A chief marketing officer, who has led two of the country’s largest DSOs’ marketing departments, shares some marketing insights and strategies as dental practices across the country reopen and try to increase production numbers.
As we live amid coronavirus, trying to navigate through its landscape and uncharted waters, a lot of solo dental practices and dental groups are finding themselves in challenging situations. Dental offices have been forced to close, even though most are allowed to remain open to do emergency care, many team members have been furloughed and the team members lucky to remain employed had to adjust to changing how they do their job—screening patients in parking lots, not being able to give everyday care that patients still need, and all their support team members working remote.
But crises can also present marketing innovation and positive change if you just use the time to ask yourself, “What do I need to change in my marketing approach?”
Here are a few marketing tips and things to think about as we get through this unprecedented time:
- States and leading health organizations now have guidelines and requirements for reopening, make sure your marketing adheres to those standards.
- Three things across the globe from COVID are evident for marketing and advertising at this point:
- There is a massive shift towards digital platforms and online channels by all consumer demographics.
- People are scared, and this will be an enormous challenge for dental practices of all kinds to build trust and to remove high levels of anxiety as distancing measures are lifted.
- Timeline for a vaccine is likely 8-18 months, so marketing in this new environment will last awhile, and most likely leave us with big changes.
- Most CMOs and heads of marketing departments in dental (and other businesses) are wildly incompetent in digital creative and digital marketing strategies. That comes from the fact that most of us CMOs or VPs are not the ones in the trenches and actually running ads on Instagram, YouTube pre-rolls, or developing modern SEO strategies. Most still talk about dated strategies from ten years ago, like buying keywords on Google – which will get you nowhere.
For marketers who had downtime during the shutdown or still have time working remotely, learn digital advertising platforms like Instagram, etc., and, if you are marketing Human Resources, you will need to learn LinkedIn. Doing this increases your chances of hiring the right digital expert or partner and will give you a better digital marketing plan.
Now is the time to really get to know digital tools while learning how to drive appointment requests through things like Facebook or TikTok, as opposed to running things like outdoor media.
- Marketing budgets are cut, but right now is a great time to take a hundred or two-hundred bucks and learn digital and social media as you keep in touch with your patients, or try and add new patients. Learn how to update your website and Facebook page. Now that most of your practices are reopen you should be spending $5K+ per month per office on digital marketing and social media.
Spending less on digital will only hurt you, as you can expect:
- A lot of competition online, which means you’ll have to spend more to better target.
- A smaller budget will not allow you to effectively target multiple audiences which you – will need to do in the COVID landscape (e.g. ideal patients, people still work
ing, unemployed, etc.)
- You will only be able to focus on one digital channel vs multiple digital channels, again limiting your ability to reach the right people at the right time.
- You won’t be able to have multiple interactions with your audience; you will need to reach them more than once.
- Not enough budget means you won’t gain efficiencies, and as a result, you will have a higher cost per acquisition, and appointments from digital will conversely go down. This will destroy your ROI.
- During this pandemic, people of all ages have learned to be efficient and stay connected with tools like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Houseparty, etc. and you can bet tools like these will need to be part of your future marketing strategy. Teledentistry is the most common buzz-term these days. If you are already doing it, then great! But marketers will need to work with Operations and Legal to expand the use of virtual appointments and figure out how it will be used (Screenings? Orthodontic consults? Appointment confirmations? Etc.)
- If your dental practice stayed open for emergency care during COVID, you will have an easier time rebuilding trust within your community. If your practice closed and refused to do emergency care, you’ll have a BIG challenge ahead of you as it relates to community trust. 27 million people are on unemployment, and they along with others will remember dental practices that remained open for emergency care, helped them as they first interacted with Medicaid, accepted insurance, and were kind to them and their families.
Communicate that you are not only open for emergency care, but what you are doing to create a safe environment for your patients. Update your website, Facebook and Instagram pages with your practice’s infection control protocol. Email your current patients, and use SMS and social media to keep current patients and your community informed. Likely these will be similar communication tactics you will use when your office is reopening.
- Social distancing is something marketers need to plan on, and your social distance marketing should be based on what your infection control team is planning. If you don’t have an infection control team, you need to hire an infection control consultant who has a background in healthcare. That said, marketing needs to plan out the patient interactions before and after visiting an office, plus what the messaging will be in office. For example: if patients will be six feet apart, then what does seating look like? How can you send digital “handouts”/materials post visit? What signage/posters will need to be on the walls, and where (strategically) should they be placed?
- People are being bombarded with a lot of bad information about COVID, so dental practices will want to create credible handouts/materials to give to patients, family, and friends through digital communications. This again will help build trust.
- There are the social distancing items that will be needed in the office beyond posters and handouts. This includes wayfinding items to front desk acrylic-like hygiene barriers to sidewalk signs and possibly considering things like hand sanitizer stations. Offices with playgrounds and arcades will need to figure out ways to keep those areas off-limits while creating a patient flow based on Infection Control guidelines/requirements.
Finally, be patient. No one has all the answers, and we can only work with the information we have at hand and make the best decisions we can in the moment. However, we can see the marketing trends occurring across the globe and observe consumer behavior. Artificial intelligence to market to patients will certainly be part of the future, as will other marketing tactics, but great digital creative, digital marketing and social media, and supporting your community is the groundwork to successful reopening.
Marketers can build for the future while waiting out this pandemic, whether it’s a few weeks, a few months, or whether it goes away and comes back later in the year or next year. In any scenario, the way we do marketing will be different.
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 email@example.com .
Read Ryan’s other articles:
- Radical and Massive Shifts in Healthcare Marketing
- 5 Simple Ways Dental Group Marketers Can Attract More Patients
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