vanity metrics don’t have much impact on revenue. More times than not your boss will be interested in your ability to impact revenue not increase vanity metrics. Great marketers truly understand this concept.

To summarize, it is no longer sufficient to have big media budgets. It is much more important to have the right marketing message and strategy in place to understand and engage with your target consumer/patient. We must understand that patients must come first in our marketing strategies, and if we truly understand their needs, we’ll be able to reach and impact them with relevant and influential content that will spread further through word of mouth and social media, resulting in an even greater impact to revenue and profit.

Written by Ryan Torresan. Ryan is currently CMO at Benevis Dental Practice Management Services. Prior to Benevis, he was a dental marketing executive who steered a very successful career to reach the executive level at one of the largest dental support organizations (DSOs) in the US. During his 5 year tenure at Great Expressions Dental Centers (GEDC), he earned promotions and awards after tremendous success in digital marketing, traditional marketing, content strategy, social media, event marketing, office design, brand positioning and public relations. He played a crucial role on the executive team that sold the company to a private equity firm while generating five years of positive ROI in marketing. Ryan can be reached at rtorresan@benevis.com.

Read Ryan’s other article – Radical and Massive Shifts in Healthcare Marketing


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