Dental Marketing SOS: Is Your Practice Drowning?

Xaña Winans


Dot-dot-dot. Dash-dash-dash. Dot-dot-dot. You don’t have to be a sailor to know the international distress call for SOS, commonly known as shorthand for “Save Our Ship.” This urgent appeal is issued when a ship has encountered dangerously rough waters or is lost at sea without proper navigation.

In a dental practice, SOS takes on a slightly different connotation. SOS, also known as “Shiny Object Syndrome,” happens when dentists focus all of their attention on the latest, shiny new dental marketing trend, only to quickly abandon ship and move on to the next glittering object that catches their attention. Unfortunately, the end result is no different: a practice adrift and in trouble, desperate for help.

I Blame Zuckerburg

Dentists, as a specialty, are unique from most of the medical profession, because they rarely have a social network of other like-minded dentists in their immediate vicinity. After all, every other GP is a competitor, so it’s not like they can commiserate with the dentist down the block.

Dentistry can be a very lonely profession some days. As such, dentists seek social connection with other practice owners who are experiencing the same challenges, and often those connections orient around social media.

Okay, maybe it’s guilt by association. But Mark Zuckerburg is the founding father of social media, so I’m pointing the finger in his very general direction. It’s the biggest place dentists gather to exchange ideas or gain perspective.

There are dozens of social media groups targeting dentists, often with thousands of followers. In these groups, dentists commonly post questions to their peers like “What offer do you use to attract new patients?” or “Who built your website?” Dentists jump on these crowdsourced answers, desperate for advice.

It’s also quite common for the heads of these groups to promote a singular marketing strategy that they financially benefit from, whether it’s reviews, pay per click, social media ad funnels, or video.

Don’t get me wrong. Each of these independent strategies has value in dental marketing. But used one at a time, diverting attention away from a larger strategic plan, they simply cause a practice to lose focus and become adrift, essentially triggering an SOS.

Are You Marketing for Single-Tooth Dentistry or Complete Restorative Care?

If you’re one of the many dentists who have fallen victim to dental marketing SOS, it can be hard to see the impact on your practice. I look at it like this. There are plenty of dentists who practice one-tooth dentistry, only taking care of the patient’s chief complaint (the SOS) and whatever is covered by insurance.

Sure, it takes the patient out of pain temporarily. But the financial reward is small, production per hour is low, and the patient will only keep coming back with emergency after emergency that interrupts the schedule.

A dentist who helps patients with comprehensive restorative care starts with an exam that covers the health of every tooth in the patient’s mouth. This dentist educates the patient to see the long-term benefit of restoring their entire mouth to health.

There is a greater financial reward to the patient, as these dentists are treating problems earlier and before they blow up into expensive root canals and crowns. The dentist spends less time by doing quadrant dentistry, producing more per hour than the dentist who only treats the patient with an SOS.

Shiny Objects Are Hard to Resist

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a shiny object. We’re attracted to them for a reason. In 2014, Belgian researchers discovered that humans equate shiny or glossy things with water, a truly life-sustaining need. No wonder we’re fascinated by shiny objects.

But we also know that too much water results in flooding, drowning, and general distress. It’s important to balance that shiny object with a well thought out navigational plan—or in your case, a strategic dental marketing plan.

Breaking the SOS Cycle

Over the past 20 years, my agency has worked with more than 2,000 dental practices of every possible size in every conceivable market. While 99% of our work is custom written and designed to highlight the unique benefits of each practice, there have been occasions when we’ve experimented with the same ad, commercial, postcard, or digital marketing message in two different markets.

As expected, what works beautifully for one practice will fall flat for another. That’s the danger of shiny objects. Just because one doctor claims they have found the holy grail, don’t grab your credit card and assume you’ll get the same result.

Instead, ask yourself these questions:

  • What predefined marketing goal does this shiny object support?
  • How does this shiny object fit into the entire new patient marketing funnel? Does it address brand awareness, lead generation, lead conversion, the new patient experience, retention, or referrals? Do you have supporting strategies in all stages of the funnel?
  • How am I able to measure the success of this shiny object? (And no, your front desk asking new patients how they heard about you is not an accurate measurement. That’s a topic for another article.)
  • How long should I stick with this shiny object before I can expect to see a positive return on investment?
  • Is there an ulterior motive to the person selling me this shiny object?

Stay on Course

There’s a reason that airplanes have to file a flight plan before they take off and why ships file a float plan before they head out to sea. The plan serves two purposes. The first is to ensure that emergency crews know where to find you in case of an emergency. The second is to keep the ship on course.

When you have limited fuel and resources (or, in the case of your dental office, money), you can’t afford to take the sightseeing route. The exact same can be said of your business. A strategic plan makes sure that you have a route that maximizes the use of your limited resources and that you don’t get distracted and drawn off course when some shiny object catches your eye.

If your practice has fallen victim to the allure of a dental marketing SOS, all hope is not lost. Partner with a dental marketing agency that can help you get back on course and guide you the next time those shiny objects capture your attention. In a matter of a few short months, your practice growth will be steady, predictable, and, most importantly, afloat.

Ms. Winans is Golden Proportions Marketing’s owner, president, resident visionary, and lead strategist. Her dental marketing company delivers decades of real world experience, ensuring that the marketing solutions she and her team develop are both creative and easy for dental offices to execute. Golden Proportions Marketing provides turnkey full services marketing solutions for private practices, group practices, and small to midsize DSOs. She can be reached at

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