A marketing executive who spent five years at one of the largest dental support organizations (DSOs), shares some insights about marketing to patients in the modern digital age.
Let’s face it, marketing hasn’t just changed. It’s seen a radical, massive shift. Technologies, from Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, to mobile messaging and live content, have reshaped how people connect, shop and make decisions as both consumers and patients. The amount and rate of change has more and more CEOs and board rooms concerned with the ability of the marketing organization and CMOs to keep pace.
This creates both incredible opportunity and pressure for CMOs. So where is marketing and the patient experience headed?
First, let’s take a look at marketing and how it worked in the past. Go all the way back to when radio used to be the dominant advertising vehicle. Advertisers paid large sums to have their commercial played in-between songs or have their services endorsed by the DJ. Television came along and consumers tuned in, so national advertisers quickly switched to television advertising to reach a larger audience. Jump ahead a few years to the internet, and consumers started to spend more time online than they did watching TV. New marketing tactics, such as search engine marketing, became the focus.
The internet, as we know it, is a little over 20 years old. It’s impacted behaviors. People used to connect via dial-up, and wait hours to download songs, or ten minutes for pages to upload, so they could read about products and services. Today, smartphones give people information instantly in the palm of their hands, giving advertisers a direct connection to the consumer. Social media is roughly 10 years old and has changed how people stay informed, get their news, and find products/services.
The main point here is the marketing landscape is always changing, but now the change is more rapid than ever.
Though the marketing landscape has changed, the main barriers to dental have not, and likely will remain the same for the foreseeable future. Barriers such as cost and fear of the dentist, or fear of pain. So what can you do to better reach your ideal patients, enhance the patient experience and overcome these barriers?
Invest in Predictive Data Modeling
Data is key. It has been for years, but identifying the right data to model, predict, and improve performance across all touch points is one of the toughest challenges facing CMOs and marketers today. You have to figure out what is the right data to believe. The future is most likely data models built with Artificial Intelligence that help you find the correct data by taking out the human guessing and assumptions in analytics we see today.
A good AI data modeler will use your current data, such as patient demographics, geography and average spend, to build algorithms to create a persona specific to the type of patients you want. Sounds familiar? Most likely yes, as we’ve heard this for years in marketing, but where AI is different is that it can find what social platforms people visit, what they share, topics they talk about, etc and create a persona based on that information, which tells marketers where to target and what messages to use.
Take it a step further and you can minimize retention issues, as AI will look at things that cause patients to leave a practice, and pull in other elements like financial issues, economic issues, moving to a new area, etc. For example, AI data modeling tests have shown that when taxes go up, certain business will lose 5% of their customers. Now we know the actual reason why they leave with no human guessing. Marketers can then build the right creative, and choose the right media vehicles to reach them.
Realize the patient journey/decision making is now constantly fluid
In today’s digital age, days of linear conversion paths and funnels are long gone. DSOs and dental group practices need to stop seeing the path to conversion as a journey. Patients are moving outside of the marketing funnel by changing the way they research, interact and buy healthcare products and services. Most dental group practices look in their Google Analytics and at their reports, and they see these scattered, random patterns that look costly to serve. This leads to marketers looking to goal conversions and metrics like cost-per-acquisition. These are great ways to see if you are getting value for your spend, but you are likely missing out on potential patients because the journey is now much more fluid.
The traditional paradigm has shifted and is continuously evolving. Patients have phones in their hands and can look up anything within a matter of seconds – everything from reviews, to services offered, insurances accepted, compare your practice to nearby practices, etc. Patients are in an omni-channel seamless shopping experience – inside the dental office, online, via their phones, social groups and more. One example of this is how Facebook is enabling it’s users to communicate with brands on the platform via Facebook Messenger. This change will have not gone unnoticed by the patient, who will expect the same level of customer service through this as they would if they used traditional methods (such as telephone and email). Practices already well-established on Facebook will need to embrace this change and alter their customer service methods to accommodate it, as opting not to do it isn’t just opting out of this new feature, it’s opting out of meeting certain patient needs.
Continue to tell your Brand Story but modifying your message and marketing vehicle based on what data tells you is the key
Sure we still need to tell the brand story and make the emotional connection with the patient. The big change will be AI. After searching the web, AI will be able to tell marketers where people are, what they need, the media they interact with, and the messages that patients respond to. The data reported back to us will now occur in minutes, and marketers can adjust their messages on the spot, and serve up the part of their brand story and new message to target the potential patient in minutes.
This technology will figure out where to tell the story – using predictive modeling with little to no human error. So we can expect less focus on vanity marketing metrics like clicks, as operational metrics become secondary with data from the marketplace/consumer/patient, and how we can react and redirect is what is most helpful now.
And yes, return on investment will still be a key metric you’ll need to report back to the CEO.
Patient experience is what it is all about – less friction for the patient the better
Take a look at a company like Amazon. They use the data they learn about you to recommend other products you are likely to be interested in so you can buy the product with one click. This reduces the friction for the customer. In healthcare, the patient experience online is moving in that Amazon direction. If your website has ‘request an appointment’ vs ‘book an appointment’ you will start to see that you have too much friction for the future patient. The patient has to wait for you to call to book their appointment. The office with online booking has the patient on their schedule instantly. Take it a step further. Today’s consumer want to know things instantly as they have a smart phone in their hands. In healthcare, they want to know not only that you take their insurance, but also the rough cost of the service. Voice-search strings show that patients are looking for this information and are using it to shop for healthcare. Once the voice-search finds the results, patients will want to book the appointment at that time so that they can move onto their next task.
Emphasize that the brand matters – the storytelling & emotional aspects
Too often, marketing leaders in healthcare are losing sight of the brand in meetings, as we are deferring to other people in the organization on what the brand means. Stop it. If you are good marketer, leverage the data and your talent to tell the story.
Be really clear in the story you are telling and what you want patients to know about your story. In today’s world, if you are lucky, you have a few seconds to get a new patient’s attention, so make it count.
Marketing is changing at the fastest pace in its history, and as the big companies compete in the AI arms race, dental and healthcare needs to realize this rapid change is going to impact their marketing. The dental and medical marketers that adapt with the landscape are going to better their chances at acquiring new patients and retaining current patients.
Ryan Torresan is a former 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.