Selling without selling

advertising your dental practice

Rather than than throwing money at advertising, follow these five simple tips for selling your products and services without selling at all. By Daniel Warren

Advertising presents a unique problem for dentists. The one thing that really sets you apart, more than anything else, is pretty much impossible to capture in an ad. “I’ve seen many billboards offering invisible orthodontics, or even just a staff picture, promoting local clinics,” says Mark Brown, director of content marketing company Engage Content.

“But using billboards for advertising is more effective if you can buy 10 of them in various spots around town, and reinforce a message that you’re also putting on prime-time TV, drive-time radio, and in relevant print and digital publications. Doing that gives you both reach and reinforces your message, which is necessary to make an ad work. 

“That’s what you’re buying with advertising. You’re not really buying the nice-looking creative work. You’re buying reach and engagement.”

But what if you can’t afford reach and engagement?

You still have options, says Brown. Here are five ideas for marketing your practice that he says can help you achieve reach and engagement at a fraction of the cost of putting that billboard ad up at the train station.

Advertise your content, not your services

If you only advertise your products or services, your ad will not work on anyone who doesn’t want those products or services straight away. If the potential patient isn’t thinking about getting clear aligners, they have no reason to pay any attention to your ad promoting the fact that you offer clear aligners. 

The alternative, says Brown, is to create content for your website that talks about the issues your patients might be facing. “If you have a lot of content available for free on your website about oral health, general health, family dentistry and so on, you give them a reason to keep paying attention to you,” he says.

“Content gives patients something, rather than selling them something. Which is a much better basis for a relationship.”

The only challenge you then face is letting people know the content is there on your site. You can advertise the content online or promote it through social media or a newsletter. To make that effective requires a little planning, but not much cash.

Plan to send an email every month, not every quarter

“No-one likes to spam people,” says Brown. “And you are right to be concerned about sending too many emails to your patients if all of your emails just flog products. We all get emails like that. And we all delete them. They get zero engagement, and think, ‘Well, that didn’t work, I won’t do that again’.”

However, there is a halo effect with patient communications, he says. Just seeing an email from you is enough to indicate to patients that you are thinking about them. They don’t have to read every word of it. 

“And while I agree you could spam patients, you would need to be sending out several emails a day to give that impression. One email a month, which draws a couple of articles from your blog and maybe has some link to interesting things you’ve seen elsewhere online, is all you need. It sends a message to patients that you are thinking of them, of their oral health and general health, and that you care about being in touch with them.”

Write about health, not products

There is one fundamental truth about patients that most advertising doesn’t acknowledge. Patients come to you because they are concerned with their own teeth. They do not come to you because of the equipment you have, or the brands associated with the products you are offering. They come to you because they are thinking about themselves.

Content gives patients something, rather than selling them something. Which is a much better basis for a relationship.

Mark Brown, director, Engage Content

“You, as a dentist, know exactly why you chose to offer one product or service as opposed to a different one,” Brown explains. “But patients don’t know the difference. They are coming to you because they want their teeth straightened. Or because they want their teeth whitened.

“Your suppliers already promote their products. It’s your job to explain why that product can help that patient’s problem. When a patient or potential patient understands why you, as a professional, have chosen a particular product, they are more likely to trust your judgement when you recommend it.

“You are the bridge between the ad for tooth whitening they say in the magazine, and the fact that your practice offers that product or service. You are the one they are going to trust and have a relationship with. Not the brand.”

Join in the conversation on social media

When you know a lot about a particular topic, your default position in a conversation can often be ‘lecturing’. A lecture assumes that you’re coming from the position and knowledge, and everyone else from the position of ignorance, Brown explains. And no-one likes being called ignorant. Even if you don’t mean to call them that.

“A great alternative—which also works as a marketing tactic—is to ask questions rather than supplying answers. If you run across someone on social media talking rubbish, don’t say, ‘You’re talking rubbish!’ Engage them in a dialogue. Ask them why they believe things. If they ask you a question back, answer them.”

The reason this works for marketing, he says, is others will read your exchanges. Many of them will be swayed by you (after all, you know what you’re talking about, and that will become clear in your interactions).

Talk, don’t sell

Many health professionals hate the idea of selling stuff. You are, after all, providing a health service. You’re not there as a shill for some multinational toothpaste manufacturer. So Brown’s advice to any practice is; don’t sell stuff. Inform and educate and communicate and care. That’s what you’re good at, and it’s what you like to do.

“You just have to find a way to inform and educate and communicate and care when patients aren’t in the chair,” he says. “The easiest way to do that is write content which informs and educates and communicates about oral health and the issues people face, and what you can manage.

“And when people read that content, see if you can capture their name and email address so you can keep talking to them.

“Don’t sell them your services. Just give them great information. If you do that, and do it well, they will buy your services without you doing any selling at all.”  

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