Thanks to corporates and insurers growing steadily, dentistry is fast becoming a commodity – where the only way to choose between Dentist A or Dentist B is price. For talented, independent (non-corporate), dentists with a long track record of success (and skills their patients love), it’s upsetting when new patients only care about price.
This means fewer patients and falling profits at work . . . and an unwelcome impact on your home life as friends and family notice a change in your demeanour and happiness.
But it’s not your fault. No one prepared you for a commoditised market and business and marketing just wasn’t part of the curriculum at university. The sheer numbers are against you through no fault of your own. In the past five years, the Australian population grew by 7% – the number of dentists grew by 17%.
Every year, more and more dentists join the market with only a slight increase in the number of patients. What this means is a growing need to embrace business and marketing efforts to grow your practice, rather than seeking to compete on price. In this article, we show you that there’s a way forward by following the simple steps provided.
You’re speaking to the wrong people
In business, trying to be all things to all people is a recipe for disaster – yet this is what most dentists do. The messages from most dental practices do not speak to a particular patient group. Yet, as consumers, we’d much rather engage with a business that really gets us and our unique needs – rather than a one size fits all – particularly in something as personal as the health space.
The answer is to adopt a message, through your marketing, speaking directly to a particular patient group. In marketing speak, this group is known as an ‘avatar’. By really speaking to the avatar, you will experience a magnetic pull with your ideal patients, without repelling others.
Imagine looking at a day’s schedule to discover everyone who’s booked in is your ideal patient. Patients that appreciate and value your services, rather than arguing over every penny. Patients that act on your ethical treatment recommendations rather than continually stalling when the way forward is so clear.
When we met Dr Ash, he had known good times in the past. He was experienced with 15 years as a dentist. He was kind and conscientious, and his patients enjoying coming to see him and he was in a postcode that had good patient numbers and not too much competition.
Over a period of time, his local market became more saturated, to the extent there is now more than 20 practices within walking distance of his practice – and he isn’t even in the CBD.
When he met us, he was frustrated and unhappy. His new patient numbers had dried up from all the competition and he felt like he was constantly pushing to get new patients. He also was becoming disillusioned with dentistry, and he felt disrespected by new patients where price became the number one factor in their decision of which dentist to choose.
In our first meeting, I helped Ash understand that going ‘like for like’ with other dentists was a battle he couldn’t win, and one that he wouldn’t want to. Instead, we needed to sidestep the other dentists altogether.
After a quick review of his patients, the answer became obvious. Ash had been doing laser dental for some time to the extent that he rarely needed to give needles for most dental work . . . and for his patients, this was a game-changer.
Like other dentists who have amazing offerings, though subtle, the different dentistry that Ash offered was basically invisible until a patient sat in the chair. After we shone the light on his uniqueness, and pointed that light directly at those who cared about it (which for Ash meant changes to his existing website which was already receiving good traffic), everything changed.
After getting the word out, a clear change happened. There was a notable increase in enquiries overall but particularly from the right kind of patients. It was almost like ‘build it, and they will come’ and come they did.
This meant more patients, higher profits but even more importantly, a new zeal for the noble art of dentistry for Ash – a renewed spark to a light that had once shone so brightly. Ash had avoided pandering to the commoditisation and price-sensitivity of dentistry and enjoyed a renewed pride in serving his ideal clients.
The message here is clear; sometimes throwing more fuel on the fire is not the answer. Increasing patient numbers only makes sense if you are attracting more of the type of patients you want.
Clarity is key, and for dental practices, getting really clear on the group of patients you want more of, is an essential first step. Once that patient has been identified (every practice has their own unique avatar), it’s a matter of crafting a message to attract that avatar, and spreading that message widely.
Finding a unique path to your clients
Once you’ve identified your avatar, that’s not the end of the story. You could be providing world-class service to one type of patient, but what difference does that make if no one knows about it?
Rich Dad, Poor Dad author Robert Kiyosaki famously declared about himself that he is not the best author on the planet, just the best marketed business author. 43 million book sales suggests he might be onto something.
The key to getting your message out is getting in front of the right patients.
For Dr Brian, providing a great personalised service was not the issue. Truth is he’d somehow managed to put his finger on the pulse of the local community – and provided an almost old-fashioned, personalised service (with a modern twist).
And for his avatar ‘Mary’, this service struck a chord – she had repeatedly voted with her wallet at Brian’s practice. As a mid-50s female with a partner, adult kids, and a white-collar background, Mary was starting to think more and more about achieving a beautiful healthy smile – but one that would last for years to come.
While Mary provided nice word of mouth referrals for Brian, this process of getting the word out among these raving fans doesn’t always happen quickly – most people don’t think about the dentist that much. For Brian, he had a hunger to grow faster.
We explored a range of strategies for Brian to help his practice display their uniqueness to where all the local ‘Marys’ were hanging out. In the end, two options loomed large.
The first tactic was short videos that were displayed at the checkout of the local community supermarket reminding Mary every time she shopped that her ideal dentist was waiting for her. The second tactic was taking advantage of the blank space on the back of the prescription folder at the local pharmacy. With a simple image (of Mary) and a clear message about their unique service, this was an opportunity not to be missed in introducing Mary to Brian.
Did it work? A 30% growth in the practice in the following 12 months suggested this approach of finding a unique path to your ideal clients (avatars) worked very well.
Identifying your avatar is a great starting point, but if that’s not being communicated broadly and widely in your local area, then you’re missing out. With so many dental practices across Australia, clearly communicating to your ideal client is essential – and potentially, very profitable.
For the Marys of the world – or the equivalent avatar in your area – price stops being an issue because they are dealing with someone who ‘gets’ them . . . and that experience is priceless.
You are hard to find online
Consumers are moving online at a rapid rate and if you don’t show up prominently, they won’t know that you exist. 94% of Australians are using Google as their main search engine and over 60% of Australians use online search to choose their dentist.
But with so many dentists about, and only one practice who can be on top of the search results in your local area, you fate rests in the hands of your online presence. The solution is simple to understand – show up prominently online – but harder to achieve.
Winning this online war means showing up in Google in the local area, both in the ‘organic’ search results (the top 10) and on the Google map. And it’s about doing so, for a whole range of search terms (known as ‘keywords’) in your area, such as ‘dentist near me’, ‘[suburb name] dentist’, and ‘family dentist’.
This outcome is achieved by something called search engine optimisation (SEO) which gives you the double benefit of boosting your presence in organic (top 10 search) results and on the map.
For Dr Claire, this was the missing piece of the puzzle. She’d identified her avatar ‘Barbara’ and Barbara really liked what Claire offered. Claire’s practice was within a medical centre where Barbara visited quite frequently, but unfortunately this thoroughfare had not translated into a flood of patients.
Claire had invested heavily to create a beautiful practice, but the low patient numbers were weighing her down. Unlike Dr Ash, Claire didn’t have solid traffic to her website.
SEO provided the answer – the better Claire’s practice could show up online, the more ‘Barbaras’ would see her message and achieve an immediate connection. While we were happy to help with SEO, there was a bit of white space in Claire’s books, and she had some time on her hands.
Google loves (and rewards) fresh content on your website and fortunately, Claire enjoyed writing, finding it quite therapeutic. Claire has a nice way with her words and producing something fresh once or twice every month for her site proved just the trick.
Fast forward 18 months and Claire is well and truly booked out, looking for an associate to help come and serve more Barbaras. For Claire, this is a real relief. Her investment in a beautiful practice is paying off in spades . . . plus, she gets to provide a unique boutique dental experience to her ideal client which is deeply satisfying.
While doing great dentistry remains a focus for sensible dentists, in a business sense, all it provides is what Dental Pioneer, Mark Costes, calls ‘tickets to the dance’. It allows you to be in business (go the dance) but it doesn’t guarantee business success. Showing up prominently where your potential patients are looking for you is a critical part of the process.
You don’t have to compete on price
Consistent in all of the examples above is that none of these turnaround stories involved the practice competing on price.
In fact, for each practice, production and profit margins improved without the need for discounting. Ideal clients are looking every day for your unique dental experience, it’s just a matter of identifying your avatar, finding a unique path to them, and showing up prominently online.
At Dental Marketing Solutions, taking dental practices through this process is what we love. The process is simple, but not easy – and we’ll keep you away from the mistakes that so many practices make in their efforts to stand out. And the results? Well, they’re hard to ignore.
To find out how this process can work for you, click HERE to book a free call.
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