Regularity and consistency are critical, proven factors in any good marketing program. You must constantly remind people - even your own patients - of who you are. Sending material quarterly or semiannually just doesn’t cut it. Stay in front of your customer often, but don’t be overbearing. Use full-color and exciting images. Track and quantify your success or failure to see if the marketing program is cost-effective or worthwhile. Income generated from a marketing program should pay for that marketing program.
Most dental practices would jump at the opportunity for a low-cost marketing tool that could provide new-patient referrals and produce more income from existing patients. Monthly newsletters help develop patient loyalty and long-term relationships by building trust and confidence in you and your practice. Mailed direct-response, printed newsletters are not new. While the concept is great, their cost and effort override their potential benefits.
Dentistry is a business and must be treated like a business if we are to survive under all the economic pressures. And a key survival tool is to use basic marketing principles to retain existing patients and prospect for new ones. The Internet is redefining how we practice dentistry and how we communicate with and market to patients. It has been reported that 80% of patients with Internet access would like to communicate by e-mail with their health professionals.1
So, why not consider sending your own Internet-based custom e-Newsletter to your patients and potential patients? All Web sites are static in that you are relying on people to make a conscious decision to look for your site. The e-Newsletter is proactive and can be sent to patients and potential patients. It is addressed to people by their own name. There can be a link that, with one click, will bring the reader to your Web site (if you have one). Every month your professional, full-color e-Newsletter will be sent with informative articles (written in concise and easy-to-understand language) and attractive images. It’s powerful repetitive marketing, and there’s nothing else more timesaving that can let people know what services you provide and how to address their concerns.
Marketing with your own e-Newsletter is a growing process. Don’t expect people to knock down your door seeking treatment after one issue. At first, internal marketing will have a greater impact than external marketing. Regularity and consistency will breed informed patients, which are the best and most loyal patients.
The e-Newsletters have a “one-click” navigation link that allows the reader to “Send This to a Friend.” For example, suppose your e-Newsletter has an article on closing a diastema with porcelain veneers. Your patient, Mrs. Jones, receives and reads the article, which reminds her that her good friend Shirley has a space between her 2 front teeth, and she wants Shirley to see the article. Mrs. Jones types Shirley’s name and e-mail address into a text box and clicks “submit.” The newsletter is automatically sent to Shirley with all the graphics and navigation links. The good news is Shirley’s name and e-mail address (not necessarily a current patient) are captured and automatically placed in your database under a group called “referred.” Shirley will receive all future newsletters unless she “opts out,” as anyone can do. You can even run a contest to see which patient sends the newsletter to the most people. The software will track that for you.
Figures 1a to 1f. Examples of the various custom-designed e-Newsletters with built-in navigation links.
Each e-Newsletter has its own custom-designed banner and format (Figures 1a to 1f). If the dental practice already has a Web site, it is used as a guide. The system software allows the practice to group people into an unlimited number of groups. You may choose to have groups called “patients,” “potential patients,” “cosmetics,” “children,” “denture patients,” “TMJ,” etc. You can send an e-Newsletter to your entire database, one person, one group, or several groups (Figure 2). This allows you to target people who have similar preferences, needs, and wants. If a person appears in more than one group, and you send to your entire database, they will still receive only one e-Newsletter.
Figure 2. Software allows an e-Newsletter or e-Reply to be sent to specific people or groups as may be deemed appropriate.
Figure 3a. Text can be typed into custom e-Reply and images added from image library.
A “Custom Response” e-Reply can also be provided. This allows you to type any custom message into a text box and upload graphics from an online image library or your own computer (Figure 3a). When the communication is received, it will have the same design look and banner head as your monthly e-Newsletter (Figure 3b). This feature can be a great marketing tool and help strengthen patient loyalty and long-term relationships. You can send holiday greetings, birthday wishes, or congratulations on happy occasions such as marriages, graduations, births, etc. You can even provide appointment reminders or recall notices by grouping people by months.
Now comes the exciting part. You may be thinking, “How do I know if it works?” The software generates tracking reports. First, it tells you when a person opens the e-Newsletter (date and time of day); then, because of navigation links built into the articles, you receive a report of what people have actually read (their preferences; Figure 4). You can stop right there if you like and just utilize the e-Newsletter as a way of sending out information you want patients to have, or you can take the next step. Group all of the people who read the same article and, using the e-Reply, target those individuals with a special promotion (Figure 5).
Figure 3b. When the e-Reply is sent, it arrives with the e-Newsletter banner and is addressed to the person by name.
Figure 4. A report is generated from all of the links. Everyone who reads a particular article can be grouped together.
Figure 5. An e-Reply promotion can be sent to one group of patients who all have the same interest. Any image that is in your computer can be added to the e-Reply.
One thing I can say for sure is that great excitement will be generated for your office. A percentage of patients will respond with kind words and comments. It’s up to you and your staff to keep the momentum going.
By now you should be emotionally involved in the belief that having your own e-Newsletter can be fun and effective while stimulating practice growth. However, several practical questions and/or concerns may arise that will require answers before you make a final commitment to proceed.
You may be thinking, “I don’t have many patient e-mail addresses. It wouldn’t be cost-effective to move ahead at this point.” It doesn’t matter how many patient e-mails you have today. Just get started, and everything will fall into place. For example, just think about how many patients you see each day. Make it a rule for the next six months to ask every patient who visits your office for his or her e-mail address. You will have more than a thousand in no time. The good news is that you can keep sending out your “launch” issue every month, and only those who have not received it before will get it.
“I don’t have the time to write articles. I don’t need more work for myself at this point.” You don’t have to write any articles (unless you want to). Extensive patient article archives complete with text and images are available. You can view them all. It’s as simple as choosing 2 articles every month and sending an e-mail with the article title and identification number.
“All my patients probably don’t have e-mail addresses. I’ll be leaving some out.” That’s correct. But the alternatives aren’t perfect either. An e-Newsletter will reach the vast majority of your patients. According to the Pew Internet & American Life survey, 63% of all Americans over 18 are now online (126 million people). Many retirees and senior citizens are now spending more time on the Internet. In my view, it’s better to reach the majority of your patients every month than using snail mail to communicate with them twice a year. Don’t be a stranger to your patients.
“It’s too time-consuming to follow up.” I learned a long time ago that nothing in life is free and that no business venture or any project will be successful without some work and follow-up. Any marketing program you choose will require some follow-through. The necessary time commitment to your own e-Newsletter depends on you. How creative do you want to be? What are your marketing goals? The remarkable software will provide you with many opportunities to communicate with people and to measure their responses. It’s your choice on how far you want to take it. Nothing is etched in stone. You may start slowly and expand the concept, or you may embrace the idea and jump in headfirst. All past e-Newsletters are saved in your system and can be sent or evaluated at any time.
“I don’t have a Web site yet. So, wouldn’t this be a waste at this time?” That’s the beauty of the e-Newsletter. It’s less costly than building a Web site, the program includes links to secondary pages that can be stored and viewed on the e-Newsletter host’s server, and yet you can still have your practice presence over the Internet. Any time in the future your e-Newsletter can be linked to a Web site, regardless of who builds and hosts your site.
I recommend that you outline your marketing goals and see if the Internet-based e-Newsletter makes sense as part of your program. If you want to grow your practice and your income, sitting back and doing nothing is not an option. It is becoming increasingly important for dental practices to have a strong Internet presence in order to stay competitive in the 21st century.
1. Little P. How to give your website a lift. Dental Practice Report. Jan 2001. Available at: http://www.dentalprod-ucts.net/xml/display.asp?file=219. Accessed August 18, 2006.
Disclosure: Dr. Rossein is a partner in WebDentalMarketing.com, which provides all of the services described in this article.