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Most dental offices want more new patients, but they don’t know how to get them. For many offices, the big questions are, “What marketing works?” “How much should we spend on marketing?” and “How do we know which marketing to trust?”

Because the marketing process can be confusing, and because most offices do marketing as an afterthought due to the fact that they must address more urgent tasks (such as running a business and treating patients), one of three things will likely happen:

1. There will be so much confusion that the dental team won’t be able to arrive at a decision, so they will do nothing.

2. Marketing money will be put into one “bucket” with the hope that one marketing approach will be the magic solution to acquire new patients, but then not enough marketing money will be left to spend anywhere else.

3. Marketing funds will be spread between too many different marketing options, leaving them too thin to make an impact in any single area.

How do patients decide to schedule an appointment at a dental office? For new patients to come to you, they must hear about your office in some way—a referral, postcard, or seeing you in the community. Most people don’t respond immediately to the first introduction to your office. Consumers, including prospective dental patients, must see something about a business between three and five times before they respond. At that point, prospective patients will likely get online to search for information about you, your office, and your patients’ experiences.

If they’re satisfied with what they read, they’ll visit your website to make sure you are real, and to learn more about your practice and the services you offer. Now they’re ready to make a final decision about whether they’re going to schedule an appointment with your office.

How will your marketing dollars have the biggest impact? Simple—diversify.

This means doing enough in each of the correct areas to reach your new patient goal. There are three things that must happen: (1) you must have internal cheerleaders talking about your practice; (2) you must have external advertising to learn about your practice; and (3) you must have prospective new patients calling your practice.

  1. Internal cheerleaders

No one knows your practice better than your existing patients and team members, and they are key to spreading the word about your practice. Ask them to refer their family and friends, and to post a review about an exceptional customer service experience they had in your office. It matters less what you ask them to do and more that you ask them to do it! Invest in well-placed marketing material around the office that asks patients to review the practice. Create and hand out Care to Share cards that patients can share with their family, friends, and colleagues. Play games to encourage your staff to talk to patients about referrals. Be creative in order to create a culture of communication and referrals.

  1. External advertising

Now that you have great reviews and referrals pouring in, market to the community at large and introduce your office to anyone who doesn’t know about you. Word of mouth and reviews alone will not get you the new patient numbers that you want. Decide how to best use external marketing methods for your office. Remember, it takes the average person three to five exposures to finally respond to an advertisement, so find ways to stay in front of the public regularly that are within your budget.

Consider this scenario: you have the choice between advertising in a local magazine or in a high-end magazine for the entire metro area. You can afford to place an ad in the local magazine every month, or in the metro magazine twice a year. Which is more effective? In this case, it’s better to advertise regularly in the local magazine. The best return on your investment is when people repetitively see or hear about your office so that when they’re ready to find a new dentist, you’re in the forefront of their minds.

  1. Sealing the deal with your website

Once people are ready to look for a dentist and they’re aware of your office through advertising and reviews, you can seal the deal by having a detailed, informative, well-designed, and customer service-focused website. The website should not be their first exposure to you, but it should give them comfort that they’re making the right decision, and it should have a call to action so they can schedule an appointment.

The patient decision process parallels any buyer’s decision cycle. First, some people decide there is a need or desire, they find a potential company, read the reviews, and visit the website to decide if they want to do business. If the website is effective, they make the call.

As you navigate your marketing budget and decisions, apply your available dollars to these three buckets: internal cheerleaders, external advertising, and sealing the deal with your website.

When all of these pieces of your marketing plan are solidly in place and working well together, new patients will find you and make that all-important call.