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» Use a Telephone Monitoring Form to Determine Front Desk Effectiveness
» Help Your Patients Understand: Dentistry –Health Benefits Are Lasting!
» Is ‘Coasting’ Costing You New Patients?
» The Advantages Of Planned Marketing
» The Positive Side Of Marketing
» A Practice Brochure Boosts New Patient Generation
» Practice Identity
» Create A Market-wise Reception Area
» Optimize Marketing Success Through Your Hygiene Department
» Effective Communications - Patient Mailings That Get Results
» Attracting Newcomers To Your Practice
» Give New Patients "Smile Samples" Of Your Skills
» Yellow Page Advertisements - A Look At Display Ads
» The Doctors’ Guide To Newspaper Advertising
» Telephone Savvy For Callers From Advertising
» Plan Your Timing When Marketing Elective Services
» Before You Set Marketing Goals...

From January 2007 Issue of McGill Hill Advisory Newsletter:

Most practices are now spending more time, energy, and money on marketing to boost stagnant new patient growth. Unfortunately, few doctors track how effective their front desk is in converting resulting inquiries into new patients. Below, practice marketing expert Liz Whiteside outlines the benefits of a Telephone Monitoring form for this and other purposes.

In response to meager growth rates, more doctors are increasing the time, energy, and money devoted to practice marketing these days. While many practices continue to devote no more than 1-2% of practice collections to their marketing efforts, more are boosting marketing expenditures to achieve our recommended goal of operating at optimal capacity (busy as you want to be).

These increased marketing efforts are the first step in boosting practice income. Yet, most doctors don’t know how to gauge the effectiveness of their marketing efforts, or their front desk’s ability to convert the increased inquiries into actual revenue-producing new patients.

That’s why Whiteside developed a monthly Telephone Monitoring form for front desk personnel to maintain. The front desk staffer records each new or prospective patient phone call, as well as the marketing source behind the new patient inquiry (patient referral, yellow page advertising, direct mail piece, etc.). The receptionist also logs whether or not that prospective new patient scheduled an appointment or not. Whiteside requires that all clients track calls for every working day of the month, and send a completed report to her monthly for review and assessment. Whiteside says this form is critical, since most dental software practices begin patient tracking at the date of the first appointment, rather than at the date of the initial phone call.

At the end of each month, the results are tallied to determine the number of new patient phone calls, as well as the resulting number of new patient appointments. This allows doctors to track the effectiveness of their front desk in converting new patient inquiries into actual revenue-producing appointments. Whiteside says that poor conversion rates (less than 80%) may be due to a number of different factors, including poor telephone skills, lack of proper training, indifferent attitude, etc.

The Telephone Monitoring form also serves a secondary purpose of tracking the marketing source for new patients. Determining where your new patients are coming from is essential to gauging the effectiveness of your marketing dollars. Sometimes, marketing sources may see increased results corresponding with undertaking another marketing activity. “For example, doctors often see increased yellow page responses when running print advertisements or a direct mail piece,” says Whiteside. Likewise, patient referrals may increase after a practice newsletter is distributed. So, even if new patient callers may not be pinpointing the direct mail piece as the reason for their call, it may be one of the marketing sources that indeed prompted their contact. While Whiteside acknowledges that multiple marketing sources may prompt some new patient calls, nevertheless, the Telephone Monitoring form provides the best available information to help gauge the effectiveness of your marketing dollars.

It’s 2007; do you know how many potential new patients are falling between the cracks? Most doctors don’t, and are losing thousands of dollars in profits annually as a result of their ignorance. Developing a Telephone Monitoring form and monitoring its results over time will provide the information you need to help boost new patient conversion rates and related practice profits in 2007.

From 2007 Issue of McGill Hill Advisory Newsletter:

“What’s in it for me?” When it comes to your patients, this is a question they shouldn’t need to ask. Most practices conduct too little marketing these days, and what they do lacks proper focus. Effective marketing needs to focus primarily on the benefits to the patient, rather than touting the accomplishments of the doctor, your friendly staff, and other positives of the practice. Below, practice marketing expert Liz Whiteside* explains why your marketing should incorporate the important health benefits of good dentistry to patients. By helping them to understand the rewards of a healthy mouth and confident smile, your marketing dollar will give you far better return. Need for Increased Marketing

“More practices are in a slow growth (1-5% annual increase) and no growth (0% increase) mode than at any time since the 1991 recession, some 15 years ago,” says Whiteside. Worse yet, many practices have seen the number of new patients drop to the point where future growth looks even more problematic.

As we discussed in our October issue,** these circumstances stresses the need for every doctor to develop a marketing plan for their practice. Moreover, every doctor must devote more time, effort, and budget to implement the plan and reverse these disturbing trends resulting from our volatile economy.

It's Not Working!
When the marketing activities that most doctors implement are from the same old “marketing rut,” it’s no wonder they continue to reap disappointing financial results. Dental Boot Camp guru Walter Haley once commented, “If you keep doing what you are doing, you will keep getting what you’re getting.” Similarly, successful orthodontist Dr. Rick Dunn once observed that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Time for a Change
“Traditionally, most doctors’ marketing efforts have focused on promoting the doctor, with extensive information regarding his or her education, professional certifications, awards and experience,” says Whiteside. While this information is important from the doctor’s standpoint, from a marketing perspective, it has less impact on your patients than you may think. Most patients assume that the doctor is sufficiently educated and trained. Additionally, what a doctor does clinically, how they do it, and the specifics of features utilized in your practice are not necessarily key elements of interest. “Motivating them to call or visit your office requires making a connection with what they deem as important to THEIR needs and desires,” says Whiteside. “In this case, it’s important to keep in mind that needs and desires are pretty much one and the same.”

This approach in marketing requires a totally different focus for your practice, says Whiteside. The buying decisions of your patients are based on many factors that are personal to their senses, emotions and concerns. (“I’ll feel old if I end up wearing dentures like my parents.” “I’ll be more outgoing and attractive after I have my teeth straightened.”) Rather than focus on what you consider important, make sure that your marketing efforts target the real or perceived needs of your patients.

Meeting the Need
For example, doctors who offer cosmetic and aesthetic procedures, orthodontics, or surgical procedures to improve a patient’s appearance should focus on the significant psychological and mental benefits that their services provide. Improving the patient’s sense of self-esteem and self-worth is critically important in the patient’s buying decision. When your marketing communicates these benefits to patients, they are better able to understand (and justify) the true value of the investment.

Also, doctors should carefully explain how their services can improve their patients’ dental and general physical heath, and make them feel better. The benefits of good dentistry to the patient’s health has been one of the “best kept secrets” for years. While consumer emphasis on cosmetic appearance wanes, there is a growing interest on health improvements, with more and more correlation between oral and overall health coming to light. Now’s the time to utilize this to your advantage through proactive marketing!

For general dentists and periodontists, focusing on the scientifically proven link between periodontal disease and increased risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, problem pregnancies, etc. is critical. Moreover, a recent study conducted by Aetna and the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine has demonstrated that proper periodontal care can result in lower overall medical costs and reduced health risks for patients with diabetes, coronary artery disease, or cerebrovascular disease.

Proctor & Gamble recently changed its marketing focus in promoting its new Crest Pro-Health toothpaste away from cosmetic to general health benefits. If Proctor & Gamble, who devotes hundreds of millions of dollars to marketing and advertising each year, says it has committed to this adjustment in its marketing focus, shouldn’t you?

Regardless of your practice’s current marketing mix (internal and external), you should rebalance the core of your message in order to generate greater results with today’s more health-conscious consumer. Now is the time to update your marketing approach to emphasize the benefits of your services to patients and expand the focus to include their general health, as well as improving their appearance. This will make your marketing efforts more comprehensive and effective.

From 2007 Issue of McGill Hill Advisory Newsletter:

As doctors reach a certain age or level of financial achievement, complacency has a tendency to set in. Complacent doctors usually place less emphasis on marketing and business planning, which can eventually result in fewer new patients, lower practice income, and a reduced practice value. Here’s how to recognize and reverse this process to improve your financial fortunes as retirement age approaches.

Observing doctors over the past 25 years, we have seen a common trend develop. Once doctors reach a certain age (usually mid-50s), or a certain level of financial achievement, complacency often sets in. Once this occurs, doctors tend to devote less time and energy to marketing and business planning.

Moreover, when a doctor reaches a certain age, patients and others in the community begin to assume that he or she will soon be cutting back in practice and looking to retire. When patients and referring doctors perceive the doctor is “nearing retirement,” patient referrals start to decline, compounding the problem.

That’s a tragedy, since most doctors of a seasoned age are often at the very peak of their ability to produce high-quality dentistry, enjoy community recognition, increase annual income and achieve personal savings goals. With life expectancy for doctors increasing and many wanting to remain active in practice to age 65, or even beyond, the doctor who starts “coasting” during these years is contributing to a steady decline of what should be his most valuable years in practice.

Financial Impact
The financial impact of this common condition can be devastating. Patient referrals begin to decline and the total number of new patients coming into the practice drops. Usually, practice net income suffers, leading to lower savings and/or adjustments to one’s personal lifestyle. Finally, the reduced income lowers the sales price of the doctor’s practice at retirement.

Accordingly, as long as the doctor wishes to remain in practice, he should never let the practice decline. Rather, he must keep it healthy, growing and profitable in order to boost his income, savings, and practice value for retirement.

Practice marketing consultant Liz Whiteside* offers several tips for doctors to reverse this common pattern. First, the doctor and staff must be vocal with patients in expressing the doctor’s long-term commitment to being active in the practice. So, if patients ask, “When do you think Dr. Smith will be retiring?” they can respond by saying, “Oh, he loves dentistry and the wonderful advancements being made. And with so many great patients like you, I’m sure he won’t even think about slowing down for many years!”

Moreover, the doctor must put some action behind these statements and become more visible. The doctor should attend local dental society meetings to stay in contact with referring doctors, particularly new ones. While dentists may feel that they have “paid their dues” by being active in these organizations in the past, their continued involvement is critical to reassuring others in the dental community that they are fully involved in their practice.

The doctor should also communicate to patients, as well as to the community, on a regular basis. This can be done through press releases, information on the practice website, and regular written communications to the patients regarding new features in the practice and completed continuing education courses. This helps educate the patient that their doctor is staying “on the cutting edge of dental advancements in order to provide the highest level of patient care,” says Whiteside.

Visibility is a tremendous asset. Whiteside says that for those doctors who prefer not to advertise, buying ad space in theatre and symphony programs gives the doctor an opportunity for exposure that has more of a community support appeal, rather than blatant advertising.

Whiteside also recommends that doctors carefully review the potential impact of their advertising methods. Rather than announcing “over 32 years of experience,” Whiteside recommends that doctors market “over 25 years of experience” and no more than that to create the community perception that the doctor is highly experienced and established in his or her profession, confident and capable, without labeling the doctor as “dated” or “nearing retirement age.”

Whiteside also recommends that doctors spend more time and energy on marketing, particularly to referring doctors. Doctors should communicate with referring doctors at least two times a year on issues that are pertinent to their patients. This can be accomplished by sending them a copy of a recent article pertinent to the patients they see or writing them on CE courses being completed that broaden your treatment abilities or even enhance the team treatment relationship. In summary, doctors need to communicate with their referral sources to reiterate that they are totally involved in the practice and committed to providing excellent patient care on a continuing basis.

When a doctor becomes complacent and begins resting on his or her laurels, it doesn’t take long for this to translate into a lull in new patient activity. In turn, this contributes to declining practice net income and a lower practice sales price, which can prove financially disastrous. Use the steps outlined above to make sure this doesn’t become your fate!

Develop long term, directed-growth through a strategic approach

For a moment, consider the thought and planning that goes into arranging your family vacation time. You probably research the best rates for comfortable accommodations, arrange the most efficient travel schedule possible, prepare your staff for tasks during your absence, and pack appropriately for the activities you anticipate. This planning normally results in pleasant memories, fun together, relaxation, and a deeper bond with your family. With a similar commitment to planning, your marketing program can also provide satisfying results on a professional level.

Today's dental practice can greatly enhance its opportunity for growth by utilizing marketing in a strategic, planned form. Below are steps that create a marketing program that eliminates a hit-and-miss approach.

Determine the type of patient you want:
To begin, select the high level procedures you most enjoy performing and wish to do more. Then, determine the average age of those who make up the majority of current patients for this treatment. For instance, if you want to do more restorative treatments, review those in your patient base who have completed restorative treatment within the past year. Find a 5 to 10 year age span that comprises the majority of these patients as well as other factors that contribute to a profile. For example, you may find that working females, age 48 to 56, make up most of those who have accepted treatment. With this in mind, you can adapt your marketing approach to appeal to the needs and desires of this particular group.

Angle your identity to appeal to these patients:
An identity upgrade is occasionally advised for proper projection of your skills and standard of care for targeted procedures. If you wish to perform more non-surgical gum therapy, your identity should be appropriate for those who fall into the prospective patient category. Does your logo and stationery package have an adult theme? Do you have a brochure that projects this procedure as a key focus of the practice? Does your brochure reassure the prospect that you are qualified to successfully treat gum disease?

These are questions that should be addressed prior to implementing a marketing program. The look of your facility, interior and printed materials should reassure the prospect that you are the best choice to attend to their needs.

Give your internal marketing a fresh look:
You may be missing opportunities to inform patients of key services. If so, you are missing potential referrals from them as well. The more your patients know of your services and benefits to their oral health and esthetic goals, the more they can pursue. Even those who do not have a particular need can refer others who do.

• Limit reading materials in your reception area to a minimum other than your practice brochure or articles that address specific treatment benefits. In the brief time that people are seated here, a review of your brochure will often be chosen over a magazine article they may not finish.
• Prepare your staff for marketing respondents. Once your marketing efforts create response, the marketing process within your practice can make or break treatment acceptance. Many factors create the right or wrong impression.

The wrong attitude toward telephone callers also negates response. Patient and doctor referrals are pre-sold on the credibility of the practice before calling. Often, callers with questions are mistakenly deemed as “shoppers” because they need reassurance that their call was a wise choice. Do not assume that those who have questions are a nuisance; therefore, not nurtured into the practice.

Occasionally play the part of a prospective patient and call your practice with the same questions you may have if you were not familiar with the doctor, practice, or details of the procedure. If you do not feel reassured to such an extent that you schedule an appointment, then focus more training on this area.

Know when, where, and how much:
Each month should include specific marketing activities that are strategically timed. Assess the amount of staff members and funds needed to implement these. As you list the activities, evaluate the timing carefully. For example, if August is a traditionally slow production month, delay activities until people are more likely to respond to your efforts, or normally busy months. During slow times, implement low-cost marketing such as letters to referring doctors or pursuing speaking engagements.

Commit yourself to stay the course:
The sequence that creates the best opportunity for success begins by creating positive awareness, establishing a position for yourself in your market, and continual evaluation and fine-tuning. This takes time and patience as well as finances.

To expect immediate return on your marketing investment is unrealistic. Quick fixes usually generate patients of lesser quality than desired. Those doctors who are truly successful in cultivating high level procedures do so by building a momentum and maintaining it. Commit yourself to professional marketing that creates long-term, positive results.

How to develop long term, directed-growth

Dentists just starting a practice, whether those completing an internship or at a point in their career where they are ready to branch off on their own, can greatly enhance their opportunities for growth by learning what others had to learn the hard way.

Dental schools do an excellent job of educating their students on the technical aspects of dentistry. Students emerge, confident in the proper use of equipment, materials, and anxious to diagnose and treat. While schools adequately prepare students to practice dentistry, they fall drastically short in the preparation of the practitioner to manage the ebb and flow of new patients. Fierce competition in dentistry, a transient population, insurance-dominated fees, and escalating overhead can turn a new, enthusiastic practitioner into a stressed insomniac.

While there are many operational guides for a dental practice, marketing, which can be a vital element of directed growth, requires special care and nurturing. Yet, dentistry has anything but a love affair with marketing. Most in the profession detest the term.

Why? Marketing, up until twelve or so years ago, was deemed as radical by dentists who rose through the ranks of reaping referrals from patients and other doctors. As this "word of mouth advertising" became an unreliable method of new patient recruitment, dentists began to seek out options to appeal to a changing population.

Where dental marketing got its bad rap was in the missed step of Marketing 101. Dental training never addressed the complex issues surrounding marketing. When the law allowed dentists to advertise their services, many jumped into an arena they were unprepared for. Not only were they unprepared, they had no source to turn to for support. Never before had a product or service emerged that could not be presented to the American public by applying the principles of retail marketing. Advertising agencies that created effective campaigns for cars, make-up, candy bars, soft drinks, pet food, and soap were stumped. The emotional aspects of dental procedures presented an uncharted challenge. This challenge frustrated both the advertising agents and dentists. While the dentist paid the agency to do for him what they did for Tide, the agency floundered around trying to figure out why people weren't drawn to the dentist.

Fortunately, the esthetic appeal of today's dentistry allows the American public to look more favorably upon a trip to the dentist. Add to that the latest technology that makes dental care more comfortable and less time-consuming. By addressing the emotional appeal and patient benefits of care, today's marketing, for the most part, has worked out the kinks. But not without leaving behind a few scars.

There are dentists who see marketing as a money pit. Others have found it a blemish on their image and the profession overall. Yet, when marketing is implemented correctly, strategically, it becomes a welcome member of practice growth.

Let's look at marketing in its basic form. "Marketing" is attracting those who either want or need your product or service to your door. Because we have such a brief history in marketing, it took years to learn that you must appeal to one's emotional needs rather than hang out your sign and hope patients will venture in. Today's consumer wants to look younger, feel good, and live a fuller life. Once you tie this to the health and appearance benefits of dentistry, marketing takes an effective role in appealing to one's "want or need".

The challenge? We too often shadow others rather than devote the necessary energy to make it happen for ourselves. While this is fine for certain vocations, marketing a dental practice is saddled with too many complexities to apply a cookie-cutter. What works well for one practitioner may have far different results for another. We have tried to pattern the successes of those who hit upon a good idea and reaped its rewards. Disappointment results when the investment does not achieve similar success.

Rather than be deterred by those who have gone before you and stubbed their toes on the pitfalls of marketing, take a stance to do it right the first time. Below are some guidelines that will keep your investment streamlined, protect your professional image, and cultivate quality patients.

• First impressions are lasting impressions - When prospective patients are first introduced to your practice through the various elements of practice identity, it is an opportunity that should not be taken lightly. The components that comprise your identity, even when viewed individually, should coordinate with the others through a theme. Let’s begin with your logo.
Depending upon the guidelines as set forth by your State Board, your name or a separate practice name (such as “Smith Dentistry of Smalltown”) should clarify your practice foundation. Often, if your name must be used, the State Board will allow you to use a descriptive line under your name (for instance, to accompany “Robert R. Smith, DDS”, you may wish to add the line “Cosmetic & Restorative Dentistry” to signify the areas of dentistry you wish to enhance). Never assume, however. Before investing in design and printing, submit the name to your State Board for approval.

Some practice logos include a graphic mark that is representative of the personality of the practice. Some don’t. If yours does not, choose a type style and format your name so that it is easy to read and used consistently. If you have a graphic element or wish to include one, step out of your role as a dentist and into the minds of prospective patients. Dental instruments, diagrams of teeth or heads, and dental chairs allude to the part of dentistry that much of America fears. A caricature of the dentist, teeth people, or cartoon animals with exaggerated smiles not only ridicule the profession, but project a less-than-serious approach to the standard of care you provide.

Your logo should be easy to identify at a glance. It doesn’t necessarily have to related directly to dentistry. Some graphics tie in with the locality or historical theme of the town. The graphic can project a nurturing environment using elements of nature, for instance, which are illustrative of the strength, support, and stability of an attractive, stable bite.

• Promote the benefits, not the treatment - Consumers seek out those who can fulfill a need. Because a need is built on desire, what we desire we convince ourselves we need. For instance, the health benefits of teeth straightened by orthodontics are secondary to the consumer over the pride and confidence of a beautiful smile. Focus on the emotional aspects that evolve from the end result and this desire will become their need.

• Have a strategic plan - Imagine this scenario for a moment. New patient flow is down and things overall are slow. A sales rep shows up with an offer that seems interesting. Her company will print up free exam coupons and include them in a mailing that is sent to ten thousand households in your general vicinity. The cost seems reasonable and you could sure use the new patients. But stop and carefully think this through before you sign on the dotted line.
Jumping into a marketing promotion on the mere guidance of a sales rep could cost you more than wasted money. Your very reputation is on the line. To whom and how you promote your practice can as easily work against you as for you. If you want the results to be part of positive growth, don't make rash decisions when things are at a lull, which may be temporary.
Most dental practices experience patient flow variations during the year. These fluctuations often become predictable. By pinpointing these times and using them to your advantage, you can maximize marketing effectiveness and manage marketing dollars more efficiently.
Dental practices tend to implement marketing activities when new patient flow or production levels decline. Unfortunately, those who are most-motivated for cosmetic dentistry in April probably will not pursue such in October, no matter what you do. The saying “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” is also pertinent to dentistry.

Look for traditional high and low production months by pulling monthly figures for the past three years. You may see that Spring and Summer months are never as high as your first and last quarters, or vice versa. This "financial seasonality" reveals normal activity patterns of current or prospective patients. Trying to boost activity by marketing during these slow times will only deplete your budget.

If you detect a pattern, plan to implement marketing activities two to three weeks prior to this busy time, tapering off two to three weeks after its peak. If there is no pattern, choose times of the year that are most practical for your market. For instance, if you practice in an area with severe winters that effect patient activity, delay things until patient flow is more predictable.
Marketing that is implemented with adequate preparation and strategic timing adds greatly to response. The best way to achieve this is to have a marketing plan that is timed and budgeted for your specific situation. Through this, you avoid the costly errors of "hit and miss" marketing.

• Be prepared for the response - Once your marketing efforts create response, the overall marketing process applied by your practice will either make or break treatment acceptance. Many factors create the right or wrong impression. Poor telephone manners, long waits in the reception area, no financing options ... can quickly extinguish a prospect’s enthusiasm.
The wrong attitude toward prospects also negates response. Often, those with questions are mistakenly deemed as “shoppers” because they need reassurance that their decision to call was a wise choice. Since patient and doctor referrals are pre-sold on the credibility of the practice before calling, those who have questions are deemed a nuisance and not adequately nurtured into the practice.

Occasionally play the part of a prospective patient and call your practice with the same questions you may have if you were not familiar with the doctor, practice, or details of the procedure. If you do not feel reassured to such an extent that you schedule an appointment, then focus more training on this area.

• Stay the course - There is a sequence for marketing that creates the best opportunity for success. First, you must create positive awareness, which takes time and money. Secondly, you must establish a position for yourself in your market. Third, you must fine-tune your marketing program constantly. What worked last year may have disappointing results two years later.
It is not uncommon to expect immediate response from marketing, especially when you see dollars spent at a faster rate than those returning. Dentists are prone to overreact to this since they must carefully monitor the overhead and fee structuring which significantly impacts their profit margin. Marketing is a very different expense that rarely shows immediate results. There are no quick fixes. Usually, activities implemented to create immediate response generate patients of lesser quality than the practice desires.

Commit yourself to professional marketing that creates long-term, positive results. Stay the course and don’t be tempted to jump ship too soon.

A practice brochure is an introduction of your practice, skills, philosophy, and services. It enhances awareness to patients, enables them to easily refer others, informs and motivates the recipient, and helps referring doctors send patients to you. Designed appropriately and used properly, it can be your most valuable marketing tool.

If a practice brochure is so valuable, why do many offices put this project on the back burner? Common deterrents of cost, time, and resources often prevent completion. For offices still handing out stock brochures, the following guidelines may help overcome the obstacles.

• Think Simple - Too many pages, overuse of color, large folders or sizes, add greatly to cost and clutter. A four or six-panel brochure that fits neatly in an envelope provides an appealing format for relaying information.

• Think Positive - As an introduction rather than a detailed explanation, text should be written to showcase the positive aspects of your practice. Keep wording to a minimum and leave procedural details to one-to-one explanations.

• Think Ahead - For cost efficiency, your printed quantity should last about two years. For this reason, areas that may change (appointment hours, payment arrangements, cancellation policy, etc.) can easily outdate your brochure. For these areas, consider a one-color, single insert panel that fits into your brochure. This allows you to affordably update as needed.

• Think Proudly - Patients may love your staff, location, and decor; yet, they remain at the practice because of you. List your credentials and accomplishments to reassure the reader of your skill level and qualifications to provide excellent care.

• Think Quality - Look upon your brochure as an illustration of your skills and standard of care. The design, graphics, text, and printing should be a complement to your practice in every way. Be cautious where you cut corners.

Once your brochure is complete, use it to its fullest potential:
- Keep brochures within arm's reach of reception area seating (limiting other reading material).
- Place several on check-in and check-out counters as well as in treatment rooms.
- Hand one to patients as you ask for referrals.
- Include one in every new patient packet.
- Send several to referring offices.
- Encourage staff members to give them to friends, neighbors, etc.

If your practice is lacking a practice brochure, opportunities for growth may be slipping through the cracks. A well-constructed, targeted brochure can be your wisest investment for practice growth.

Basic Guidelines For Today's Dental Practice

Your Practice Identity is a representation of your practice in visual form. Rather than illustrate what you do, it should make a positive impression on desired patients -- your target market. Your identity begins with a Logo Design that incorporates your Practice Name. This design becomes a "theme" which serves as an introduction via Stationery (Letterhead, Envelopes, Business & Appointment Cards, Note Cards), interior/exterior Signs and other promotional vehicles.

In addition to projecting a positive image, the goal in developing an identity is recall and association. With each glance of your sign, business card, brochure, or name in the Yellow Pages, a consistent theme embeds itself in the mind of the prospect. This is subconsciously retained until ready for use. The repetition of your identity can now be easily recalled.

Your Practice Identity warrants careful consideration for several reasons ...

I. It is the first impression of your practice.
An organized, professionally-coordinated look reassures the public and professional community that you have a well-structured practice that is capable of serving their needs.

II. It is a reflection of your professionalism.
In today’s competitive world, it is vital to project a commitment to quality to be perceived as capable and credible. This also affects one’s perception of your standard of patient care.

III. It directs the growth of the practice.
For example, the identity for a Dentist who does not want to treat children as patients should project an adult-oriented appearance.

In developing an identity package for your practice, use the following guidelines ...

Practice Name
a. Check with your State Board for any restrictions first. You can save much in time and money by knowing what you can and cannot use.

b. Choose the type(s) of services you wish to perform more and the personal traits of those who often seek this treatment. With this in mind, consider a practice name that projects these services to that person. For example, “Smith Orthodontic Associates” clarifies a practice providing orthodontic services; “General & Cosmetic Dentistry of Smithville” clarifies the location and services provided.

c. Unless you are a specialist with doctor referrals as your main source of new patients, avoid dental terminology in your practice name. Terms such as “Crainiofacial” and “Temporomandibular” are confusing, even threatening, to the average layperson.

Logo Design
a. Your logo may be merely an artful layout of type, or you may wish to include a graphic element. Whatever the appearance, the look must be used consistently. Altering typefaces between letterhead and business cards sacrifice consistency. Choose a font that is easy to read and, if a graphic element is included, coordinates attractively. A graphic element should complement, not overpower, the name.

b. Your logo should be used on all printed pieces in order to create a familiar theme. It should be appropriate to the focus of the practice and those who are targeted patients. A caricature of you holding a toothbrush maybe appropriate if you are a Pediatric Dentist. For those who wish to boost adult-oriented procedures such as aesthetic and restorative dentistry, it would not.

c. At times, your design will be rather small to conform to condensed space, such as that of an appointment card. A good design retains clarity even in these instances.

d. Your logo should complement your practice name. For instance, the name "Smith Orthodontic Associates” may be nicely paired with an artistically-drawn “S” screened behind the name.

e. Family and friends have good intentions when they create designs for your use. However, a good logo design is one that is still appropriate ten years from now. The compatibility of the design to your practice growth and the image it projects is best left to a professional.

f. Avoid graphics of dental instruments, dental chairs, dental symbols, etc. Your logo should create reassuring feelings, not remind of the items that create feelings of fear or intimidation.

g. Unless your facility is recognized as a historical building, community landmark, etc., avoid using it in your logo design. Appeal to prospects through emotional factors rather than a building.

h. For every color in your logo, printing costs increase. Normally, two colors can appear as more if one or both are screened back to produce lighter shades. Dentists should never use red.

Stationery Package
a. Some printers provide services to lay out letterhead, envelopes, business cards, appointment cards, mailing labels, note cards, etc. If they charge for this service, you may want to seek out professional assistance for a professionally balanced, coordinated look.

b. The choice of paper (stock) effects printing costs. Look at several selections and cost compare.

c. Some stocks do not absorb laser print well nor fax well, particularly speckled stocks and light-colored logos. Ask your printer about reproduction for the equipment you use.

d. The artwork required for printing is a separate charge that is billed with your first printing. Future changes require new artwork, and new charges. Look into the future before printing.

e. The higher the quantity you print, the less you spend per piece. However, you don’t want to spend more than necessary. Don’t print large quantities if your address or area code may change in the near future. A little foresight can save you much.

As an initial part of our marketing program, we conduct an on-site assessment of each practice to pinpoint opportunities and obstacles before actually “going to market”. This article shares how you, too, can maximize marketing potential right from the get-go.

The most expensive investment you make is to get a new patient to walk into your front door the first time. This normally results from various marketing elements which eventually lead them to you. This may be a combination of seeing your sign, a referral from a co-worker, your Yellow Page ad, phone call to your office, brochure and appointment card received in the mail, a reminder call, and hence -- arrival!

Each element in this process requires an investment. From the design and construction costs of the sign, to the training devoted to the Receptionist who took the call, dollar signs mount higher and higher in this process.

Now, the patient is in your environment ... ready, willing, and more than likely, able. Their first experience can impact treatment acceptance, future referrals, ongoing interaction with the practice, words of praise within the community overall, and on and on and on. What can you do to nurture the desired outcome?

Following are reception area adjustments to boost awareness, confidence, and enthusiasm:

• Minimize reading material - Other than your practice brochures, laminated articles on specific treatments, a before & after photo album, practice newsletter, and fresh breath and whitening literature, limit other reading material. Magazines, newspapers, and even TV programs distract from the benefits patients should realize are available through the practice. Even those who accompany patients to appointments can benefit from learning about treatments and your specific qualifications. This is not an environment where we should camouflage reasons why adults are at the practice. This is an opportunity to better their lives through information that makes them informed consumers and spokespersons for the practice. For those who have long waits, keep a newspaper behind the front desk and offer it if they seem restless.

• Provide an adult-oriented atmosphere - Reception areas often have toys or books for children. If your practice is directing growth toward adult-oriented procedures, this conflicts greatly with your goals. Just because you do not have play stations or a crate of toys does not mean adults will no longer bring their children to your office. However, a new patient seeing a room that caters to children may become concerned regarding the overall emphasis on high level procedures. Keep a box of crayons behind the front desk and offer children a clipboard and paper. Keep children’s books or puzzles behind the front desk as well to offer when appropriate.

• Place info within easy reach - Once patients check in, they find a seat. The easier you make it for reception room guests to retrieve information about your skills, selected procedures, etc., the more this will be reviewed and retained. Arrange seating to maximize easy access to brochures, newsletters, business cards, etc. If you do not have a coffee table, you are missing an opportunity to display materials of patient interest on procedures you wish to boost in your practice.

• Add background music - Dental office reception areas should have background music to soften front office conversations and sounds from the clinical area. Yet, your favorite country music station has no place in an office dedicated to high level, adult care. If you cannot afford a service such as Muzak (which offers on-hold messaging as well), find a classical or light jazz station with minimal commercial breaks.

• Reinforce your qualifications - In fifteen years of working with dentists, I have found most are modest to a fault. They cringe at the thought of their pictures in their brochure and hang diplomas only in their private offices. Competition is too stiff these days to hide your qualifications. When you reassure new patients of your credentials, you boost their level of confidence as well as treatment acceptance.
Display diplomas within easy view of reception area seating, nicely matted and framed. Also, project a unified team by displaying a group photo of you with staff members, perhaps at a meeting or even in the staff lounge. This can be in a tabletop frame, on a side table rather than wall mounted.

• Start a practice album - In addition to showcasing before & after photos of aesthetic cases, assemble a practice album of staff pictures, letters from happy patients, pictures of the doctor and staff at seminars, etc. This reveals to new patients a progressive practice proud of who they are and what they do.

• Take a patient’s view - You and each member of your administrative team should enter the reception area through your front entrance at least once a week. Is front office clutter obvious? Are weeds growing in the front planter? Do shades or blinds need cleaning? First impressions are lasting impressions. It is unfair to an exceptionally skilled dentist to have good impressions compromised by what he or she may not see. Go see for yourself.

Over the past few years, I’ve seen more and more practices try to pretend to be anything BUT a dental office. Although it is beneficial to patients to provide an environment that is non-intimidating and relaxing, it is also to their benefit to inform and enhance confidence in accepting treatment.

Rather than allow your reception area to distract from being an informed consumer, help them to know their options and reinforce their level of confidence.
(Your patients won’t be the only ones to benefit!)

When assessing practice production levels, the hygiene department is often viewed as a separate entity. Yet, the benefits of the hygiene department extend far beyond an auxiliary contributor to profit. In addition to its earning potential, your hygiene department has an inherent value to overall practice growth. Within lies a tremendous opportunity to expand your marketing program's effectiveness.

As the hygiene department maintains an ongoing relationship with patients, the involvement of routine care visits becomes a catapult for a wide array of products and treatments, particularly elective services. With the help of strategic marketing, you can optimize the bond formed in hygiene to enhance patient awareness, boost overall productivity, and increase referrals.
How can you optimize the potential of this patient relationship? Start by reviewing these marketing suggestions with your hygienist.

• Small items create big returns - Items such as stop-snoring devices, fresh breath products, tooth whitening systems, and rotary toothbrushes, while perhaps small-in-profit in your overall dental menu, provide extended marketing opportunities. The hygienist can use these smaller features to open the door for additional or more-extensive procedures. This circle of opportunity initiated in the hygiene department converts into benefits for the practice as a whole.
For instance, a patient who has completed tooth whitening makes a superb candidate to discuss further cosmetic enhancements. He or she also has excellent potential to recruit others for whitening. Those newly recruited can then be converted into ongoing patients. The practice reaps benefits from the patient base increase originated by the hygiene department. Obviously, the more you have in your patient base, the greater the number who need additional treatment. As the circle continues, the more active patients you have, the greater the potential to cultivate continued referrals.

• Take advantage of eye appeal - For forty-five minutes or so, hygiene patients are a captive audience. When upright, the chair faces them in the same direction during prophy prep, bite-wings, and waiting for the doctor's exam. Throughout this time, their eyes are aimed in one direction. Sit in the chair and notice the direction and level at which your patients are facing. Could they see a display of fresh breath products on the far left corner of the counter? Can literature on cosmetic dentistry be placed within their view or reach? Would a framed article that features a stop-snoring device be noticed? Strategically placed items such as framed letters from happy patients, product displays, etc. set the stage for greater patient awareness and open the door for questions. These questions create an opportunity to explain the benefits of additional products or services.

• Support your requests for referrals - Generally, patients choose a dental practice based upon their preference of the doctor rather than the hygienist, although most have more contact with the hygienist than the doctor. This creates a closer bond and allows patients to open up, to a greater extent, with the hygienist. This places the hygienist in an excellent position to solicit referrals.
Where hygienists often feel awkward is in finding verbiage that is comfortable and free from a promotional pitch. This can be overcome by combining the request with a tangible item, such as a practice brochure. As she hands the printed piece to the patient, the hygienist may state, "I always enjoy seeing you and wish I could clone you! Please pass this to someone you know who would fit our practice family as well as you."

By providing printed support to accompany the request, the wording becomes a compliment rather than a solicitation. An added advantage is that the brochure serves as a reminder of the request long after the patient has left the practice. Printed information also makes response easy by providing your name and telephone number to the recipient.

• Be a walking testimonial - The most effective way to inspire someone to try a new product or service is to share your personal satisfaction. If you have fresh breath products, explain your own experience to the patient. For tooth whitening, show them your own smile for a firsthand look at the actual results. Perhaps your receptionist's spouse wears a stop-snoring device. Invite her in to tell how pleased they both are with the results! Decisions are easier to make when you can lean on the prior experience of someone you trust. Your enthusiasm will also be contagious!

• Take great notes, then send them - If your practice stationery package does not include note cards, have blank cards printed (with your name and logo on the front). Use them generously. Handwritten notes are a rare pleasure these days, especially with e-mail and computerized mass-mailings. Make notations in the patient's chart of a new grandbaby, job change, achievement, etc. Take the time to write several sentences to those who share these personal occurrences. This acknowledgment of them as a person rather than a patient creates a deeper commitment to the practice. Often, this commitment results in more referrals, enhanced patient retention, and an increase in activity.

• Extra mileage from recall cards - Use these periodic appointment reminders to promote your elective services rather than cartoon characters. Using one side to promote tooth whitening, fresh breath therapy, or sealants provides added exposure prior to their appointment. This awareness motivates those who are interested to ask for additional details at their appointment.

• Give a report card to patients - During the start-to-finish process of each hygiene appointment, much occurs to enhance the oral health and well-being of the patient. Yet, does the patient actually realize all that was provided to achieve this? Does he or she realize you performed an oral cancer exam? Does the patient remember the floss and toothpaste samples they were given? (By the way, most patients assume these items are donated to you by the manufacturer!)
At the conclusion of each appointment, provide patients with a printed checklist of all that was done, reviewed, discussed, examined, given, and recommended. Include a section for the hygienist's name and personal comment such as "We'll check that right molar again in 6 months. Use oral rinse daily! Susan". A Hygiene Report Card is printed verification of the value of the appointment in the hands of the patient.

The most valuable way to recruit new patients is through existing patients; those who are already familiar with you and your standard of care. Align your marketing activities to make the most of keeping patients active and actively referring. Their relationship with your hygiene department provides an appropriate environment to create a positive impact for the practice overall

Do you remember when microwave ovens and VCR’s first hit the market? Then, it was hard to imagine how commonplace these “luxuries” would become. Now, it’s hard to imagine life without them. As the computer-based internet becomes a more common vehicle for communication, there remains a sense of security in that which is tangible in the form of written communication. While the internet is certainly growing in its interaction in the average household as a communication source, our enthusiasm for its potential does not justify turning our backs on methods “tried and true”. The proof exists in the ever-rising volume of mail that moves through the postal service on a day to day basis. The written word is still the best option for communicating to a targeted segment of chosen populations.

Direct mail provides a tangible way to inform and motivate the recipient to respond. With direct mail, you can hold it, feel it, absorb the message at your own pace, scan the graphics and colors as long as you like, and share the message by handing it on to another. You can zero in on the age group, income bracket, geographic area, sex, marital status, etc. until your demographic is at peak selection.

Although broadcast media affords a certain demographic selection via dayparts and programming, it is easy to lose control of your message. Deemed mainly an entertainment medium rather than an information source, a doctor’s image is “guilty by association”. Imagine your commercial following that of a loud, used-car salesman. Combine that scenario with commercial breaks that are predictable and ignored along with cost comparisons to other methods of communication. A far better opportunity lies through direct mail.

Realistically, direct mail for new patient recruitment can be a time-consuming and expensive undertaking. Yet, enhancing a directed growth program through a direct mail awareness campaign can provide positive response, when implemented strategically. Whether or not the recipient is a current patient, well-planned mailings make for powerful results. Two approaches that are worthwhile are addressed in this article. You may find the angle suggested ignores standard direct mail guidelines. Keep in mind that you are in a unique situation. You are a highly-regarded professional who provides skilled services. These services are surrounded by emotional factors, some even shrouded in fear. Both take these factors into consideration when addressing the prospect.

Let’s look at the two types of target markets that direct mail can successfully encompass.

Mailings to current patients - This is the easiest group to approach. They are already aware of you and satisfied with their relationship with the practice. If they weren’t, they would eventually drop off the list. Most current patients know someone who has needs that are similar to their own and are happy to mention your name. The key with this group is to maintain awareness of your services so you become the first person they think of when the need arises, whether the need is their own or another’s. I’ll give you an example. If you provide the services of periodontal therapy, you may assume your patients know it and would come to you for this need. But if a patient with healthy gums has a parent who is in the initial stages of gingivitis, then the patient is not apt to refer the parent to you. They’ll ask around or go to the Yellow Pages to find someone who is skilled in this treatment. But you are skilled, you say? How could they know unless it is communicated to them?
There are several methods that are cost effective and easy to incorporate into your marketing program ...

Patient Post Cards - These mailings are upbeat and cost effective. One side can promote a particular service while the other provides an update on your practice. These mailings should be sent to your entire patient base at least twice each year.

Recall Reminder Cards - If you send reminder cards of hygiene appointments, let the card serve another purpose as well. One side can promote a specific treatment while the other side is the reminder and mailing portion. This allows promotion of certain procedures that they may not know are available through your practice every six months.

Patient Testimony Newsletters - Let happy patients multiply! Many patients are happy to share their experiences with others, and their story can be featured in a self-mailer newsletter. There are many newsletter services that cater to dental practices, but none can create the human-interest aspects quite like one that includes your own happy patients. This is a more expensive method of treatment awareness, but can be sent out only once per year, followed by two post card updates.

Mailings to non-patients - Most direct mail campaigns culminate in only a two percent response, therefore, select your mailing list wisely and keep the overall cost within realistic proportions. Know the basic make-up of the type of patient you desire for the procedure you will promote:

• The area in which they reside
• Household income
• The age group
• Level of education

Careful review of patients who have received this treatment in the past will reveal a basic pattern to follow. Take dental implants, for instance. This is an expensive procedure that usually requires up-front payment. It is often assumed that only upper-income candidates should be pursued because of the cost of this treatment. However, most people in higher income brackets have had the means to care for their teeth and have kept them. The blue collar or middle income segment is more aligned to this treatment since the majority have not had the same dental care opportunities. Additionally, this income bracket traditionally lives within their means to the extent that they can acquire the funds for those things they truly want.

Once you determine the mailing list, the approach you take to this group will create a lasting impression of you and your services. With Val-Pak mailings or other discount coupon packets, consider if you wish to be grouped with auto repair shops or pressure washings. Lasting patients seek you out for your quality of care to meet their specific needs at the time. Coupons tend to attract “bargain hunters.” Let your marketing budget seek out those who are serious prospects.
Again, finding these prospects can be accomplished through several methods that are both affordable and effective.

Procedure specific post card mailings - Much like Patient Post Cards, these are awareness-generators. They address a specific procedure and promote you as the best source for this need. These should be sent out two to three times over a six month period for best results.

Direct mail newsletters - This can be an expensive venture. Careful planning of the actual format and a strategic approach with the mailing list is vital to the success of a direct mail campaign to non-patients. This approach doesn’t always produce peak results after only one mailing. Two to three mailings are often necessary to generate the repetition needed to have your message sink in and stick. Because of the expense this entails, consider this approach with much forethought.

Letters with brochures - An introductory letter to prospective patients, if kept brief and to the point, should be accompanied by some type of verification. If you have a custom brochure, you’ll find that most people will scan the information within. If not, this approach gets weak response.

Want to attract more patients? If direct mail communications are within your comfort zone, then by all means, jump in. Just look carefully before you leap.

When I changed residences several years ago, within a month I received welcome letters from at least six dentists in the area. Some included magnets, a couple offered a complimentary exam, one even offered a free exam and radiographs. Although it was a nice gesture, I was still trying to remember which drawer contained my silverware as these introductory letters arrived. Selecting a new dentist was the last thing on my mind.

The pursuit of new patients through written correspondence usually provides a low return. Dentists who use the free exam enticement may reap a few who take advantage of it, but seldom see them convert into qualified patients. Through the trial and error of working with practices nationwide we have found a better way. A blend of strategic timing, a professional approach, and a motivating element more-readily inspires the prospect to choose you above all the rest.

Over the years, we’ve seen various approaches developed by firms and consultants that have a gimmick to draw attention. One suggests adding a Post-It© Note to the letter signed with a name as if passed on by an acquaintance. Another features a Band-Aid© on the letter that ties in with some flavorful copy. The worst approach, however, suggests bombarding the resident with a letter every two weeks for four months. The intention is to keep the dentist’s name constantly in front of the prospect so they will recall them above all the rest. With the amount of junk mail received in most mail boxes, this approach seems more like harassment than creating positive awareness. I’ve never heard of one, however, that the practice felt worked well.

So if gimmicks don’t work, how does one approach these newcomers? First, the timing of your mailing is a strong factor. Remember the last time you moved? You probably spent the first month getting settled, the next month tending to necessities, and by the third month, getting back into sync with things delayed that demand attention. This third month is more appropriate timing for these mailings.

There are sources available for newcomer lists in each town or city. Occasionally, a Chamber of Commerce will make these lists available to their membership, sometimes for a small fee. Our preference is to purchase the list from a mailing firm that keeps accurate records on new residents. The cost is often more, but you have the benefit of selecting specific zip codes, move dates, and demographics (such as household income level or marital status).

Organizations such as Welcome Wagon will include you in their deliveries for a small fee. However, you are at a disadvantage when grouped with others who offer immediate appeal, such as free items at retail outlets. A dental practice often gets placed at the bottom of the heap.

Although we don’t like to admit it, we still live in a day and age where Americans view dental care as optional ... something they delay until it’s convenient rather than a commitment they should make. Adults will often choose a hair stylist, auto repair shop, dry cleaner, and veterinarian long before they give dental care a thought. Whether it’s the public’s dread of dental visits, or likened to “if it doesn’t hurt, why fix it”, we are against odds we must be willing to acknowledge if we are to deal effectively with the challenge.

If the first letter goes out approximately three months after the resident has relocated, what should be included? We suggest making a good, initial impression with a short (no more than three paragraphs) letter that welcomes in the first paragraph, states the benefits of care they’ll enjoy in the second, and an invitation to call or visit in the third. Rather than a staff member, the doctor should sign the letter personally. At the end of the letter, include a P.S. that paints a picture. This helps them envision coming to your practice. For instance, “Our red brick building is conveniently located on Blue Ridge Drive near the I-40 Exit. There is ample parking in the front of our building, which features our blue practice sign beside the entrance drive.”

Your business card and practice brochure should accompany the letter. If you have no practice brochure, attach a page that lists a brief bio and your services described in benefit-oriented terms.
This letter serves to introduce the recipient to the benefits within your practice. It contains no offer or pitch. It is meant to familiarize them with your name and location. It is advised to address it to the individual’s name rather than “New Resident” or “Friend”, which loses the personal touch and becomes “Occupant” junk mail. Keep a record of the recipient’s name, address, and date the letter was mailed.

Initial Letter To Recently Relocated Prospect
(Enclose business card and practice brochure)

Dear Name,

Welcome to the community. I hope you are beginning to feel “at home” by now.
I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to our dental practice. My team and I are focused on caring for those who desire an attractive and healthy smile for a lifetime. We have created an environment for adults who prefer optimal health and well-being for an enhanced quality of life.

Please call or come by if you have questions or wish to discuss your individual situation. You will find a comfortable and warm setting that provides a positive experience at each visit.


P. S. We are conveniently located on the ground floor of the Medical Arts Building on the corner of Ballpark Drive and Hanson Boulevard. There is ample parking in the front of our Suite, which is on the right side of the front entrance.

Now what? That doesn’t sound so enticing. However, let’s look at the next step. From the date of the initial mailing, mark the second mailing date for six weeks later. Now that you’ve introduced yourself to them, use the second mailing to entice them in. Rather than offer free exams, we suggest a tangible item that does not require an appointment. Our favorite is an item that is not available through retail, such as a breath-freshening toothpaste. These items are still new and intriguing to the general public. As your second letter reminds them of your practice, you can then follow with an offer to “bring the enclosed certificate in for a complimentary tube of Oxyfresh toothpaste” with a brief explanation of the benefits of the product. Add a “Complimentary Certificate” for the product that includes an expiration date, providing at least six weeks to use. Enclose a map to the practice and another business card.

Second Letter To Recently Relocated Prospect
(Enclose business card and map to the practice)

Dear Name,

I hope this finds you doing well and enjoying your new home. As you become settled, you are probably starting to tend to things often delayed by a move, such as dental care. As an adult-oriented practice, you will find the environment we’ve created compatible to your needs.
Enclosed please find a certificate for a complimentary tube of Oxyfresh Toothpaste. This product, unavailable in stores, combats odor-causing sulfur compounds that contribute to halitosis (bad breath). You’ll also find it improves the condition of your gums and other mouth tissue. Redeem your certificate without an appointment during normal business hours (Monday through Friday - 8am to 5pm) before the expiration date of 0X/0X/0X.

Feel free to call if you have questions or immediate needs. We look forward to meeting you!


The resident now has a motive to visit you as well as a call to action. They don’t need an appointment to take advantage of this and will not feel pressured since it has been offered to them to redeem at their convenience.

Why does this work? First, they have been offered a “gift” by a name that was introduced to them prior (your initial mailing). Secondly, the item is only available through dental practices and you have already provided two descriptive vehicles to help familiarize them with your facility (the P.S. in the initial letter and the map in the second). Third, they can redeem the gift at their convenience, without an appointment, and without feeling pressure. Last, the timing is appropriate since their normal routine should be in place by this point.

Your front desk staff should be prepared to give these visitors extra special treatment. We prefer that, if available, the Hygienist present the gift to the visitor and give a brief explanation of its benefits. Make sure they understand that these products are available at an excellent price and an appointment is not necessary in order for them to continue with the product. Close with “It’s been so nice to meet you. If you haven’t chosen a dental office yet, we’d be pleased to have you as a patient. Let us know when we can assist you!” This offer is subtle and friendly. They will leave with a positive feeling about this introduction to your office and will be inspired to return for an appointment.

If you have a magnet or pen imprinted with your name and phone number, provide them so your name remains in front of them for an extended period of time.

For names on your list who do not respond to either mailing, we advise a letter once again approximately three months after the second letter. This is a last-ditch effort, but occasionally culminates into a patient who has had good intentions all along, but couldn’t work dental visits into their schedule.

People love a gift. They enjoy something free with no strings attached. They appreciate sincere smiles and friendly people. For the cost of a tube of toothpaste, you can entice newcomers into your practice who immediately feel comfortable being there. If a dental practice can accomplish this when dental visits are usually at the bottom of one’s list, you’ve done an excellent job and will be rewarded well!

First impressions are lasting impressions, especially when it comes to smiles.

A visit to a Prosthodontist's office several years ago revealed to me how significantly staff members can impact a new patient's receptiveness to treatment. The doctor was highly skilled, trained in the latest techniques, had a technologically-superior office, and even employed an in-house lab to interact directly throughout the entire process of aesthetic enhancements. He was extremely qualified, yet struggling for new patients.

Taking on the role of a new patient to his practice, I was easily impressed with the facility, its medical-hub location, and the reception area's polish and professional atmosphere. Yet, the Assistant assigned to accompany me through my "first appointment" gave me immediate cause for concern.

The Assistant's own smile was a poor example of dental aesthetics. Her upper teeth were thick, a chalky dull-white, and long. Her dentistry had obviously been done years before, and certainly by another whose skills and training were not nearly to this client's level. Even though I knew that, the perception of an actual new patient may have been otherwise.

Your staff members, (and you, too) are walking examples of your aesthetic capabilities. The unflattering smile of a staff member who is in a "first impression" position may create a negative reaction of those not yet confident with your ability.

An Illinois dentist I visited when whitening first emerged boasted of how his Hygienist would step in for a firsthand look when patients asked about the results. With that one smile, most were inspired to proceed, without hesitation. This doctor knew one look was worth a thousand words.

As long as new patients have the opportunity to see good examples of your aesthetic skills, not everyone in your office needs to have a perfect smile. With qualified employees difficult to find and keep, that requirement may not be practical. Yet, do not assume that those unfamiliar with your quality of work will overlook smiles that are not to standards they would desire for themselves.

Dentists who wish to boost aesthetic procedures should look at their own smile as well. Although a barber doesn't cut his own hair, one who is satisfied with less than the best for himself places you in uncertain territory when under his scissors.

In the Prosthodontist's case, the Assistant had been offered smile enhancement, but only after she completed six months of satisfactory employment. Certainly, the doctor was exercising caution in wanting to ensure compatibility before investing in her dentistry. The proposed solution was to assign another Assistant to first appointments. His second Assistant had a beautiful, flattering smile and was a better choice to make positive, first impressions.

A common comfort zone in dental practice marketing is the Yellow Page section of your telephone directory. Even dental practitioners who never advertise their services in the newspaper can often be found in a display ad in the Yellow Pages. And for just cause. It can be a viable source of new patient recruitment and is often the final step a prospective patient takes before calling your practice for the first time. We do not deny the advantages of Yellow Page advertising; however, we take a cautious approach in the use and design.

As with any advertisement, your Yellow Page ad should focus on a specific service. We don't mean to say you should not mention your other services, but the focus should key in on the type of service you wish to expand and then lead into the others. For example, if you are a general dentist who most enjoys cosmetic dentistry, have your headline and photo geared to draw in that type of prospect. Keep in mind any marketing that produces results must have a targeted prospect to whom it is aligned.

As you scan your local Yellow Pages' dental section, you'll see there are many practices that want to be everything to everybody. The result: They are nothing to nobody. Focus your marketing efforts on the procedure you wish to enhance most in your practice and other procedures will fall naturally into place as a residual bonus.

Let's review common design and usage errors regarding Yellow Page display ads.

Bigger Is Better?
Not necessarily. Once you know the type of procedure your ad will target, review the competition's ads that promote the same type of treatments. You may see some larger ads that mention the procedure, but perhaps not many that prominently promote it in their advertisement. Your ad doesn't necessarily need to be larger than theirs, but perhaps the same size or slightly smaller. If your last name starts with "J" or further in the alphabet, you may also want to take this into consideration with the size of your display ad since your name listing will be well into the dental section. A display ad can position you more favorably. Remember, the sales pitch from your Yellow Page representative is strongly in favor of large ads since their compensation comes mainly from commission. Buyer beware. Don't commit to more than you need.

The Decision Of Color
At one time, the use of color was sparse and limited. Basically, it was a choice of red or black, or a combination of the two. Now there are white knock-outs, red, black, purple, blue, green, etc. When just one or two advertisements on a page featured color in their ads, it made the ad stand out more so than the others on the same page. But once everyone got on the bandwagon, the affect lost its impact. No longer a unique feature of an ad, color has gotten way out of hand. Color will certainly increase your cost, but more importantly, it may have a negative effect on how it draws the eye. Again, scan the other display ads in the dental section. If many use color, remember that you will be competing with them. Often, the ad that is different (no color) is the one that will draw the eye. And too, red is a no-no. It is a subconscious reminder of blood. Need we say more?

Some doctors use their photo in their Yellow Page ad. In certain cases, we do recommend the doctor use his or her photo. We'll address those who should first. If you are of a specific segment of the population who desires to attract similar patients, then your photo is a bonus in doing so. Example: Say you are Hispanic and your practice is located in Dallas, Texas. If you look Hispanic, and you wish to attract Hispanics as patients, then use your photo, by all means.
When shouldn't you? We rarely advise a doctor to include his or her photo. Patients will come to you based upon your ability to fulfill their needs, not because of how attractive you appear. Some professional photos can appear too serious, or too jovial to appeal to prospects. Rather than have your photo detract, leave it out.

Photographs of beautiful, smiling people are positive statements in ads. An appropriate photo draws the eye and helps the prospect identify with what they desire. Use photos carefully, too. Reproduction must be perfect to ensure the ad achieves its goal.

If anything can tarnish the image of the dental profession, it is the Yellow Page ads that, while good intentions were meant, are insulting. We have harped on the horrendous use of "We Cater To Cowards" for years. There is a more tasteful way to reassure patients that you will care for them comfortably. Dancing toothbrushes are appropriate if you are a Pediatric Dentist, but aren't appealing to adults who are seeking skilled care by a dedicated dental professional. We've had many clients send us comical examples of dental ads in the Yellow Pages. We've seen shark mouths, smiling Cheshire cats, teeth people, tooth families, and so on. Be above this type of approach, and leave the cutesy ads to exterminators.

Be sure you provide your Yellow Page representative with camera-ready artwork. Ask about their specifications and requirements for best reproduction. A quality design will be perceived by your prospect as a provider of quality care. Cutting corners will be more obvious than you think.

Once your ad is completed, remember that it will run a full year before you can make adjustments to it. Make sure it will serve you well, and be a positive reflection on you and your practice.

The James Bond film “Never Say Never” was entitled such because Sean Connery, after his last role as James Bond, made the statement he would never play Bond again. He did. Often, we make resolutions based upon our present-day stance. Sooner or later, unpredictable factors alter our thinking and shift our stance. We don’t necessarily give in, we merely adjust our position.

While advertising has become more appealing for those in the medical profession, many doctors continue to take a resistant stance when it comes to advertising. The assumed repercussions of losing doctor referrals or tarnishing a reputation is frightening for any doctor, and rightly so. However, managed care, heavy competition, and undependable referral numbers are solid reasons to examine new avenues for practice growth.

Not long ago, a hospital that advertised to the public was a rarity. Today, most have advertising budgets that would overshadow the annual gross of many practices. Full-page ads, award-winning television commercials, full-color direct mail pieces ... hospitals now devote an enormous effort to advertising in order to thrive rather than survive.

The issues of wanting to and needing to have taken a back seat to what is now have to. Unfortunately, the worst scenario you can find yourself is the position of have to. This column is structured to help you bypass the have to. If you need to, once you read on, you will hopefully want to.

As increasing number of medical specialists now blend advertising into their marketing programs; particularly those who wish to promote elective procedures. Although your marketing budget can’t pattern the campaign of large institutions, there are lessons to be gleaned for successful medical advertising to boost the demand for aesthetically-oriented procedures.

This month, we’ll focus on newspaper advertising. I’ve chosen to begin with this for several reasons. First, a newspaper is primarily an information source. Unlike broadcast advertising (radio and television), which are entertainment sources, it has a higher credibility factor. Even some of the news-oriented programming, other than daily local and network news programming, has developed a reputation of biased reporting for the sake of sensationalism. Your daily newspaper still holds the reliability award among the nation’s most educated adults.

Another factor is affordability. Most newspapers are reasonably priced when it comes to advertising rates, particularly when you figure “cost per issue”. For newspapers that cover a wider territory than you can afford, or wish to pursue, many offer zoned rates. These are often sections of the newspaper that contain community-type information. They are usually published on one or two specific days of the week and can be a separate tabloid inserted into the paper or an added section.

Best of all, newspaper provides less fragmented coverage than broadcast media. Whereas, most communities have one daily newspaper, they have competing selections of radio and television stations. Add to this the predicted patterns of commercial breaks. Viewers or listeners often use this time to mentally “tune out” and turn their attention elsewhere. A newspaper page has a random arrangement of articles and ads. As readers scan each page, their minds are open to absorb new and intriguing information. This mindset also includes items that are advertised.

With a printed advertisement, one can read it at a pace that enhances recall, focus on aspects that are personally appealing, share it with another, or even tear it out to refer to later. Add the elements of affordability and credibility, we normally choose newspaper advertising to begin to build positive awareness.

While we will use the term “advertising” in these columns, keep in mind that the goal in marketing aesthetic procedures is to create awareness. Align your thinking from that of “selling” to “informing”. Actually, marketing in its truest form is just that. Advertising, as an element of marketing, is appealing to those who have the need or desire of that which you have to offer. Selling relies on impulses. Marketing is far more strategic.

In the next issue, we will critique an actual newspaper advertisement from a plastic surgeon’s office. We will point out what works well in this regard, and specific items that should be adjusted or omitted altogether. This will provide a visual illustration of the key factors in successful print advertising. To add to your appreciation of our critique, this column contains guidelines that significantly impact success in advertising even more than the actual design.

Do It Right The First Time - Your name, reputation, growth potential and budget is at stake. Everything you do in marketing should respect these elements. It is wiser to undertake an advertising campaign backed by professional support and build slowly than to take stabs in the dark and patch as you go. Wasted dollars are not necessarily the worst that can occur. If your image is tarnished, it could take years to repair the damage.

Look Before You Leap - The commitment to advertise your services is but one rung of a tall ladder. Begin with some research. Know your target market (the best age, location, sex, income level, etc. that characterizes your prospect). Consider those who have accepted treatment in the past to create a persona as a guide.

Promote Not Thyself - People are most motivated by the end result of treatment rather than the technicalities required to reach their goal. Once they are motivated, your name, credentials, and telephone number will tell them how to fulfill their desire.

Watch Your Wallet - Research shows that consumers must see a message between four and six times within a reasonable context of time before they can recall it. By reaching your prospect with sufficient frequency for recall, you build and maintain awareness. Commissioned media reps benefit from the amount you spend. However, more is not better. Don’t be persuaded into more frequency than necessary.

Slow times are the worst times to advertise. For instance, if summer months are traditionally slow, your dollars are wasted trying to motivate people who have vacations on their minds. Begin your campaign just before busier months and ease up prior to anticipated slow-downs. Look at past production figures to see when patients have been most active.

Have Your Support System Ready, Willing & Able - Advertising creates calls. Proper handling of these calls creates scheduled appointments. A prepared staff and proper printed support (brochures, maps to the practice, etc.) maximizes your opportunity to convert response into treatments. Have staff meetings to discuss the campaign and create a unified, team effort.
Your staff’s commitment to successful advertising will be in direct proportion to yours. Stand by your commitment with a positive outlook and staff members will radiate the same. Reflect this attitude to the public and professional community as well. If others sense you are advertising reluctantly, they are less likely to support you.

Going directly to the consumer is nothing new for most businesses. It is a practical ingredient for a healthy, growing company. A medical practice, like any business, must adjust with changing trends and constant challenges.

If you are to survive in today’s competitive market, consider your options and find the marketing that is right for you. No matter what you decide to implement, the best rule of thumb is “never say never”!

Does this statement sound familiar?

“Every time we run ads, most of the callers we get are just ‘shoppers’.”

If this has been voiced by you, staff members, or overheard from those in another office, then read on.

There is no doubt that your best new patients result from patient referrals. With referred prospects, the calls have the backing of knowledgeable spokespersons. They have a positive impression of you, your skills, the environment, etc. Because a referred caller has the assurance of another, the purpose of the call is, primarily, to make an appointment. Most often, their questions are for clarification prior to the initial visit.

Advertising doesn’t enjoy the luxury of this reinforcement. Advertisements motivate calls by appealing to a want or need. The fact that they need you to fulfill that goal is a task, not a desire. Generally, these calls come from prospects unfamiliar with your qualifications to fulfill these needs. Therefore, the purpose of these calls is far different from that of referred callers.

Let’s face it. Advertising dental treatment comes with advantages and disadvantages. It can enhance and expand awareness in your market and associate your name with high production procedures. Yet, it requires an investment above and beyond other marketing activities. For this reason, proper conversion techniques are vital to an adequate return-on-investment.

Without having prior reassurance that you are the best choice to fulfill their needs, callers traditionally search for this by asking questions. This is where the call becomes a challenge, on both ends.

Callers from advertising are often deemed ‘shoppers’ by asking the cost of procedures. Your receptionist may envision the person on the other end with the Yellow Page directory, cost-comparing through a mass poll of dental offices - and the one with the lowest fee wins. This immediate perception is unfair to the caller and a loss to the practice.

Get into the mindset of the caller for a moment. This individual has an obvious interest in the outcome (which is why they’ve called you in the first place). However, they are unfamiliar with the procedure or the skills needed for a satisfying outcome. Something tells them to do some investigating but they have no idea where to begin. The most obvious way, for many, is to ask the most familiar element in any transaction - cost.

Rather than assume the caller is price-shopping, use the following to convert the call into a powerful opportunity for the practice, whether the caller schedules or not. Giving reassurance creates a respectful conversation that leaves your receptionist and the caller more content with the outcome.

Let’s look at an average scenario ...

Receptionist: Good morning, Dr. Smith’s office, this is Jane.

Caller: “I saw your ad in the newspaper and wanted to know how much you charge for crowns?”

Receptionist: Thank you for calling. Can I get your name?

Caller: “This is Mary Jones, but I just want to know how much your crowns cost.”

Receptionist: I understand your concern because crowns are not inexpensive, Ms. Jones. But if your main concern is cost, I must say there are other offices who charge less for crowns. Our crowns are priced according to the most natural look, feel, fit and longevity. Dr. Smith’s crowns are made from exceptional materials and are the best for your investment. Like anything, there is always someone who’ll do it for less, but we believe patients deserve the best result for a reasonable fee. Once you meet Dr. Smith, you’ll understand why our crowns are not the least expensive.

Caller: “Okay then, give me a ballpark.”

Receptionist: The cost of crowns varies according to the location in your mouth and material Dr. Smith determines is best for that location. These are questions he can answer at a consultation appointment which I can schedule for you. He can see you as early as Thursday at noon. Is that convenient?

Caller: “Can’t you just give me a range?”

Receptionist: Ms. Jones, that puts me in an awkward position since I’m not familiar with your needs. I may give you a range beyond what you need and that wouldn’t be fair to you. Dr. Smith is the best one to discuss this with you. He has been in practice for over twenty years and has completed many advanced courses on cosmetic and restorative dentistry. Obviously, I think he’s the best, but the proof is through our patients! If you’d like a consultation, I’ll be happy to schedule one.

Let’s say the caller says “No thanks” and hangs up. Obviously, cost was the main factor and your office is not right for this person. However, let’s look into the mind of the caller once the call is over.

This individual is now left to ponder their own expectations. Is the cheapest option in their best interest? Is it a wise investment? Do they deserve better? Your receptionist has just left them with a positive impression of your commitment to exceptional dentistry. Also, the caller has been respectfully reminded that they must live with the quality of care they choose.

Most adults assume their oral health is fine ... until something hurts. While a growing number of dental offices now begin new patient appointments with comprehensive exams, most adults still don’t understand why their first visit shouldn’t be for a “cleaning”.

Although dentistry is at an exciting threshold in the enhancement of the American population’s health and appearance, we must accept the challenge to create informed patients and educated consumers in a way that leaves them wiser, no matter how the call concludes.

"For everything there is a season."

There seems to be proper timing for many aspects of our lives. There are months when we seem most motivated to purchase a car. There are particular times of the year when we are more prone to take a vacation. The realtors in your area know when home buyers are most-motivated to buy or sell a home. Should dental practices consider timing when marketing? Definitely, particularly for elective services.

For routine care, a dental practice may or may not experience noticeable patient flow variations during the year. Yet, elective services often have production peaks and lulls that reveal a pattern over time. These fluctuations are often predictable. Specialists, in particular, experience this to the greatest degree. For instance, orthodontists normally have a predictable pattern of productivity highs and lows. By pinpointing these times and using them to your advantage, you can maximize marketing effectiveness and manage marketing dollars more efficiently.

Dental practices tend to implement marketing activities when new patient flow or production levels decline. Unfortunately, those who are most-motivated for cosmetic dentistry in April probably will not pursue such in October, no matter what you do. The saying “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” is also pertinent to dentistry.

Look for traditional high and low production months by pulling monthly figures for the past three years. You may see that Spring and Summer months are never as high as your first and last quarters, or vice versa. This "financial seasonality" reveals normal activity patterns of current or prospective patients. Trying to boost activity by marketing during these slow times will only deplete your budget.

If you detect a pattern, plan to implement marketing activities two to three weeks prior to this busy time, tapering off two to three weeks after its peak. If there is no pattern, choose times of the year that are most practical for your market. For instance, if you are located in an area with severe winters that effect patient activity, delay things until patient flow is more predictable.
During slow times, don't assume that you have to "wait it out" either. These are excellent opportunities to tend to low-cost marketing. Send letters to referring doctors, submit press releases, write articles, and catch up on notes to patients.

This is also a good time to examine your marketing approach. For example, new adolescent patients may decline in an orthodontic practice in the fourth quarter. However, adults often pursue elective procedures at the end of the year due to business slow-downs during the holidays. As they take advantage of unused dental insurance benefits, this can be peak timing for marketing adult orthodontic treatments.

Marketing that is implemented with adequate preparation and strategic timing adds greatly to your response level. The best way to achieve this is to have a 6-month or annual plan that is timed and budgeted for your specific situation. Through this, you avoid the costly errors of "hit and miss" marketing.

For production and new patient growth, give your practice a pop quiz to ensure the following are in good shape.

• Your identity is appropriate for your target market. (i.e. for high-level cosmetic dentistry, you have a polished, professional image for females, age 40+)

• Your interior is appropriate for the type of patient you most desire.

• Signage is visible and easy to read.

• Physicians and dental specialists know your name and the services you provide.

• Patients are aware of all your services (through your brochure, recall cards, practice updates).

• You make it known that you accept new patients.

• You follow-up on past consults, inactive patients, and past inquiries.

• You track where new patients are coming from.

• You know if you are getting more or less response from any particular source than last year and discuss why or why not with the staff.

• Your staff knows how to promote your skill level to patients and prospects.

• Patients are given a brochure or other item when asking for referrals.

• Treatment suites have product samples and printed information on items you wish to promote in easy view of the patient. (For example, a display of Breath Rx products or a framed after-photo of an attractive patient with anterior porcelain veneers).

•You hold regular staff meetings and discuss the use of marketing items.

• You praise staff for referrals in front of other staff members.

• You set production goals and reward the staff appropriately.

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