Marketing in today's dental landscape: How do you measure success? (Part 1)

15 October 2019

At the Australian Dental Congress in May, the marketing and branding presentation by practice growth specialist Angus Pryor offered some tough points about the reality of operating a dental business in today’s marketplace.

For some attendees, what was stated in the Branding Your Practice to Really Stand Out session was, Pryor describes as, "A bitter pill to swallow." He insists what he said was not intended to shock, but rather is the hard truth of operating a dental practice in the present-day landscape.

"I made the statement that success in business has got a lot more to do with how effectively a practice markets itself than it does on the dental skills of its practitioners," he says. "I can imagine hearing comments like that can be seriously demoralising for many dentists because they’ve worked so hard to develop their skills.

"But for the most part, and this is always the tough message to get across, your brilliant skills are not the only determinant of practice success. If you’re not getting people through the door, people won’t know how good your skills are."

In his consulting work, Pryor advises dentists on the importance of implementing marketing strategies and effective tactics to grow a practice. Another point he made at Congress was about the current state of an increasingly competitive dental market. He claimed the number of dentists in Australian has grown by 18 per cent in the past five years, and yet, the population has only grown by 7 per cent.

"What that means in 2019 is there’s a full spectrum of the way dentists are running their businesses," he says. "Also, the need for everyone to closely consider their ways of marketing is as strong as I believe it’s ever been."

The playing field
In present times, effective marketing efforts might include Google Adwords, eNewsletters, paid Facebook and Instagram advertising, direct mail, practice websites, radio advertising, native content and information sessions. Then there’s the traditional power of word-of-mouth referrals. A report in July’s Oral Health journal revealed while 81 per cent of patients claim they look for a new dentist through word-of-mouth leads, 41 per cent also search online.

Most of these strategies were also discussed at Congress by Brett Miller in his Building and Marketing an Effective Brand session. He says before a practice adopts any new marketing strategy, they need to understand best practices, to learn what else is on offer and if a similar or vastly different approach should be adopted.

"Knowing exactly what is happening around you is integral in helping practices make an informed determination," Mr Miller says. "This should involve mapping the other dental clinics within the local area, understanding the extent of what they do and how they are similar. It’s also about understanding points of difference, as well as population demographics, the ratio of residents to dentists, age distribution and associated behaviours."

The unique selling proposition
If there’s one thing marketers agree on about securing efficient marketing, it’s understanding the unique selling proposition (USP) of a practice, to gain an awareness of what distinguishes a business against its competitors. Being clear on the USP also allows for a more comprehensive approach to marketing.

"Before you can understand what’s unique about you, gain a thorough understanding of what your competitors are doing – then you have a benchmark to compare yourself against," Caroline Ucherek of CJU Medical Marketing says "It might only be then you realise offering a 24 hour emergency service is your USP, when you had assumed many others did the same. It might also be one of your team has done a number of research papers on certain conditions and that is something pretty unique to shout about."

Putting a plan in place
Carolyn Dean of My Dental Marketing tells of a common problem she encounters when working with dental practice clients who want to boost business.

"A lot of practices will talk about taking out ads with a range of offers, but have no idea what the long-term goal is," she says. "Before you pay a cent on a new campaign, consider what outcomes you want. It might be attracting five new patients a month or adding $25,000 in profits per year. Then you have something to aim for, but also something to measure your success against."

The same point is made by Emily Nadelman of the Enandco agency, who insists having a target is essential before deciding on a new website design or putting new content on Facebook.

"Often dentists will need a mix of communications that expands their brand awareness and drives enquiries too," she says. "Whatever direction you take, always have your target market in mind and be clear on what it is you want to achieve. That way, you will be able to tell along the way if you are getting there as you can measure the success of your activities. Or possibly, see it is not working and if it needs refinement."

Value for money
An important measure to start with in marketing is the spend, and this is where it can get confusing. Ask a range of consultants about budgetary rules when rolling out a marketing campaign, and get ready for a wide range of opinions and equations.

Some claim one per cent of the annual turnover should be spent on marketing, while others claim the figure should be closer to 10 or even 15 per cent. There are other equations, like for every $1 spent on marketing, it should return $3 in revenue, or even $10 to make it worthwhile.

Brett Miller believes such hard-and-fast rules about something with so many variables are best ignored. "Putting
on those kind of figures is a gross oversimplification to think a one‑size‑fits‑all approach works," he says. "Marketing spend depends on the local competitive environment, the practice’s own strategy as well as growth appetite and industry trends. For instance, it’s logical a regional dental practice with little competition close by spends far less compared to a metropolitan dental practice surrounded by lots of competitors."

Angus Pryor adds that marketing spend usually depends on the life cycle of the practice. "A business in the start-up phase will want to make sure the market knows they are open, and so are willing to spend," he says. "Over time, as you become more established, people usually move into a maintenance approach where they just top up their efforts, like with occasional Facebook content."

Marketing in today's dental landscape: How do you measure success? continues tomorrow; for the full article, go to News Bulletin Online