How Dentists Get Hypnotized by Dental Marketing Companies
The objective of this guide is to prepare you, the dentist. I want to save you time and stress when finding the right marketing firm for your practice.
Back twenty years or so ago, dental marketing agencies were a new thing. There were about 5 nationally recognized/respected dental marketing agencies. We were one of those five. Over the years, with the transition from traditional marketing to digital marketing, literally thousands of people came out of the woodwork and called themselves “Dental Marketing X”. With a laptop and a corner in Granny’s basement, you can build a website and call yourself a dental marketing agency.
You might be wondering if writing this guide is sour grapes from all the new competition. I assure you, it’s not. Our new clients have all been through 1, 2, 3, 4 or more of these other agencies, before they get to us.
My aim is to accelerate your learning curve and prepare you to see through what these people are saying. There are still 5 or so really good reputable dental marketing firms out there. Even if you never use my firm, wouldn’t you like to choose one of the other good ones sooner in your career, rather than later? Imagine the money saved and additional revenue generated by making the right choice sooner. Let’s get started.
The hypnotic value of buzz words and phrases
You are a dentist, you are supposed to be focused on patient care and great treatment outcomes. You are not supposed to know everything there is to know about traditional marketing, digital marketing, KPI’s, UX/UI, and the myriad of other acronyms thrown about by dental marketing salespeople. Buzzwords are purposely used to impress you to the point of doing business. Unfortunately, by themselves, and even when combined, they don’t really mean anything tangible. Certainly not tangible enough to sway your decision.
Let’s take a closer look. Some of these may surprise you. I bet you have heard more than one of these multiple times.
#1 “Website Traffic”
If I were to tell you your website traffic was low, you would likely be sad (or mad). If I told you I just did work on your website, and the result of that work is an increase in your website traffic – you would be happy. Realistically, you should be neither. Let me explain.
Website traffic is an almost useless KPI (Key Performance Indicator). For instance, bots are considered website traffic. A bot is a program, it is not a potential patient. Your own patients visit your website often. These are not new patients. An increase in website traffic could easily come from your own efforts, perhaps after you sent an email to your patient base (as one of many examples). Spammers & hackers are website traffic. Solicitors are website traffic. Literally EVERYTHING is website traffic! Trying to impress you by saying your website traffic is low (so they can sell you), or high (so they can keep you), is ENTIRELY misleading.
It would be different if they said something like: “Dr. Smith, in the past 6 months of working on your web presence, we’ve seen a decrease in overall traffic to your site, however, unique calls from organic search have gone from 8 to 12 per month, which have resulted in actual new patients. When we started our work, you were at 2 NP/mo from organic.”
How do you feel now? Pretty good right? Things are improving. Whatever you are paying for, the work is creating a nice tidy return to your practice. This all happened while overall website traffic went down. It happens all the time.
So, how important/impressive is the buzzword website traffic? It is not important at all. What should be important to you, the owner of the practice? (Big reveal later)
This buzzword is typically used in conversations about paid digital ads, predominantly Google Ad campaigns. By “clicks” they mean the number of people who “clicked” your ad, then went to your website. By the way, before we move on with clicks, I do want to point out how paying for clicks and driving that traffic to a website also increases (wait for it) “website traffic.” Now, back to clicks. If I were to tell you that I increased the number of people clicking your ad, you would probably be happy. If I were to tell you the number of people clicking your ad has gone down, you would likely be sad (or mad).
You should be neither happy nor sad. Using “Clicks” as a key performance metric is almost as useless as website traffic!
You are going to hear things like: “Dr. S gets over 100 clicks per month to his website from the Google Ads we manage for him.”
For me (and now you), the following questions IMMEDIATELY pop into my head. They should also pop into your head and come out of your mouth.
Who is Dr. S? I want to speak to him/her.
Why are you sending Google Ad clicks to Dr. S’s website?
What did those clicks do for Dr. S?
By now, hopefully, your brain is wondering why clicks matter at all? They do matter. Just not as a measurement of success or failure. One click that turns into a $50,000 implant case would be considered successful. One thousand clicks that turn into 5 calls but no appointments will not return any revenue to the business.
At some point, some marketing company rep is going to say something like: “We manage Dr. S’s Google Ad campaign. It generated 1,000 clicks and tripled his monthly website traffic!” Even when we COMBINE buzzwords #1 and #2 – they still don’t matter. It’s all BS. They (sales rep) are trying to focus your mind on things you assume are important, to make their services seem more valuable.
It is quite literally Smoke and Mirrors (Google definition link provided)
What IS (or should be) important to you are new patients in the chair and the quality of the patients being attracted to the practice. You can get 10 new patients from one thousand clicks. You can also get no new patients from one thousand clicks.
#3 “Cost Per Click”
Now we get fancy. We take ridiculous buzzword #2 (click) and add a variable – cost. If you talk to 1000’s of dentists (which I have) about marketing their practice, the word cost floats really high on their importance meter. “What will be my marketing cost?” “How much of the cost is due up front?” “How much of the cost is a long-term commitment?” What will be my return on investment (cost)?” The word cost is likely the most recalled verb in the brain of a dentist when discussing marketing plans with a marketing agency!
No wonder they (sales rep) use the word cost in buzzwords. It really, really matters to you. And they know it. But should it matter as much as it does to you?
Cost Per Click is brought up (typically) when discussing a digital ad campaign. The most common would be a Google Ad campaign. You bid on search terms and phrases local people are using on Google to find dental services. Each time someone is searching for the dental services you are bidding on clicks YOUR ad, you get charged money. That’s what Pay Per Click (PPC) means.
A marketing agency might be pitching you on how well they can optimize a Google Ad campaign. Part of that discussion might be a sentence like this: “We can reduce your cost per click.” Or, maybe something more specific like: “Dr. W’s cost per click went down 23% after we took over his campaign.”
Now that we’ve added the word cost to this discussion, you are probably paying closer attention AND you are likely wondering; “when is a higher cost per click a good thing?” You probably can’t come up with one single reason why lowering the cost per click would be a bad thing. That’s because you are focused on one word – cost.
Now, (hopefully) let me shift your focus to the word – outcome.
Two Outcomes (you can choose one)
|Cost per click = $18.00
|Cost per click = $9.00
Anyone can reduce the cost per click if they bid on the wrong keywords for your practice. In the scenario above, the only difference between outcome 1 and outcome 2 was somebody forgot to put the competition and Medicaid in the Google Ad account as negative keywords. So, practice #2 got a lot more clicks, paid less for each one (because nobody else was bidding on them), a lot more calls (tying up the phones), a lot more patients (eventually tying up the re-care schedule 6 months from now), but their revenues aren’t too good.
But still, the agency sales rep can truthfully say: “We dropped the cost per click in HALF!”
Is the rep being dishonest? No. Can you see why lowering cost per click might not be something to brag about?
Right about now, you should be asking yourself the following questions:
- I realize I get website traffic, but what happens after they visit my website?
- What happened after they clicked my ad?
- If they called, what happened during the call?
- What happened after the call?
- Are they a new patient of record?
- Are they the right patient for my dental practice?
We will come back to these questions later in this guide.
You are familiar with remarketing. You may not know exactly what it is or how it works. That’s ok. You aren’t supposed to know. You are the CEO of a dental practice. Your job is to know if it is good or bad for your business.
If you have browsed anything on the internet, you’ve been remarketed. You might have browsed the websites of new cars. Maybe you looked at the upcoming model year and compared it to the current year, just to see if you want to wait for the new one, or, get a deal on the current year model.
Either way, when you visited that website, a cookie is temporarily placed on your computer. This cookie indicates that you are someone (they don’t know who you are) who visited the website, stopped, and browsed these pages (behaved with interest), then left the website (but did not buy).
The way remarketing works is pretty straightforward. For a period of (typically) 30 to 90 days, that car dealer can serve you Google display ads everywhere you go on the internet. Display ads are cheap. It is cheap to follow you around and try to convince you to come back and buy a car. So, a week later, there you are on YouTube trying to binge watch your favorite gardening tips, and all of a sudden, you are served a video ad for the EXACT model car you were looking at on the dealer website!
Holy Cow! That might be effective with dental patients! If a patient stopped on your website implant page, we could follow them around the internet with implant ads until the new patient called to book their first appointment!
When the marketing agency rep talks to you about remarketing the traffic from your website, how stoked are you going to be? Don’t you want to put down this guide right now, and call whoever does your marketing?
You are a dentist. You are a healthcare provider. Google and all the other display networks have VERY strict rules bestowed upon them by the US Government in the form of HIPAA regulations. Part of those regulations clearly state violations for remarketing after initial interest/intent if specific services or surgeries are present in the ad copy.
You might say: “Heck with them, I will do it anyway. What are they going to do? Arrest me for advertising?” (Queue Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct).
Arrest you? No. They won’t personally do anything to you. But professionally, that’s another story. How would you like your website removed from search? Your Google business page? How about all of those great Google reviews you’ve earned your whole career? Poof! Gone!
If you search the marketing forum at dentaltown.com, you will find a dentist complaining (loudly) that his Google account was turned off after Google SUPPORT told him it was ok to remarket to service pages. So, Google support doesn’t know remarketing dentistry to service explanations is not allowed. But now you know.
What does this have to do with buzzwords and choosing the right dental marketing firm? Want a fast way to instantly qualify if a dental marketing agency has your best interest at heart? Ask the rep the following question. “Can you handle remarketing my practice?” If they say yes, thank them for their time and move on. They either don’t know the rules (at best) or don’t care (worst).
Technical Fine Line: Technically, you “can” run remarketing ads for dental patients. BUT within the destination (landing page, website page, etc.) you may NOT mention any procedures or surgeries. So basically, all you can say is “Hi, I’m a dentist” – which nobody will be interested in if you can’t explain what you do for people. Just throwing this in here, in case someone you are interviewing says “we can remarket your practice.”
This is probably the most overhyped AND most ridiculous of all buzzwords. You see claims of “many leads” on dental marketing company websites. “We generated over 80 dental implant leads for Dr. V!” “Dr. M is ecstatic over the number of new patient leads he is receiving!”
A lead, is any consumer who took some previous action toward the dental office. Leads are not patients. They have not made an appointment yet. A click, a website visit, a form fill, a request for information, someone who responds or inquires on your social media page are all considered “leads” to some dental marketing firms. And they REALLY like to make a big deal out of the number of “leads” they are generating.
I have been interacting with dental practices since the late 80’s. Outside of rather large DSO’s, I have never, not one single solitary time, been introduced to the person in the dental office who actively and consistently follows up on leads.
Never. Not once.
So, what good are they?
You could make the claim or argument that a lead has value as part of the marketing funnel. I would agree. Yes, in most cases, having 10 people who filled out a form (common lead capture) is better than having 0 people who filled out a form. But what is more important than having 10 people who filled out a form?
Having ONE of those form fillers turn into an actual live breathing new patient! So, having 10 people fill out a form (leads) is good ONLY if some number of those 10 people turn out to be butts in the chairs (so to speak).
When a dental marketer brags about leads, they do so because large numbers get more attention from dentists than small numbers. 400 leads appear to be a LOT better than 2 new patients. But now you know. Hopefully your BS meter will spike, should the word “leads” come up in a conversation with a dental marketing agency rep.
#6 “Traditional marketing is dead.”
Since 99% of dental marketing companies never did traditional marketing (remember, anyone with a laptop and a corner in Granny’s basement can call themselves a dental marketing expert), of course 99% of dental marketing companies are going to say traditional marketing is dead! They don’t do it!
But is that statement true? Are all traditional marketing channels dead? No. By stating it as fact and having zero experience with it, do they have your best interest at heart, or do they simply want to sell you what they do?
NOT ALL TRADITIONAL CHANNELS ARE DEAD. NOT BY A LONG SHOT.
Here are the channels that are pretty much in the ground, dead and buried.
- Yellow pages
- Print magazines
- Newspaper Insert
Here are the traditional channels that “can”, given the right circumstances, pay off for your dental practice.
- Small (er – ish) community based micro local news bulletins
- TV – In select markets
- Radio – In select markets
Here are the traditional channels that consistently pay off big time for dental practices nationwide
- Direct mail with the right market segmentation and messaging
- Self-published and distributed magazines about the practice (to the correctly targeted audience)
LET’S TAKE A DEEPER LOOK AT THE ASSERTION THAT ALL TRADITIONAL MARKETING IS BAD (OR DEAD).
Before I compare the characteristics of digital and traditional channels, and what a dentist can and should expect from each, I have to tell you up front – I want you to put your budget wherever you get the best bang for your buck. So, if you read these characteristics and expectations and somehow come away thinking I prefer digital over traditional or vice versa – I have no preference. The reason I have no preference is because the combination of digital and traditional is always dependent upon what that particular practice needs more of (volume or quality) at that moment in time.
HERE IS WHY BELIEVING ALL TRADITIONAL MARKETING IS DEAD, COULD LEAVE YOU IN A SERIOUS BIND.
Digital marketing is almost always a bidding environment. This is true particularly with paid ads (like Google Ads). If traditional is dead and digital is the place to be, and Google is the king daddy of all paid online ads, and Google is a bidding environment – how long before other dentists overbid?
If competition raises bids, aren’t you eventually going to spend the same amount of money for a declining result? Think about this for a second. Your answer should absolutely be yes.
Now let’s take organic search (SEO). You pay your SEO guy/gal. Your neighbor dentists all pay their SEO guys/gals. This goes on for months/years. Everyone’s SEO person is competing with everyone else’s SEO person. SEO is labor. Eventually, wouldn’t all of those costs go up? To compete at a higher level, you will have to pay for more labor, and yet again, you’ll end up with the same costs and a lower result. Or, you will spend more (buy more labor) to move ahead of your local colleagues (albeit temporarily).
If the above is true, isn’t competing in SEO, in essence, a bidding environment as well? Yes. Yes, it is.
So, wait, all the so called digital dental marketing companies are telling you that your only marketing choices are bidding environments, where eventually you will be paying more for the same or less results?
For you, the answer to that question is yes (if you believe them).
But that stinks, doesn’t it? Banished to a career of everlasting cost increases and response declines? That doesn’t sound productive at all.
Well, it’s not productive. So, here is a short general list of the major marketing channels, a couple of their characteristics, and what you should expect from each as an outcome.
We manage millions of dentist marketing budget dollars in BOTH digital paid ads (Google/Facebook/etc.), and direct mail. We see the initial touch of the consumer, all the way through to the revenues produced in the practice.
Digital and traditional channels should not be thought of as a this VS. that question. The real question is: When should I use each? In short, you use digital to drive volume, you use mail (done properly) to drive revenues. If you need both – do both.
Which brings us all the way back to the 6th most ridiculous buzzword which is: “Traditional marketing is dead”. This buzz phrase is 100% provably false. But you know why they say it. They don’t do traditional marketing and they want all of your budget money for digital, because digital is all they do.
You see this stuff on dental marketing company websites as well.
“Look at me! I generated 172 calls to Dr. D’s practice last month!”
Much like cost/click, a dentist might really wonder why an extra 72 calls coming into their office is a bad thing. If I were you, I would wonder the same thing.
But I am not you. 😊 I have an advantage on my desk.
I can (literally) see THOUSANDS of calls coming into client offices. I can see call volume by marketing channel, by marketing channel subcategory, all the way down to calls by keywords and phrases. You know what the least valuable single metric is on my dashboard? Calls.
Total calls are almost meaningless. You have to investigate further to extract (pun intended) the value from the metric. Let me give you an example of how measuring a single metric could bankrupt your whole marketing budget, but make your marketing dude look really, really, good.
Marketing dude starts a digital campaign on Google for you. Your monthly budget is $2,000. He fails to add the local dentists, your name, and your practice name as negative keywords into your account. He turns on your account. You get 172 calls in one week. Average cost per click is a reasonable $11.23. Your budget is completely exhausted for the whole month.
Unfortunately, the 172 calls were all your own patients and patients of the other dental practices in town (wrong numbers). Dental consumers think the first one or two things that pop up on their phone after a search is THEIR dentist. So, they click the phone number. And, guess what? YOU get to pay to tell them they have the wrong number!
Meanwhile, on marketing dude’s website it says: Dr. Q received 172 calls with a cost per click of $11.23!
Dentists like you, look at that claim and think it is a pretty good result. But now YOU know better.
Clicks, cost per click, and calls are useless and misleading data slices by themselves. Even when connected together, without the ultimate outcome – they are not anything to be impressed by. What are the only things that should matter to you, the dentist? New patients in the chair. And? The quality of the new patients in the chair. Period. Now we’re getting somewhere!
You might not get this buzz phrase until AFTER you are committed to working with a marketing firm, so you probably want to sit up in your chair and pay special attention to this one.
First, let me define what an offer is. An offer is some financial incentive for a person to take action now, call your practice, and make their first appointment.
Statistics gathered through independent consumer research studying what matters most and what matters least to dental consumers, tells us that 51.4% of females WILL choose a healthcare provider for their family based primarily on an offer. In other words, if they know nothing (or very little) else about the practice, but the financial offer appears to be attractive – they will call the office and make an appointment.
We call this market segment in dentistry, the bottom half. We are not judging, we are simply identifying and labeling two very different market segments in dentistry. You HAVE TO use different messaging to these two segments if you want to be a dentist who is happy with their marketing results.
If 51.4% of the women WILL choose based primarily on a price incentive, that means 48.6% will NOT choose a healthcare provider based primarily on a price incentive. This group is known as the top half. Price incentives in dentist promotions, turn this group OFF. These women tend to value other things when they make their healthcare choices.
NOW ASK YOURSELF THE QUESTION:
WHERE AND HOW ARE ALL OF MY COLLEAGUES PROMOTING THEIR PRACTICES?
They are all using price incentives, aren’t they? Yes, they are. You see them everywhere. Ads, billboards, digital ads, Google, Facebook, cheesy postcard mailers, and you see the offers on the home page of their websites, don’t you?
Yes. What does this mean?
It means 95% of dentistry is competing for 51.4% of the dental market.
It means if your marketing firm asks you “what do you want your offer(s) to be?” either before you become a client or as a primary design element after you become a client – you know where your budget is going. It’s going into the very crowded bottom half of the dental consumer market, with almost every one of your colleagues.
Meanwhile, the 48.6% of women, the top of the market, the half of the market that generates 11 times the lifetime ROI – just sits there getting annoyed at the offers. They will not choose any of those dentists. They want (in their mind) a good dentist.
You might ask, “But Mark, why don’t the other marketing firms go after the top half of the market?”
They don’t know there are two segments. They think every woman in the world will respond positively to a financial offer made by a healthcare provider. Go poll 10 women you know between 35 and 55. Ask them if they would choose a healthcare provider for their family based primarily on a price incentive. Jot down their reactions.
So where does that leave you in your quest for the right marketing firm?
It leaves you knowledgeable. If you are driven by pure volume and will be for the rest of your career, using aggressive price incentives will drive more phone calls and bodies in the chair.
If you are driven by earnings/money/value/working on more pleasant patients, stop using price incentives as a main motivator to choose you.
For the purposes of choosing a marketing firm, choose one that understands the difference between the top and bottom half of the dental market, how to craft messaging to each, as well as the financial impact of attracting each to your overall long-term profitability.
Before finishing this guide, I want you to know what choosing a marketing firm should be like
The overall experience should be very similar to a good new patient dental experience.
You diagnose patients with your eyes, radiographs, an explorer, and information provided by the patient.
Similarly, a real marketing plan should consist of information provided by the dentist (their objectives), a thorough offline analysis of their core market, a thorough online analysis of their core market, and an analysis of any existing marketing assets.
So, as the dentist, you should expect a thorough diagnosis of your core market area, and a consultative/informative conversation about the best ways to achieve your stated objective. In your world, this is the treatment plan consult.
Your marketing plan should make sense to you. It should not be confusing. With analysis data in hand, you should not have to be influenced by buzz words, phrases, or any other sleight of hand. The proper use of your marketing budget will be obvious.
After you present treatment options to a new patient, do you hassle them for an immediate decision until they move forward? No, you don’t.
Neither should your marketing firm.
The experience should inform, discuss, adjust, and end up being a pleasant unhurried experience.
Thank you for taking the time to read this guide. I know several times in my own life and my own business, I had wished someone would have told me what to look out for – before I got there. 😊 Hopefully you are now more prepared than before you began reading.
If you want to discuss dental marketing topics with professionals and dentists alike, we invite you to join us at our Dental Marketing Mastery Facebook Group
We sincerely hope this guide helps you connect with more patients who can benefit from the services you provide.