Roger P. Levin, DDS, explains how the Internet and digital media have altered the marketing landscape for dentists.
Q: How has dental marketing changed in the recent years?
A: Frankly, when I first went into practice in 1982, most dentists had little interest in marketing. There were more than enough patients to go around, so why spend money on advertising and other marketing activities? Gradually, dentists began to market their practices, and then the picture changed dramatically—and permanently—when the Great Recession hit. Along with other game changers that impacted the dental economy at the same time, the recession suddenly made marketing a priority for many thousands of practices across the country. Coincidentally, just as proactive practice owners were getting up to speed in marketing communications, the ground rules changed. Old media gave way to new media. Print ads, yellow pages, and direct mail looked ineffective and expensive compared with websites, online directories, and email. Even word-of-mouth advertising, such as patient referrals, has become supercharged thanks to social media. In short, dental marketing has changed totally since 2008.
Q: Where should dentists begin with today’s marketing?
A: When I advise dentists about marketing, I speak about perception and reality. The reality is the actual dental office—the doctor, staff, and the procedures performed there. It’s all very real. But today, before prospective patients experience that reality, they will encounter the practice’s online presence. Digital words and images found online will shape these patients’ perception of the practice, and if their impression is weak or negative, the practice has already lost out to the competition. Being a great dentist and providing excellent patient care won’t lead to success unless those qualities are readily apparent in the practice’s online presence. Once dentists understand this, they can begin filling in the digital marketing components that will soon bring actual patients through their practices’ front doors.
Q: What are these digital marketing components?
A: The most important online element is the practice website, because it provides the full story, the most detailed picture of the practice. Visitors to the site can see the doctor and staff, read about their professional credentials, get a preview of the facility, learn the practice’s philosophy, review all the services available, read testimonials, and so on. It provides a wonderful opportunity to persuade patients to call for an initial appointment. And, if the website includes up-to-date news about oral healthcare, the practice and staff, or if it includes interesting blog posts, it will also strengthen patient relationships and loyalty. Of course, the greatest website in the world won’t do much good if nobody sees it. That’s why the next priority is to develop digital strategies to lead people to the site.
Q: Please share some examples of digital marketing strategies.
A: First and foremost is search engine optimization, or SEO. It’s a technical process that should be handled by an expert, but the idea is simple—making a website catch the attention of and “impress” search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. When patients do an online search for a dental practice, dentists who’ve invested in excellent SEO will come up high on the list of search results, get more hits, and, if the website is well-made, attract more new patients.
Another way to bring prospects to a practice website is with social media. The primary reason to maintain an active presence on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms is to develop relationships with current patients, other members of the community, and friends of the practice. However, practices can generate traffic to their website by posting interesting items on social sites and linking them back to their website. Blogs can be used in a similar way.
Q: Can dentists do anything to improve their online reviews?
A: Absolutely! It’s like getting referrals. Many of the clients we work with are surprised at how easy it is to get referrals from their patients. Happy patients are happy to recommend their dentist to family members, friends, and others. By the same token, they will be glad to write a positive review of their dentist, if they’re reminded to do so! (Keep in mind that you should not incentivize them in any way.) When there are lots of positive reviews out there about a practice, any negative comments—and these will inevitably occur—will present less of a problem. I should also point out that if some patient makes critical remarks publicly online, reaching out to resolve the issue can turn a potential negative into a positive. Doctors just have to avoid becoming defensive or thinking the problem will go away if they just ignore it. Reputation management has become critical in this time of easy, fast, wide-open communication online.
Q: Are there any other areas to mention?
A: Another vital digital opportunity for dental practices is listing in local directories. Not phone directories, but online directories like Google, Google Maps, HealthGrades, Yahoo Local, Yelp, Bing, Angie’s List, and even the Better Business Bureau. Many people now turn to these sources not just to find the best pizza or nearest gas station but for all kinds of products and services, including dental practices. By registering with all such local directories and, again, encouraging patients to write positive comments for the directories that include customer reviews, practices can increase the number of new patients contacting them for appointments.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: Just this: many dentists tend to cling to the old ways of doing things and are afraid to jump into digital marketing with both feet. But what’s going on is not just a fad, it’s the new reality. For several years now, I have been telling dentists that the Great Recession and other game changers have affected the dental economy forever. There are new rules now. Those of us who make our livings in dentistry need to look forward, not backward. To achieve sustainable success, we need to master new methodologies, and digital marketing is one of the most important and potentially the most rewarding.
Dr. Levin is a third-generation general dentist and the founder and CEO of Levin Group, Inc, one of the premier dental management and marketing consulting firms. As a leading authority on dental practice management and marketing, he has developed the scientific systems-based consulting method that increases practice production and profitability while lowering stress. He can be reached at (888) 973-0000 and at the website levingroup.com.
Articles By Dr. Levin