What YOU think is great does not match the perception of the dental consumer!

In our two-part blog posting series, we are going to discuss what makes your practice attractive to the consumer. In the first part of our blog series, we are going to discuss the difference between the dentist’s perception and the dental consumer’s perception of dentistry. We also dive into the damaging consequences of using low prices to entice new patients to join your practice.

The second part of our series will cover the top marketable attributes you can use to promote to the dental consumers in your area. We will also provide you with insights and recommendations on how to improve your marketability in the future.

What’s so great about YOU? Understanding the marketability of your practice

As we stated in one of our dental marketing guides, effective marketing starts with a better understanding of the dental consumer’s mindset. If you can relate to the needs of ordinary people and communicate with them at their level of understanding, your marketing efforts will have more impact and produce better results than those of your competitors.

The next critical step in developing a good marketing strategy is to gain a better understanding of your own practice.

Now, this statement may ruffle a few feathers. If you’re like most of the dentists we work with, you believe that if there’s one thing you know inside out and upside down, it’s your dental practice. You built it from the ground up. You carefully selected every piece of equipment, stick of furniture and retractable pen within those four walls. You spend most of your waking hours in it. What could you possibly not know?

It’s a very reasonable question, and one that we’ll answer in a moment. The answer will help you see your practice in a totally different light. Throughout this series, you’ll learn how to identify elements of your practice that are truly marketable, and that the general public will find desirable, impressive and compelling enough to make them to pick up the phone and make an appointment.

These elements are not going to be any of the things that might come to your mind right now.

Let’s start by examining the difference between reality and perception—and the ways in which they can play havoc with the way you market your practice.

Reality and perception: Why you and your patients live on different planets

Dental consumers—the people you’re trying to reach with your marketing efforts— have an existing, known reality related to dentistry. Their reality is based solely on the sum total of their prior experiences at the dentist’s office (if they have ever had any). That’s it.

Perception is a whole other ballgame. Perception has NOTHING to do with reality. Humans create perceptions about something from indirect influences, such as information they receive from friends and family, items they see in the paper, on the web or on TV, and the pervasive effect of advertising.

For instance, have you ever owned a pair of Nike sneakers? If you have, your experience of Nike sneakers is based on reality. If you haven’t, you have no real experience and have to fall back on perception to make your evaluations. Whether that perception is positive or negative, it has no relation to reality. Of course, that perception can be just as powerful as the reality—which is why marketing powerhouses like Nike spend more than a billion dollars each year to alter people’s perceptions!

How about Geico insurance? If you don’t have a Geico policy, you probably still have perceptions about the company and the brand. If we ask you what you think about Geico insurance as a product, you’d have an opinion. If we asked you what you thought about the cavemen or the talking Gecko, you’d have an answer. If we asked whether you liked or disliked Geico, you would have something to say. Yet everything you think and feel about Geico—however strong those assumptions and opinions might be—are perceptions without any basis in reality.

If we shared your perceptions about Nike with a footwear designer, or your opinions about Geico with an insurance professional, they would probably feel as though we were speaking different languages. Their insider knowledge of the reality of these subjects means that they see them in a totally different way.

That’s exactly the phenomenon you face when marketing your dental practice to the ordinary consumer. Your reality as a dentist is NOT the perception of the dental consumer. The dental consumer’s perceptions are so far removed from your reality that you really are almost living on different planets.

So how do we get everyone back on the same page?

Recognize existing perceptions and use them to your advantage

By recognizing the ways in which ordinary people perceive the field of dentistry, you can figure out what really impresses and appeals to them, and then market the heck out of it.

Fortunately, the average dental consumer is easily impressed. The previous chapter revealed how little most people know about dentistry. Most have never even heard of things like periodontal laser treatments, one-visit crowns, one-visit whitening or dentist-administered migraine treatments. The dental consumer knows hardly ANYTHING about today’s dentistry. Their perceptions of your practice are so limited, it’s easy to wow them. Things that are a routine part of your business are revolutionary to your potential customers. You live with dentistry every day, and the excitement wears off. For consumers, it’s all new.

Almost everything about today’s dentistry can be made to be at best exciting, and at the least – informative and useful information! The key is to go down to the consumer’s perceptual level when you start to build your list of marketable attributes.

Why digital x-rays are a major newsflash

Let’s take a look at a specific example of ways to exploit the difference between consumer perception and reality.

Let’s say there are 25 dentists in and around your general market area. YOU know that all of the dentists in the area employ digital x-rays in their practices. To YOU, the consumer benefit of digital x-rays is hardly even worth mentioning to the general public. Everybody offers them, so they don’t offer a compelling reason for anyone to choose your office for their dental needs.

Wrong.

If none of the other 25 dentists in the area promote their use of digital x-rays, the “perception” of the dental consumer will be that your offering is unique. As far as they know, yours is the only office in the area offering this remarkable technology, and if your marketing materials sell the benefits of digital x-rays in language the consumer understands, they will pass over your 25 competitors—all of who offer the exact same service—and book an appointment with you.

Let’s look at another example. Let’s say you started using CAD/CAM technology in your practice a few years ago. To you, it’s old news. Sure, it’s a useful part of your practice. Sure, it’s pretty fun to play around with. But none of your patients are going to care about how fun it is for you to tinker with your CAD/CAM machine.

Wrong again.

How do you think the general public would respond to some of these benefits?

  • Same Day Restorations – No “Temporary Teeth!”
  • No need to bite down on a tray of “nasty blue gunk”
  • Instant adjustments for the perfect fit!
  • Years worth of dental work done in just one visit!

Maybe you recognized some of these consumer benefits – maybe you didn’t. Almost every business owner is too close to their own area of expertise to effectively promote their own business. That’s why advertising/marketing firms exist. But by understanding the gulf that exists between public perception and the reality of your dental practice, you are more than halfway towards being able to beat some of those professional marketers at their own game. Step outside of your own knowledge base. Take a fresh look at the many services you offer, and the advantages to the consumer that those services provide.

The dental consumer’s limited perception is a pretty powerful marketing agent if you know how to make it work for you. Once you understand the public’s perception of dentistry, you can use it as the baseline for your list of marketable attributes— attributes that you’ll showcase in all of your marketing materials.

The “Value Gap”: Why leading with low prices is a big mistake

As you have seen, the difference between perception and reality can be used to your advantage. But there is one area where the difference is not in your favor. This is the value gap—a term that doesn’t mean a whole lot to people who don’t have a business degree. But it’s an important concept to understand when it’s your business to promote the value of your product or service to the public.

So, what is the value gap? The official definition is: “the positive or negative difference between the perceived value of something and the true value of something.”

In dentistry, the value gap means the public still believes dentistry is the same as it was 50 years ago. This is great news when it comes to dazzling them with “new” technology that you’ve been using for 15 years, but it’s bad news when it comes to convincing them that your services don’t cost the same as they did 50 years ago. The dental consumer believes your fees are too high because they do not understand the “value” of what you provide. And presto—you’ve got a value gap.

Now, the value gap is not real after treatment. Patients do pay you the fees you charge AFTER you treat them, and they see the value of the service you provide. The value gap only exists before they become your patients. This is an important distinction.

The most important thing to understand is that lowering your prices will NEVER close the value gap. In fact, taking this approach will only widen the gap further and have you chasing after scarcer and scarcer dollars.

Please consider the following two statements:

  • Promoting your practice primarily through financial incentives makes the existing value gap larger. If you make the value gap larger, there is downward pressure on pricing (your fees) and your fees will be harder to collect. (In other words, low prices deflate the value of the service you provide.)
  • Promoting your practice primarily through the benefits of today’s dentistry makes the existing value gap smaller. If you make the value gap smaller, there is upward pressure on pricing (your fees), and your fees will be easier to collect. (In other words, charging full price for your services reinforces the perception of their value.)

Make these two principles your new marketing mantra. Repeat them every time you’re tempted to distribute a tacky postcard offering a $59 exam-and-x-ray special or participate in one of those discount coupon books that usually end up in the recycling bin anyway.

Attempting to attract people to your practice that are interested in great healthcare (rather than a “deal”) will ultimately provide you with the practice you desire. Yes, we understand that good prices and good service are not mutually exclusive, but dentistry as a whole relies WAY too much on attracting new patients primarily through financial incentives. When you do a good job of promoting the value of your services, you don’t need to compete on price. Ever.

In part one of our blog series on dental practice marketability, we discussed what makes your practice attractive to the consumer. Many dentists have a much different perception about this compared to what the consumer thinks. We’ll show you how to use the consumers’ perceptions to your advantage in your marketing materials. We have also seen how the lag between the perception and reality of dental technology offers an opportunity to promote ‘old’ technology as an exciting and unique consumer benefit.

We hope we have also shown you the damaging effect a different kind of consumer perception—the ‘value gap’—can have on your business. If you retain only ONE marketing concept from this blog series, we sincerely hope it’s the idea that marketing yourself on price alone only devalues the service you offer.

Stay tuned for part two of our blog series, where we cover the top marketable attributes to use when marketing. We will also cover recommendations and insights on how to improve your marketability in the future.