3 Survival Keys For The New Dental Economy


Key 1 — Know your patients  You may not be aware, but today dentists are in fierce competition for patients’ attention and money. This competition is not necessarily amongst themselves, but with much more savvy opponents with multi-million dollar advertising budgets, and quite frankly, much sexier products.

Today’s dental patients are overloaded and distracted by choices. They are drowning in You-Tube, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. There are 400 cable or satellite channels, 41 varieties of Tide, and 306,554 phone apps from which to choose. Every decision forces people to make choices, and with each choice comes stress. Your dental patients are being bombarded at a rate of 5,000 marketing messages per day, and their attention spans are shrinking at a rate inverse to the growing number of distractions.

As you can imagine, grabbing patients’ attention long enough to share your motivating story about how you can help them is a daunting task. What is the secret of enlightenment? You have to know them before they show up. Marketing professionals call this target marketing.

Take a moment and ask yourself, what does my perfect patient look like? What gender are they? How old are they? Where do they live? What do they read? What type of care do they need? What makes them laugh? What makes them cry?

Now look at your current patient list. Who are they?

Marketing expert Dan Kennedy says, “If you want to catch a fish, use a worm. If you want to catch a mouse, use cheese. Worms will not attract mice and cheese will not attract fish.” If you are attracting patients who have no money or are severely price sensitive, whose fault is it? Who is setting the bait?

Key 2 — Know your true product or services  As dentists, we’re taught how to provide many intricate products and services. Most dentists offer extractions, fillings, crowns, and cleanings. Many dentists have expanded their services to include dentures, partials, implants, braces, TMD appliances, sleep apnea appliances, cosmetic crowns, and veneers. With all of this on our shelves, we cannot figure out why our patients are not knocking down our doors and demanding all of this, and in the new economy it will be worse.

To better explain — of the 60-odd million cordless drills sold last year, not one was sold to a consumer who wanted the perfect drill. Rather, they were looking for the perfect hole. Your patients do not want cosmetic crowns, implants, or fillings. They want self-confidence, comfort, and security from future catastrophes.

While on a consulting call with a fellow dentist, he mentioned, “The days of full mouth reconstruction or quadrant dentistry are coming to an end.” When I asked him why he would say that, he answered, “Just by what I hear from the news and what I am seeing in my office.”

Previously in our conversation he had told me that he, his wife, and another couple had gone to a reputable upscale restaurant and had a wonderful experience. Knowing the restaurant and my friend, I was sure he dropped at least $100 a person. I asked him if the restaurant was empty. He chuckled and said, “Heck no, we had a 30-minute wait just to get in.”

Point made. A restaurant in the very town he was convinced was full of folks who could not afford his best dentistry was packed and doing the same thing he was doing — standing in line for 30 minutes just to pay $100 a person. People get what they want, not what they need.

Our job as dentists is to find out what our patients want and use what we have to help them get it.

Key 3 — Know how to get your message out  This is the trickiest of the three keys. If you think your illustrious service and affable personality will attract busloads of patients, you might also still believe in the tooth fairy.

Dan Kennedy is famous for his “triple M” — message, marketing, media match. If you know the message that will motivate your target, then you will need to create marketing campaigns that deliver that message in the right media. If your target is a 55-year-old empty nest female, the marketing campaign will be much different than for that of a 30-year-old mother of three. If you are advertising full mouth cosmetic reconstruction in the penny guide, you will not have much luck.

The task of getting your message out is a deep subject I don’t intend to exhaust here, just reinforce the fact that reaping high performance with marketing resources demands a deep understanding of direct response marketing, and a diligent tracking system to validate the investment. It would be a wise move to seek the advice of someone who understands this industry.

Approaching the business of dentistry with a 20th century model is a formula for failure. Those who will thrive in the new dental economy will need to master these three keys.

By Kelly Brown, DDS