Part 1 of 3
By Daniel A. Bobrow, MBA (University of Chicago) & MBA (K.U.L. Belgium)
Note: To those of you already comfortable with dentistry marketing principles and philosophy, STS I, II, & III may constitute “preaching to the choir.” If so, my apologies. Because there are so many dentists who have yet to achieve this level of comfort and knowledge, I feel it is incumbent upon me to convey to all dental practice owners the importance, power, and value that marketing holds for practice growth and success. In that way, we are assured everyone is on the same proverbial page.
For all you others, I promise that, by STS Issue IV, you’ll really have something to sink your teeth into!
Marketing has, at last, received recognition as a legitimate and positive activity for the health professional.
To be successful at the marketing game, it is important to be committed to the idea of promoting your practice and all the wonderful benefits it offers to relieve pain, improve appearance, and overall health, and that you are comfortable, indeed proud and excited, to be in command of the message you share with current and prospective patients.
To achieve this level of success, a bit of “attitude adjustment” is sometimes required on the part of the practitioner and Team. You have to believe in, and indeed be happy about, the process of sharing the benefits of your practice (in other words, marketing) if you are to convey the necessary optimism and enthusiasm, and devote the energy and resources necessary for success.
Just as one of your most important tasks is to improve the “Dental I.Q.” of your patients, we gladly accept the challenge to enhance the “Dentistry Marketing I.Q.” of our Health Partners (Clients) and the profession at large.
We begin by placing marketing’s role in the dental profession in historical perspective. We conclude this installment of STS by sharing with you some important lessons in our experience since we began this journey in 1989.
It is our intent and hope that presenting these lessons will permit you to structure your dental practice growth plan to yield maximum results from inception. In other words, we think you will prefer you learn from others’ mistakes and thereby get the most bang for your marketing buck.
Future installments of STS will, therefore, present ‘real-world examples,’ exercises, and recommendations to make getting from Point A. (initiating a dental marketing plan) to point B. (reaping the benefits) as straight a line as possible.
A common mistake many practitioners make can be summed up by the old adage ‘putting the cart before the horse.’ Often, the dentist will amass a staggering debt by purchasing such technological wonders as video imaging, digitized radiography, laser packages, one-visit crown equipment, and other fixed costs (services such as saliva testing, advanced perio-risk assessment protocols, needle-less anesthesia, and an oral cancer risk assessment protocol. which, if structured in a ‘pay as you treat’ way, are preferable, especially for the new practitioner). Of course, it’s great to have a state-of-the-art practice. The issue is that, by itself, new high-tech equipment does little to increase new patient flow. The only way to assure consistent practice growth is by implementing an effective marketing plan. Without it, your show-case practice can remain a well-kept secret.
The term marketing is often used interchangeably with selling and advertising. Selling is the act of causing to be accepted or advocating successfully e.g. treatment acceptance. Advertising is the activity of attracting public attention to a product or business, as by paid announcements in the print, broadcast, or electronic media.
Philip Kotler, Ph.D., author of some of the most popular college texts on the subject, defines marketing as “human activity directed at satisfying needs and wants through exchange processes.” Selling and advertising are but two components that comprise a marketing system. In other words, success in dentistry marketing depends on an integrated system of numerous activities (selling and advertising among them) and requires proper timing, planning, execution, and evaluation.
As businessmen and women, the success of your practice and your quality of life depend on your acceptance of marketing as yet another “hat” you must wear, just as you have come to accept finance, accounting, human resources management, clinical proficiency, etc.
Dentistry and Marketing, with the exception of internal marketing (more on this later), have, until recently, had little to do with each other. Dentistry historically considered itself “above” marketing. This position was based largely on a misperception of reality. In many cases, there was no perceived need to market. My father and uncle were the first and only dentists in Glenview, a suburb north of Chicago, for many years. They followed the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) which was building the Forest Preserve system. Their “marketing plan” consisted of opening their practice near the worksite. Talk about a “captive audience.”
Another reason many practices hesitate to market is because of the inherent difficulty in measuring what is called “opportunity cost,” that is, the cost of not doing something. The money saved by e.g. not performing a direct mail campaign is easier to measure than the money one would have earned by investing in a that tactic. Even a successful practice could be more successful. In this regard, many practices remain “blissfully unaware.”
Prior to fluoridated water, managed care, and a decrease in the ratio of population to dentists, most practices could rely on little more than “word of mouth” to ensure a full appointment schedule. The thought of actively promoting the practice led the dentist to feelings of inadequacy, desperation, or failure as a clinician. “If I deliver high-quality dentistry, should that not be sufficient?” went the conventional wisdom.
But perhaps the factor most responsible for the traditional lack of marketing in dentistry and other healthcare fields was the belief that it was an unethical activity. In fact, prior to the Federal Trade Commission’s 1979 Ruling (FTC vs. American Medical Association 1/4/77), the promotion of professional services was prohibited.
There continue to be regulations maintained by the various state dental societies concerning what constitutes acceptable marketing practice. We, therefore, strongly encourage you to be familiar with these regulations prior to implementing your marketing plan.
STS II will present insights into the Patient-Provider Relationship.