New Patients, Inc., discusses dental marketing and how it can help your practice thrive
Marketing in the dental profession is still a relatively new concept. It used to be that a dentist could leave dental school, rent some space, hang a sign above his door and the patients would start filing in.
It is not like that anymore. Today’s dentists have to be proactive when it comes to finding new patients. Word of mouth alone does not get the job done. That is where New Patients, Inc., comes in.
“Dentists don’t learn about business or marketing in dental school, but more and more, they are waking up to the fact that their practices are actually small businesses and that some form of customer acquisition is required,” says New Patients, Inc. Founder & CEO William Howard “Howie” Horrocks.
New Patients, Inc., an advertising firm based out of Las Vegas, Nevada, is one of the most recognized advertising agencies in the dental profession today. The company was founded in 1989 by Horrocks, who began his career in advertising in 1984. After working with several businesses in several different industries, he found his niche in dentistry. Founding New Patients, Inc., allowed Horrocks to focus all of his advertising energy on the dental profession.
Horrocks follows the old adage: “Hire people who are smarter than you.” In the early days, Horrocks dealt with clients one on one, so he had to do the same thing a good dental practice would do – assemble a good team. New Patients’ core group is 15 strong. Horrocks may be the CEO of the company, but he is still very hands-on as the company’s copywriter. If a client needs a press release or magazine article, Horrocks will write it. Horrocks also wrote two books, Unlimited New Patients, Volume One; and More Unlimited New Patients – Trade Secrets of America’s Dental Marketing Guru. “Over the years, up until Dentaltown came along, the books were our chief means of customer/client acquisition,” says Horrocks. “Dentists buy the books and take what they can out of them, but they don’t have the time – that’s where our agency comes in.”
Horrocks’ team is led by President and Chief Financial Officer Eddie Facey, CPA, MBA. Former CFO of Guggenheim Dental Supply Company in California, Facey handles the company’s finances as well as directing the fulfillment operations of the company’s various marketing programs. He aids in the printing, production and deployment of all of the company’s marketing pieces. Facey evaluates new media that the company can advertise in, and he has also spearheaded the television commercials that New Patients, Inc., is now offering.
Vice President of Professional Relations Mark Dilatush is responsible for making sure that dentists who inquire of New Patients, Inc., understand what their marketing plans should be and what can be expected. He also makes sure that his clients’ expectation levels are where New Patients, Inc., can meet or exceed them. All of New Patients, Inc.’s clients are fully educated on what effective marketing is.
If you were to consider Horrocks, Facey and Dilatush as molecules, Director of Client Services Jo Ellen Caruana is the atomic force that keeps them rotating in the right direction. Caruana has her hands in just about every project New Patients works on. She works with each project coordinator, making sure the projects get completed in a timely manner and then manages the deployment for direct mail campaigns for every client. When she is done managing clients’ current campaigns, Caruana helps them prep for their next campaigns.
New Patients, Inc., handles everything from the conception of the marketing plan and the budgeting all the way through to the printing, production and deployment. According to Horrocks, all the dentist has to do is approve the product. To this day, the company’s sole bread and butter is dentistry, and centers all of its energy on new patient advertising.
For years, marketing was considered “taboo,” in the dental profession. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), prior to the mid-1970s, it was actually illegal in many states for dentists to advertise their services. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling made it legal for dentists to advertise, however advertising was not immediately accepted by the public, nor by dentists. Eventually America experienced a gradual acceptance of dental marketing, especially when the ADA eased up on its marketing ethics code in 1977, then even moreso when dentists found themselves saturating certain markets.
“Competition breeds marketing,” says Dilatush. “The more dentists in an area, the more marketing you’re going to see. The more marketing you’re going to see, the more acceptance of it people are going to get.”
But whether dentists do not know how to market their practice or do not fully understand the benefits of marketing, and regardless of how accepting the public is of dental marketing, many dentists still turn to insurance companies to garner new patients.
“From the standpoint of the dental practice, most insurance participation is done as a substitute for effective marketing,” says Dilatush. “We’re not proponents for or against participating with insurance, but does insurance really make dentistry more affordable? Insurance companies go out and find 2,000,000 employees, put them in a big group, add the dentist to a list, tell the dentist they’re going to get these patients, and oh, by the way, the insurance companies want 17-22 percent of the dentist’s revenues. That’s nothing more than a marketing medium.”
If a dentist is serious about forming a marketing plan, New Patients, Inc., is there for them. A classic scenario is when a dentist approaches the company and says, “I do market my practice. I spend my money and have for many years, in the Yellow Pages, Valpaks and coupon clippers. It’s not working any more and I don’t know what to do.”
“People call us at New Patients, Inc., and after an initial telephone interview, we direct them to our Website, where they fill out an information survey – all about them and their practice,” says Dilatush. “We ask them what services they offer, what their office hours are, what technologies they employ, what their educational backgrounds are, if they’ve ever been published, etc.”
Once the New Patients, Inc., team receives that information, it orders a full demographic work up of the dentist’s area and studies the dentist and the people the dentist serves. The company then looks back at its statistical history of the most effective mediums and applies them into the framework of a sound marketing plan. Once the framework has been established, it is sent to the dentist for his/her review. It takes about one work week from start to finish.
The market demographic will determine what sort of marketing program New Patients will put together for a client. In any marketing plan, the four constant factors are:
- Clear expectations from the client/dentist
- Volume (of advertisements, direct mailers, etc.)
If you are a dentist living in an area where the dentist/patient ratio is 1/1,500 or higher, you have a larger pool from which to fish for new patients, therefore marketing takes less time, volume and consistency. It is exactly the opposite when dentists are set up in a market of 1/1,499 or less; that is a competitive market.
“We just helped a dentist open a practice in Lake Champlain, New York, with a ratio of 1/5,500. It’s only three months old and the dentist has well over 300 new patients,” says Dilatush. “A client opened up a practice two years ago, and the dentist had to close his books to new patients because he can’t handle them all. While it is nice to think that this is totally about the great advertising we produce for our clients, we also understand the role of the supply and demand curve. We’ve actually learned how to leverage it.”
New Patients, Inc., stresses that before dentists open up business anywhere, they should already know their doctor/patient demographic. And if a dentist works in a very competitive market area, the need for a good marketing firm like New Patients, Inc., is even greater.
“Chances are, if you’re receiving two or three direct mailers from dentists a week, it’s because there are too many dentists in the area and not enough people,” says Dilatush. “When you’re in a market like that, you need to direct your marketing in a way that differentiates you from the rest of your competition. You have to identify points of uniqueness. Even if you received eight direct mail pieces in a month, we could study that and find something that makes your practice unique and market it that way. Maybe you’re the young confident technologically advanced guy, or maybe you’re the old hand who’s seen it all and can offer families security. These are all marketing points that will have a certain type of appeal to the right audience.”
Horrocks has found over the years that dental consumers will be interested in what the dentist has to say about his/her practice as long as it relates to the dental consumers. If it relates mostly to the dentist, consumers are not so receptive. Furthermore, he has found that the more information dentists can provide, as long as the information is not boring, consumers will read it, or they will read enough to pick up the phone and call the practice for an appointment.
“The primary thing a dentist should expect from marketing is the beginning of an emotional connection between the practice and the potential patients,” says Facey. “One of the big barriers in forming a patient-dentist relation is uncertainty and lack of a feeling of knowing a provider like a dentist. Advertising, when it’s done the right way – when it lays the groundwork for a foundation of a relationship – is something that can be instrumental in breaking down the barriers.”
Unfortunately what a lot of consumers see out there is poor, ineffective marketing.
“There are lots of dentists who spend an inordinate amount of their marketing budget every year trying to attract CEOs and supermodels – that’s a small fraction of the dental market. The largest part of the market are non-elective, bread-and-butter, great-quality family patients that the dentists’ marketing misses,” says Dilatush.
Another mistake dentists make with their marketing is that they aim for volumes of patients but neglect to take into consideration the drive for revenue per patient. What you get are people who are most interested in a $99.00 exam visit or whatever else is being offered. A doctor who markets like that gets lots of response, fills his capacity and goes completely broke because he or she will never see those patients again, according to Facey.
“Advertising is not just about attracting volume – it’s volume and quality,” says Dilatush. “If you sit most dentists down and really get to know them, they’ll tell you that they don’t really want 50 patients this week. They want eight or 10 really nice patients. It’s important that dentists don’t lose sight in the quality of the new patients they’re trying to attract to their practices.”
When the money spent for marketing is not bringing in the volume or quality patients dentists expect, dentists often either give up on marketing altogether, or start trying different mediums, but don’t stick with them for lack of immediate results.
“Dentists may get into a medium like the Yellow Pages and not realize that it’s a declining return,” says Horrocks. “What worked for them 10 years ago might not work today, and when they realize they aren’t getting the return they used to, they decide to try different things – so they bounce around from medium to medium. There’s no consistency and it’s completely ineffective.”
When New Patients, Inc., works with a client, depending on the demographic, it can deploy a local marketing campaign into almost 25 different mediums. While most of New Patients’ campaigns include a direct mailer (which in some cases is all a dental office needs), it has the ability to deploy primary marketing into a local market via the Internet and even television.
“The Internet offers a great tool for marketing a dental practice, especially in connection with other advertising pieces,” says Dilatush. “When you deploy marketing into a community and you drive Web traffic to that particular dentist’s Web site, you start to get a lot of hits. If you look at a dentist’s report of their Web hits, you will see the predominant visitors to their site are non-referred, which means they didn’t get to the site from a search engine. Somebody had to hand-type the dentist’s address into his/her browser. When you can link to another place that allows Mom to learn more about you, that’s incredibly effective.”
The landscape of television has changed so much in the last 15 years, that it now fits into a reasonable marketing budget for a dental practice. Every year since 1990, the share of the big television networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) has gone down, while the share of ad-supported cable channels (like ESPN or CNN) has risen. Today, each of the ad-supported cable television stations represent an opportunity to purchase ad time at the local level and targeted toward a certain demographic.
New Patients, Inc., however, stresses the importance of laying a foundation before branching out into scattered media. According to Dilatush, it is extremely rare to start out a marketing campaign on cable television. “You lay your foundation with direct mail and print advertising and other targeted direct mediums – then you can start building the walls of your marketing house with radio and television,” says Dilatush.
Effective marketing will allow dentists to go out into the local market and scrape the cream of the crop. Getting volume is necessary when you have a startup business, but most clients who have established practices should target their marketing to obtain the best patients possible.
“The process of selecting a dentist in the United States still has a long way to go as far as growth,” says Facey. “I still think the biggest way people select dental practices is based on very little knowledge or information passed onto them by a not-very-knowledgable neighbor or friend. Most dental decision makers in the U.S. today do not have the information needed to make an informed decision on selecting a dentist – they make a choice out of necessity. As long as that choice has a good chairside manner and doesn’t charge them too much, they could still be getting the dentistry of 1975 and be happy with it.”
Advertising gives local dentists the ability to communicate what it is that they have to offer and allow the consumers to make an informed choice about their dentist. The higher the level of informed choice the consumers make, the better it will be for the advancement of the profession as a whole. It will drive dentists to offer the best dentistry and those who do offer the best dentistry to be valued for what they offer. In the long run, the public will receive a better product.