The following article appears in a recent issue of Dental Entrepreneur magazine (PDF).
As dental students, you’ve no doubt learned about the latest medical procedures and tools. You’ve been taught how to interact with patients. You’ve learned about licensure and insurance.
However, you probably haven’t learned about how to effectively market a dental practice. Perhaps you think that’s the responsibility of your practice manager or that you can learn as you go. Since your practice will be your livelihood, it behooves you to learn enough about marketing to make the right decisions on where to allocate resources.
The Changing Landscape
It used to be that a Yellow Pages ad (“the bigger, the better” the ad rep tells you) would suffice in terms of providing sufficient exposure for a practice. To gain additional exposure, some practices might take out a run of print ads in local newspapers or lifestyle magazines.
Other practices engaged in direct mail marketing with rented lists based on demographic criteria. As broadcast restrictions eased and competition increased, dentists started advertising on TV and radio.
With the advent of the digital age and highly-targeted, localized Internet dental marketing tactics from Netsertive, practices need to take a hard look at their marketing mix.
Yellow Pages, print, direct mail and broadcasting no longer yield the same results they once did, due largely to the explosion of digital media and the popularity of Internet search engines.
According to media consulting firm BIA/Kelsey, 97 percent of consumers now use online media or search engines to research products or services in their local area. There has been such a massive shift in consumer behavior that if your business isn’t discoverable online, you are losing potential customers daily.
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Some enterprising practices have even committed to social media, starting Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts. While at no-cost to operate, these outlets must be consistently maintained in order to gain any traction.
According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 87 percent of Internet-connected adults use search, an activity second only to email usage. And these adults aren’t just the under-40 crowd. More than 85 percent of “Older Boomers” (ages 56-64) conduct online searches.
It’s not surprising that online media is now one of the most effective ways to reach new patients, especially for local businesses. The above statistic aren’t just critical for online retailers, it’s also important intelligence for brick-and-mortar businesses like dental and orthodontic practices.
Does this mean that traditional forms of advertising are dead? Not necessarily. Nevertheless, it’s critical that your marketing message be displayed where your target consumers are spending their time. Nowadays, that means online.
Think about it. When was the last time you or your family picked up a Yellow Pages directory? These unwanted deliveries probably went directly into your recycling bins.
Online search enables you to tightly target your ideal consumer, making your marketing investment more efficient than ever before. You can also compete effectively against more established competitors.
According to online search leader Google, prospects aren’t just typing "orthodontist," “dentist,” “porcelain veneers” or “chipped tooth” into their search box.
They’re entering specific terms like “pediatric dentist Atlanta” or “laser teeth bleaching San Diego.” Half of these localized search results also show a map to give your business even more exposure.
Not only can Google, Bing and Yahoo! inform a local consumer that you provide the service they need, these search engines can quickly point them right to your virtual (website) and actual doorstep.
Go it Alone or Seek Help?
Deciding to rethink your marketing mix and placing a greater focus on your online presence is simply a first step. Far more important is how you choose to implement an online marketing strategy.
Do you, as a business owner or partner, have the time to learn the complexities of online marketing and spend time every day monitoring and managing the process? Most do-it-yourself search marketing campaigns yield far few ad impressions, qualified clicks, and at much higher prices per conversion.
Sedation Dental Care (www.sedationdentalcare.net), based in Raleigh, North Carolina, used to manage its own online campaigns. Listen as the practice owners talks about working with Netsertive, then leaving to work with another digital advertising company, and trying to do a campaign on his own:
Realizing the time commitment was not providing the desired results, the practice sought help from an online marketing firm. Within four months of launching a professionally-managed online ad campaign, Sedation Dental saw a six-fold increase in the number of click-throughs on their ads, while reducing their online advertising costs by 41 percent.
Dr. Daniel Davidian, owner of Sedation Dental, says the new online ad campaign produced more high-quality inquiries and secured significantly more new patients. “It’s clear that the prospects being delivered by the new system are precisely targeted and far more likely to book an appointment. This has completely reshaped, and dramatically improved, our approach to online advertising.”
One important distinction needs to be made: not all online marketers are the same. Almost everyone “knows a guy” who says he can do online marketing or “SEO.” Armed with basic knowledge of Google Analytics, he excitedly reports back to you about your number of hits, clicks, site visitors and time spent on your site. That is, until he gets distracted and forgets to send you updates, doesn’t closely monitor changes in keyword searches or simply employs a “set it and forget it” strategy.
A dedicated online marketing partner can drive increased local sales opportunities and targeted online exposure by providing technology-driven online marketing that addresses your specific business and related brands.
The Right Questions
If the decision has been made to engage an online marketing partner, here are six questions to ask to gauge their experience and professionalism:
1. Is it a core competency? Many marketing and PR firms, as well as independent consultants, offer online marketing and SEO services. If it’s simply an add-on, you’ll want to examine their services and successes closely.
2. Ask about their technology. Online marketing is increasingly complex and impossible to effectively manage without advanced, proprietary software tools. A human simply can’t control a campaign with 42 categories, 1,000 keywords, hundreds of bid changes, and 200 variations of your search and display (banner) advertisements.
3. What support do you provide? Will you talk with a live person who has the expertise to guide your online marketing to success? Will they consult with you and adjust the approach as your business evolves and grows?
4. Ask about industry focus. Developing a knowledgebase within a particular industry enables a partner to maximize results based on the data and shared knowledge of your market. Ultimately, this results in more qualified leads for less cost.
5. Do they provide meaningful and concise reporting? One of the biggest benefits of online marketing versus traditional media is the measurable tracking of data. Is your partner providing insight to success rates? Conversions? Cost per click? Ask for sample reports.
6. What technical credentials do you have? What accreditations and partnerships with manufacturers does your provider have? Do they have entire teams fully certified by the major search engines, ad networks, etc.?
As you contemplate making the move into online marketing, pick partners that will truly help your business succeed and give you the same type of support that you give your patients. That way, you are maximizing your opportunities with new potential patients while staying focused on your own practice.
Brendan Morrissey is CEO of Netsertive (netsertive.com). He has over 15 years’ experience in digital media and early-stage companies emphasizing online and mobile marketing technology. Morrissey holds a B.A. in economics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Netsertive (netsertive.com) has moved to the forefront of the digital ad tech industry with a vision of using technology to connect local consumers with products and businesses. Based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., the company automates localized digital advertising and channel marketing solutions, leveraging online search, online display, social media and mobile platforms. It provides standalone localized campaign automation as well as its innovative Digital Co-Op system, which combines brands and local channel partners in turnkey, cooperative online ad campaigns. Serving specific vertical industries, Netsertive helps local businesses, multi-location retailers and national brands increase sales in targeted local markets. Its expert team, patent-pending technology and unique platform drive results for clients across North America. Founded in 2009, the company has a history of rapid growth, a world-class team, and the strength of venture capital funding from top firms RRE Ventures, Harbert Venture Partners and Greycroft Partners.