Too many dental practices approach their marketing strategy like they would approach a pinata; blindly swinging at their target and hoping that something produces results. Trying different methods and focusing your energy on various platforms at random times is better than nothing, but it’ll never give you the same results that an organized and calculated marketing strategy would.
But how do you build a strategy? Rather than getting overwhelmed and going back to throwing things at the wall to see what sticks, try doing what the experts do. Our marketing strategists follow a relatively simple process when building a plan, and I’m going to outline that process here for you!
What Are You Trying to Do?
Before you can build an effective strategy, you need to know what you’re trying to achieve. Determining your objectives will help you carve out a distinct direction to take with your marketing plan; informing the decisions you make along the way.
Some examples of common objectives might include:
- Growth in patient volume; you would like your operatory in use at least 80% of the time
- Growth in profitability through specific services; you would like to attract more patients for Invisalign, Botox treatments, teeth whitening, or other less general procedures
- Increase in average referral rate; you would like to attract more families and married patients
You Don’t Have to Aim for World Domination
Many practices believe that their goal should be to build the largest patient base in the area and increase their revenue by 600%. Sure, that would be nice, but not every independent practice can support that kind of growth. Don’t worry about growing your practice to be any larger than what you’re comfortable with. There are plenty of other goals to focus on, such as:
- Shifting your patient base from seniors to young adults
- Increasing patient retention
- Reaching more patients within a specific area or neighbourhood
Your Strategy Starts With 2 Basic Elements
No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, every marketing strategy boils down to two major elements; lead generation and brand building. While most strategies lean more to one side than the other, pretty much every effective strategy incorporates both in one way or another.
While lead generation focuses on getting new patients in your door today, brand building ensures potential patients remember your name when they need services like yours tomorrow. A really successful business checks both boxes at any given time.
There was a time when a good portion of new patients came through the phonebook. People would flip to “D” for dentist, look for an address in their area, and call to book an appointment; phone in one hand and wallet in the other. While the phonebook isn’t a particularly popular search method anymore, this type of patient still exists; they’re just looking online instead.
Lead generation makes sure that patients who are actively searching for services like yours find your business. Of course, lead generation can’t make sure that patients will choose your practice, but it can make sure that they know who you are, what you do, and that you’re on the relevant list of options.
To put it more simply, lead generation caters to patients that are looking for a dentist in their area. This type of marketing campaign focuses on meeting online searchers halfway by either showing the user your ad when they type in relevant search terms or making sure your website ranks somewhere on the first page when the user searches something like “Northwest Calgary Dentist.”
Google Search Ads
When you do a Google search, the first result is usually a search ad. The posting looks similar to all of the other results that show up on the page. The only real difference is that there’s a little green box that says ad somewhere near the title. This is exactly what I mean when I refer to search ads.
These search ads let you show up first for users with intent. Certain search terms like dentist near me will prompt your ad to appear at the top of the page, ahead of any other local dental practice. Search ads are highly customizable, which means you can hone in on exactly the type of user you want to reach.
Maybe the best thing about Google Search Ads is that they’re pay per click; you don’t pay every time the ads show up. You only have to pay when someone clicks on your ad. It basically guarantees that the money you spend on your search ads never goes to waste.
Google AdWords works similarly to an auction, which means you have to compete with the market. If you’re in a big metropolitan area where the competition among dental practices is particularly fierce, I’d highly recommend working with a Google Partner (you know, like SmileShop) to help you make sure you’re getting the best results.
Most business owners have heard the term SEO. Some business owners know that it stands for search engine optimization. But not that many business owners (or even marketers for that matter) really know how SEO works today.
The idea behind SEO is to make your website the type of site that Google wants to suggest to people. Usually, the goal is to get your business listed on the first page of Google results on any relevant search words. Web users are more likely to look at the first few results on the first page, so the higher you rank, the more likely you are to get a lot of visits to your site.
SEO is a cornerstone of a lead generation campaign because, just like search ads, it puts your website in front of users that are actively looking for your services.
The best practices for SEO are based on Google’s search algorithms; the criteria by which Google decides whether a website is relevant to a search or not. The trick is that these search algorithms change every few months or so, and with them, so do SEO best practices. Because SEO is kind of in a constant state of flux, many business owners, and even some marketers adhere to SEO best practices that are years out of date.
Our SEO guru, Cameron wrote a whole guideline on the current (as of November 2018) best practices for SEO, which you can check out here.
Building your brand means making your practice memorable and recognizable so that when potential patients need dental services, your name is the one they remember, and your office is the one they call. Branding can extend outside the digital realm to more traditional media like billboards, radio commercials, print ads, and even getting involved in community events.
There are a number of excellent, cost-effective digital platforms for branding your practice throughout your community.
The banner ad you see at the top or side of your favourite website would be a good example of a display ad. Those display ads are bought and placed through something called the Google Display Network.
The GDN is made up of millions of everyday websites from hobby and lifestyle blogs to daily information sites like The Weather Network. Through targeting, you can make sure your ads show up for users that are likely to be interested in the services you’re advertising. For example, if you’re trying to boost appointments from young families, your ads might appear on a parenting blog for users in your area.
You can either pay for display ads using the pay per click model (like Google search ads) or you can pay for impressions. Every time your ad appears on someone’s screen, it’s called an impression, so while paying by impression doesn’t guarantee users will interact with your ad, it will guarantee how many people will see it.
Video is one of the most effective advertising methods because it engages two of your senses at once. Although TV ads are outside the realm of possibility for most independent practices, YouTube is relatively simple, affordable, and not to mention effective.
You might consider YouTube to just be a source of entertainment, which it definitely can be, but don’t forget that it’s also a huge source of information. In fact, YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the world! The vast range of video content out there gives you the opportunity to target your video ads to your desired audience.
Although the user may not sit through your entire ad, you have 5 seconds to capture their attention and tell them who you are. No other medium gives you this kind of opportunity. The best part is that you only pay for your ad if the user sits through 10 seconds of your ad or more! If the user skips your ad after 5 seconds, you don’t pay for that play. If the user does make it past the 10-second mark, you only pay about 10 cents. That is unbelievable value.
It’s important that you claim any social media accounts associated with your name, and use them to create or share valuable content like videos, blog posts, or infographics. Now, unfortunately, there’s a bit of a good news/ bad news situation here. The bad news is that unless they’re already following your business on social media, the average user won’t see the content you create on their timeline organically. Even if the user does follow you, they only have about a 3% chance of seeing your organic content.
The good news is that you can pay to sponsor or boost your posts. Sponsored posts ensure that your content will push through the clutter to show up on someone’s Facebook or Instagram timeline, even if they don’t follow your business!
Social media is an awesome place to highlight your connection with your community and some of the cool events you’ve taken part in.