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Dental practices must weigh up the cost of using professional marketing agencies versus the risks of a DIY approach. By Cameron Cooper
In considering whether to outsource his dental practice’s marketing, or handle it internally, Rowan Williamson came to a blunt conclusion.
“We don’t have the skillset,” says Williamson, co-founder of Illumident Mount Gambier, a seven-chair practice he runs with his wife and principal dentist Dr Isabel Holmes in South Australia.
The couple take the view in business that they need to partner with subject experts. “We certainly don’t pretend to be the experts at everything, so we just need to find the people who are—and that’s true with our marketing,” Williamson says.
This philosophy led to the couple bringing on board a dental marketing specialist to assist with branding, website development, sales planning for treatments, social media marketing and search engine optimisation (SEO) strategies. Apart from boosting business, Dr Willamson says the move has also cut stress levels for his team.
“Muddling around with marketing and technology can be stressful,” he says. “And if you do your marketing badly, it can also be embarrassing and slow down the progress of your business.”
Building a brand
Ariana Rosado, co-founder of dental marketing agency Think32, concedes that activating a full marketing strategy can be expensive for a dental practice.
However, she believes it is crucial for any practice, if they want to avoid common mistakes (see panel), to “quarantine” money for marketing in the same way they set aside money to purchase equipment such as dental chairs and OPG X-ray machines. “It’s equally important because it’s the marketing that will fill the dental chairs.”
Williamson says Illumident has built its marketing costs into its budget to cover factors such as website design and upgrades, SEO initiatives and electronic direct mail (EDM) campaigns. “Absolutely, it doesn’t come cheap, but it’s an investment to grow your business,” he says.
More than Google Ads
Louise Clark is practice manager at Dental Implants on Miller in Cammeray, Sydney. She says the luxury practice split off from two larger clinics about two years ago and has used a marketing agency to drive the business.
Clark admits she has had “a couple of bad experiences” in the past with marketing agencies that under-delivered and just wanted her to spend a lot of money on Google Ads. So, she advises researching the track record of a marketer before signing up.
With the current agency, the focus has switched to SEO strategies that are making the practice’s website more visible, driving traffic to the site and converting prospective leads into long-term patients. Clark says the emphasis on the retention of leads is paying dividends.
“We never did that before. If someone booked a consultation and didn’t turn up, we never went back to them. They were just lost.”
The Dental Implants on Miller team now sends out regular, but specific, sales emails to patients to inform them about treatment options and pricing—and to build trust. Apart from increasing patient numbers, Clark says the other big advantage of outsourcing marketing is the time it saves staff. “We don’t have a person who can actually spend time doing appropriate marketing. It’s not an easy job.”
A coordinated approach
At Illumident, Williamson says the rebranding has seen the practice attract 80 to 100 new patients a month, a dramatic improvement on previous marketing efforts.
What is working? With its website, Illumident has insisted on a clean, professional layout that is easy to navigate and which is “not just a flood of words. Some websites almost make you read an essay, and they lose the reader in the first 10 seconds,” Williamson says.
Clark says instead of relying on worth-of-mouth referrals, Dental Implants on Miller now gets quality leads from patients who have researched treatment options on the practice’s website and booked a consultation. “They have done their research and they’re pretty much ready to go. It’s not such a hard sell anymore with some treatments that can be very expensive.”
Rosado believes it is important for any marketing agency to be able to quantify results. That is now easier with digital marketing, especially courtesy of tools such as Google Analytics and modern marketing automation software which can provide a detailed overview of website traffic volumes, track phone calls and online bookings, and let management know if site visitors fill in online forms. “We can trace where that customer came from, whether it’s organic, paid or social traffic.”
Seek out testimonials
Williamson agrees it is crucial to do your homework before committing to marketing. He recommends speaking directly with others who have used a particular marketing agency, and making sure all the numbers are run before deploying any element of a marketing campaign.
“You don’t want to just take a shotgun approach, otherwise you can spend a lot of money on marketing and not see the returns.”
5 mistakes to avoid
Think32’s Ariana Rosado outlines some of the key marketing errors that dental practices make.
1. Treating marketing as an afterthought
From day one, a practice should be setting sales projections and aligning financial, operational, sales and marketing strategies to meet those targets. Too often, according to Rosado, practices open their doors, launch a website and expect the customers to flow in. “Then they realise, ‘Oh, I have to actually promote my business’, and the marketing people are then brought in as an afterthought.”
2. Underspending on a website
Allocating a few thousand dollars for a website is doomed to fail, Rosado believes. Invariably, a cheap website will be indistinguishable from other sites, badly written and create a poor perception of the business.
3. Doing your own branding and logos
A lot of dental clinics hire a junior designer, or take a generic image of a tooth off the internet and make it the focal point of their business. Before any branding is done, practice managers need to ask questions such as: Who is our target audience? What treatments will we offer? What is our price point? “Until you get to the crux of those issues, you can’t really brief a design team on what you’re trying to create with your business,” Rosado says.
4. Over-relying on Facebook and Instagram
Rosado says just having a presence on social media is not a marketing strategy. Facebook, although popular, is “one of the worst-performing channels for healthcare services. Most people are on Facebook and other social media sites to connect with friends. They are not likely to be on there looking for a dentist.”
5. Going too low on treatment pricing
Offering a fixed $199 dental check-up and clean as part of a low-cost strategy to woo patients is unlikely to succeed in the long term. “You can never be cheap enough because another dentist down the road might do a $189 deal,” Rosado says. “Having a proper marketing plan in place is a key way to not have to compete on price alone.”