The price of free



Giveaways are a tried-and-tested marketing strategy. But are they appropriate or even effective in dental practices? Tracey Hordern investigates

There’s truth to the adage that everything is marketing-and marketing is everything. It is also true that one of the hallmarks of a successful business is the ability to build a brand and effectively promote that brand to a targeted market.

Of course, there are so many different forms of marketing now that it’s impossible to ignore the advantage of it. Most marketing strategies are done digitally, through social media, email, SEO and many others. Any form of marketing is helpful for the success of your business.

Thinking of your dental practice as a brand, even 30 or 20 years ago, was anathema. Back then, if you were to ask a dentist what marketing plan was in place for their practice, the chances are you would be met by blank stares or even distaste.

But those were the pre-internet days when a dental practice could announce it was opening and hang out a modest shingle, or a brass plate if that practice was, say, located on Sydney’s Macquarie Street. And those few actions were almost the sum entirety of a dental practice’s marketing plan.

Now, as the level of competition has intensified exponentially-blame more dental schools resulting in an increase in the number of dentists qualifying, plus the rise of corporate dentistry and even price-driven competition from other countries-dental practices need to focus on marketing their business like never before if they are to thrive.

As a result of the marketplace becoming more saturated, dental practices are increasingly becoming proactive and creative as they develop marketing strategies to not only help them stand out from the crowd, but that also focus on how to attract new patients while retaining existing ones.

For any dental practice, knowing ‘who’ you want to target from the get-go is key. For instance, do you specialise in families with children, young singles or the elderly? What makes your practice and service unique and different to your ideal customer base?

Non-healthcare businesses are free to promote and advertise their business in myriad ways to their target market. Bold advertising campaigns, intensive online marketing pushes, special offers and giveaways; any or all of these can form part of a non-healthcare marketing plan.

Giveaways as a popular branding exercise are often used by dental practices. The sample toothpaste, the electric toothbrushes, the branded pens and coffee mugs, even luxury goods have all been used to lure and retain patients. While these may seem harmless ‘gifts’, are they effective as a marketing campaign and are they in any way breaching the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) regulations?

Carolyn Dean, author of Fully Booked-dental Marketing Secrets for a Full Appointment Book and CEO and founder of My Dental Marketing, advises caution when it comes to giveaway promotions.

“According to AHPRA regulations, you cannot incentivise someone to have medical procedures they don’t need. Time limited offers are also not allowed, so when thinking about any type of promotions, first and foremost, you must be aware of the rules,” she says.

“Both promotions and giveaways can be a very effective form of marketing-as long as they have been well thought out, tracked and adhere to the dental industry guidelines.”-Carolyn S. Dean, My Dental Marketing (@carolyn_s_dean)

“I’ve seen some practices come unstuck around these issues and if reported to AHPRA, there are fines up to $10,000. If you are thinking about using giveaways as a promotion, it is paramount that you understand the regulations. Who wants a campaign that backfires and attracts a hefty fine?”

That is not to say Dean does not endorse giveaways as part of a planned marketing strategy. “Both promotions and giveaways can be a very effective form of marketing-as long as they have been well thought out, tracked and adhere to the dental industry guidelines.”

But before you go out and get those mugs and pens emblazoned with your logo, Dean says you need to know exactly who makes up your market and if this is the market you want to address and attract. This means also knowing which social media sites they are visiting, what they are reading and so on. You can target some aspects of this by including forms on your website.

Knowing how to communicate to your target market is central to any campaign’s success according to Dean. “A well-crafted message or even a giveaway is wasted if it does not get through to your targeted market.

“For instance, I saw a practice that offered mouthguards as a giveaway to their patients, but in reality, this did not remotely fit in with their market at all. It really pays to think about who you are as a practice and who your market is before going ahead in what could be an expensive, though wasteful exercise.”

Rather than straight out giveaways, Dean strongly suggests adding value as part of a marketing plan. “For instance, after having an implant, you could offer your patient a paid-for massage with a local and aligned business. This adds value and makes the patient literally feel better.”

New patient offers and promotions based on keeping your six monthly check-ups can also be beneficial, says Dean. “Rather than offering a discounted fee, perhaps offer something like a magazine subscription. This gift is both thoughtful and helpful, plus each time they receive the magazine, they will be pleasantly reminded of your practice.”

The East Bentleigh Dental Group Practice owner, Dr Harry Marget, also has mixed feelings when it comes to giveaways as a form of promotion. “Personally, I think if you are given something for free, it’s not valued,” he says.

“Over the years, I’ve given away electric toothbrushes, fine wine and while all our new patients receive a toothbrush and toothpaste, a campaign based solely around free stuff, in my view, doesn’t work.”

According to Dr Marget, what does work best for his practice is offering the best service they can provide. “I also think it’s important to offer a greater service mix-not just drill and fill, but the highest quality work across a range of services. Having great staff that understand the patients’ needs and effectively communicate with our patients; that also works every time!”

Recently the practice sent a disadvantaged young patient with her mother and grandmother on an all expenses paid holiday to Disney Land. “For the staff and I, that was a far more meaningful and rewarding way to give something away.”

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