Practice Management

Disturbing Trends in the Evolution of Dental Advertising

By

Ron Weintraub

on

February 23, 2013

February 23, 2013

“What does our practice offer potential patients that we can deliver confidently for their benefit?” The answer to that question requires a degree of introspection because it identifies the core of who we are, or THE BRAND. Notwithstanding the quasi commercial connotation that the word brand conjures up, THE BRAND should be at the centre of all conventional and electronic marketing/advertising initiatives.

As a group, we are committed to the success of individual dental practices in Ontario, but we are concerned with some advertising efforts to draw attention to particular offices. As part of our mandate, we aim to generate a positive patient demand for professional dental services and to promote the value of dental health to the general public. Our goal is to extend this general concept and to promote the availability of treatments at the particular office that is promoting itself.

Tasteful Advertising (not an oxymoron)!Quality advertising can ennoble the profession,  and, by extension, elevate the public’s perception of individual offices. Conversely, excessively commercial campaigns can have the opposite effect. Unfortunately, subjectively speaking, less than tasteful examples of promoting abound:

1. “Daily deal” websites, for example those promoted on social sites such as Groupon and Living Social probably attract those interested more in “discount” rather than in quality dentistry and result in a practice being branded unjustly as one of “quantity” rather than “quality.”

2. Some dentists offer deep discounts and/or promotions in order to attract a large number of random patients. This strategy rarely grows a sustainable patient base.

3. The visual exposure to the dental office (called “site advertising”) can negatively contribute to our image by negating a message of quality and personal care. Streaming messages regarding “specials” for new patients (free laser whitening, for example) can have a deleterious effect and suggest a beauty salon rather than a professional health environment.

Effective Marketing/Advertising ToolsThe fundamental purpose of advertising is to draw the attention of potential patients seeking a facility to entrust with their family’s dental health care. The advertising mandate should provide a view of the practice that informs the patients of the culture, scope, and personalities of our offices with emphasis on the distinguishing characteristics within Royal College Dental Surgeons of Ontario’s guidelines, THE BRAND. Some important information patients want to know are the following:

• Location

• Accessibility (via public transit)

• Parking options highlighting free, connected parking lots

• Hours of operation (an important component of patient’s search criteria)

• Visual images of the facility and dental team to give prospective patients a comfort level to proceed.

Having properly trained intake administrative personnel to welcome new patients warmly is indispensable to a successful outcome of the marketing initiative. A positive initial impression for new patients contributes to their experience and provides us the opportunity to reflect our BRAND.

Potential Undesirable Sequela of Hyper Aggressive AdvertisingA dental practice serves the public by addressing the biologic needs of a patient in a cost effective manner. However, indiscriminately discounting dental services influences the value of those services to accommodate the economic reality and demeans the relationship between the dentist and patient that should be long-lasting.

Although some medical specialties, such as laser eye surgeons and cosmetic surgeons, often employ successful advertising featuring free consultations, these practitioners are not attempting to establish long term relationships with patients as are most dentists. In fact, raising the issue of “free” entitlements encourages prospective patients to focus more on the financial aspects of dental treatment. Such a focus is at the expense of gaining insight into the process of obtaining the required care and learning more about the long term health benefits of availing oneself of what modern dentistry has to offer.

Similarly, too sharp a financial focus in advertising content encourages a mindset that ignores the inherent suitability of the office to provide the proper environment. Potential patients drawn to the office by the allure of the “great deal” may not fully commit to a long term relationship, but rather may succumb to “revolving door syndrome” and move on in search of the next “great deal.”

Aggressive marketing strategies do little to increase the size of the office’s patient base, and nothing to benefit patients in their search for quality dental health treatment. By concentrating on the financial aspect of dental care, there is a strong tendency to reinforce the “price versus value” dichotomy. It may seem to cost conscious potential patients, for example, that receiving an acrylic denture is the least costly replacement for their missing teeth even though an accessible cast chrome partial, bridge, or partial implant solution would really provide the most cost effective value as a long term solution.

Te Final AnalysisThe evolution of dental advertising presents many beneficial as well as potentially negative options. As dentists, we would be wise to think clearly and tread carefully keeping in mind our overriding goals and our primary commitment to the well-being of our patients. We need to concentrate our efforts on developing a strong and memorable “brand.” THE BRAND is the experience, much like a story that new or existing patients can equate with a particular dental practice. Every practice has a different value proposition; it needs to focus on repeating that message in its advertising and marketing. By focusing on THE BRAND, we’ll be able to attract the right patients and survive and thrive in a hyper-competitive marketplace in larger populated areas. PA