How to Develop a Powerful Marketing Plan

November 2, 2015 by AACD Executive Office
Wendy O’Donovan Phillips

“That marketing tactic didn’t work for our practice after three months.”
“I think we should stop our online advertising, but I’m not sure…”
“I got an email about a new marketing service, and I wonder if we should add it to our mix…”
Sound familiar?

After working with hundreds of dental practices over the last 8 years, I hear statements like these all of the time. The average dental practice does marketing by trial and error, and the team grows frustrated when it doesn’t work.
The typical practice has cobbled together a marketing program that is comprised of tactics that were added over the years based upon “gut feeling” alone. There is no strategy or research backing the marketing program; it’s simply “what we have done all these years” or “what the various marketing people told us to do.” 

Developing a powerful marketing plan is relatively simple.

First, find out what marketing works for your unique practice. Ask patients through a survey.
When you survey patients, you get timely, relevant and actionable feedback. You learn precisely what they love most about the practice, and it’s typically not the things that come to mind first. It’s not technology. It’s not philosophy. It’s not even credentials. The thing they love best is that you made life better.
When surveyed correctly, patients light up and share animated stories. Only the patient has the passion behind the story, and that shines through when they start talking about you. You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.
Doctors tend to talk about features rather than benefits. Happy patients, on the other hand, delve straight into what’s in it for them. Happy patients talk about how you changed their lives. This simply delights their friends and family, who then become potential patients.
The survey extracts these stories so you can bottle them and put them to market. Nothing sells the practice like these stories. 
The surveys will also reveal what media your ideal patients use to “shop” for a dentist. This is important to know so that you invest time and money only on the marketing tactics that will help the practice now. If you discover that your favorite patients and the people they know aren’t on Facebook, then don’t invest time or money there. If every family reads the neighborhood newspaper cover-to-cover, run a print ad there. If 70% of patients pay attention to direct mail, then invest there.

How to survey?

Ask each doctor in the practice to list their ten best patients. These must be the ones who show up promptly, who articulate their needs, who pay on time, who carry insurance that the practice accepts, who follow treatment plans and who get well as a result. They respect your professional engagement, medical expertise, promptness and follow-up. These are the patients you want to replicate in numbers. 
Next, craft the questions carefully. Here a few to start: 

  • What are we doing best?

  • Would you search online for a practice like this one? If so, what search terms would you use?

  • What social media sites do you frequent?

  • What types of marketing do you pay attention to?

  • Website

  • Online search/Online ads

  • Social media

  • Online reviews

  • Direct mail

  • TV/radio

  • Billboards

  • Print ads

  • Other: ­­­________________________________

Customize the questions and corresponding choices to uncover the information you need to develop a powerful marketing plan that is unique to your practice.
Once you develop your powerful marketing plan, stay the course! Test the marketing tactics on your plan for a good six months before making any changes or additions. It takes that long to tell if the marketing is working.
If you truly want to grow your practice with a steady flow of the right patients, strategy is the only way to start.
Wendy O’Donovan Phillips, based in Denver, Colo., is president of Big Buzz Inc. and a partner with Dentistry Unchained. This article was adapted from Wendy’s book, KABOOM!: The Method Used by Top Dentists for Explosive Marketing Results

Photo Credit: David Saunders Ab Fab Marketing Plymouth under CC license.

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