The Dental Marketing Time Machine: What I Wish I Knew 20 Years Ago

Written by: Xaña Winans
dental marketing


Please don’t call me “old.”

“Experienced,” on the other hand, is an adjective I’m fine with.

With a couple of decades under my belt in the world of dental marketing, I’ve certainly learned my share of marketing lessons. Admittedly, many of the things I now know would have come in handy back in my earlier days (social media, for example, was something I probably would have jumped on sooner). But here I am now, with a wealth of marketing information that I draw upon on a daily basis to help dentists like you grow your businesses.

Rather than making you wait 20 years to accumulate your own marketing wisdom, let me offer to take you on a journey back through time in my Dental Marketing Time Machine, and share some knowledge that can help make you a smarter dental marketer right now.

marketing, dental marketing

The Dental Marketing Time Machine: What I Wish I Knew 20 Years Ago


Twenty-some years ago, I was just establishing my dental marketing agency, Golden Proportions Marketing, and working hard to get it off the ground. I wasn’t exactly soaring yet – more like flying by the seat of my pants – but I did have some early successes in the form of national work that appeared on network TV and in major publications. I was in the land before digital. Websites had just barely become a thing, and they were mostly nothing more than online brochures. Google Ads had premiered a few years prior, but not many people knew what they were, much less how to use them as one of the first marketing tools with real attribution capability.

Back then, dentists were still running ads in the Yellow Pages (I can see the puzzled look on the faces of some of you twenty-something dentists). It was considered gauche in those days by many of the old guard to do any marketing at all, because if you paid for advertising the assumption was you weren’t clinically good enough to get patients by sheer reputation.


Since then, marketing steadily became more recognized as a true business growth opportunity (well, at least if it’s done right). I personally witnessed its evolution through some very notable milestones.

Digital became paramount. Doctors quickly learned that if you were not prominent on digital marketing channels like an optimized website, or Google Ads, it was like not having a phone number at all. You were invisible to new patients.

Tracking became expected. The advent of detailed tracking technology allowed doctors to measure their real-time ROI, just like any other business would demand the same from their marketing investment.

Photography and video became important to build authenticity. Doctors finally appreciated the impact of custom photography. At Golden Proportions Marketing, we had a full-time photographer on staff back in 2004, well before any other agency. Now it’s seen as critical to have custom images for your website and social media efforts.

Doctors learned the importance of strategy and brand messaging. These used to be relegated to major companies with a CMO, but the importance of these tactics finally trickled down to small local businesses as well.

And it wasn’t just marketing that changed. Dental patients behave differently than they once did. Today, consumers are more educated, ask more questions, and do more research before deciding. They don’t just rely on their mother for a recommendation anymore. They want information, and they want it now. 75% of consumers find dentists on their cell phone. They want immediate answers, so things like online scheduling, chat, text messaging and more are vital. If you don’t respond immediately, the consumer goes on to their next source to solve the problem.

It’s also interesting that major dental brands (like Invisalign) are creating consumer demand for elective procedures even before doctors promote it. They have, in essence, reversed the traditional lead generation process.


Specific dental marketing tactics have obviously improved and changed over time, but overall strategy and the goals remained pretty much the same. We’re just finding new ways to get to the same result. Those ways are faster and more measurable, but it still comes down to brand awareness, lead generation, lead conversion, a great experience, and the doctor/team’s internal ability to produce the work that the marketing has promised. No different than any other business for the past 100 years. Digital is just a different way to get there. TV and direct mail were the go-to advertising methods at one time, whereas today websites, pay-per-click, and online reputation are the essential channels to execute those same strategies.


So, what can dentists do to “future-proof” their marketing? Like I said earlier, strategy doesn’t change much over time, so my best bits of advice to dentists would still be…

  1. Set goals.
  2. Track results.
  3. Have a plan that gets you to those goals.
  4. Engage your team in the process—they are just as important as the marketing itself.
  5. Measure the impact of the plan, and adjust accordingly to reach the goals.
  6. Don’t jump at the latest, greatest “solution” every few months.
  7. Basically…stop shooting in the dark—treat your business like a business.

Now, as for tactics and technologies to implement those strategies, you have to do your best to keep up. Personally, I read constantly. I network with other marketing professionals outside of the dental world. I attend CE conferences and webinars for new ideas. And I’m still constantly discovering things that seem to come out of nowhere.

If you haven’t already heard, artificial intelligence (AI) will rapidly automate and alter many of our marketing practices. AI is already changing Google’s search algorithm, and it will evolve fast. Offices that can’t deliver answers to consumer questions or prove to be a valuable resource with high-quality custom content will get pushed to the bottom. What it can’t do well (yet) is the development of the brand message that differentiates one dentist from all of the competition. But even that is probably going to happen sooner than any of us anticipate.

And here I thought my Dental Marketing Time Machine was an amazing technological breakthrough!


Xaña Winans is the CEO and founder of Golden Proportions Marketing, a full service dental marketing company dedicated to the growth of dental practices. Her agency provides goal driven, full service solutions including branding, website design, advertising and digital marketing. Visit to learn more.

dental marketing,

Xaña Winans

Xaña is a board member of the Academy of Dental Management Consultants and has been awarded a Fellowship in the International Academy of Dental Facial Aesthetics.

She lectures and publishes regularly about dental marketing.

FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.