People make their dental choices
based on extremely little data - a photo, a business
card, a piece of letterhead, a sign, etc. Often it isn't
even data upon which they base their
decision - it's more like the feeling they
get about you and your practice while perceiving your
photo, business card, letterhead, or sign.
We would wish they did more
homework or at least put more rationality into the
process, but they often don't.
What's worse is these decisions are
often made in a matter of seconds. In those few seconds
you must reach them and make an impact or you've lost
the marketing game.
And if all this isn't bad enough
there's one more startling fact. This rather depressing
piece of news is based upon my 18 years experience in
getting people to respond to dental marketing. Here it
of the time what YOU think the public should or will
respond to - they won't and
I'd like to explore this last point
because it seems to fly in the face of reason. You would
think that the people who were most closely involved
with their target market (in this case - you!) would
have a pretty good feeling for what that market might
Many of our dentist clients,
especially when they first come to us, have very
specific ideas about how they want to display themselves
to the public. Some see themselves as dental boutiques,
some see themselves as strictly cosmetic practices, and
others may see themselves as family or family and
cosmetic practices. In other words they have an image
of themselves they want to portray to the general
They reason that their marketing
should reflect and communicate this image. They further
reason that by doing this they will be able to attract
the portions of the general populace that they want as
patients and avoid those segments they'd rather, well,
Sounds good. So why doesn't
it always work that way?
It's because how the public
actually sees you is very rarely the way you see
yourself. And why is this? Two reasons: 1. Because of
the aforementioned scant information on which they will
base their decision. 2. Because they don't think like
There is a very real chasm between
what the doctor (and staff) think will get people to
call for an appointment and what gets people to actually
Here's a real life example. This is
not an isolated occurrence. It's usual and
Doctor Jones (not his real name)
pictured himself as a high end, high fee, high tech
doctor who had a Nordstrom style practice. He was an
extraordinarily good clinician and had the resume to
prove it - Pankey, LVI, Pac-Live, Misch, Aesthetic
Advantage, 1000 Gems, you name it, and he had done
His staff was very upbeat and well
trained. They treated people like gold.
He had all the high tech toys -
intraoral camera, laser, digital x-ray, air abrasion and
just about anything else you can think of.
Even though his practice was
located in an area of the country you might call
"managed care heaven" (or hell, depending on your
viewpoint) it was also quite an affluent area. There
were lots of other dentists around.
He was mostly interested in
attracting big cases, full mouth rehab, veneers,
implants and so on. He had excellent case presentation
and closing skills.
He asked us to produce a direct
mail package but it had to conform to his idea - his
self-image - of this super high end, Ritz Carlton type
practice. After many drafts we finally completed the
piece and he approved it. It was stunningly beautiful,
slick, glossy, first class, top drawer,
state-of-the-art, well, you get the idea - expensive and
CLASSY. He was certain this would attract every rich
person in the area and he would become the Larry
Rosenthal of his community.
It was a bomb. A dud. Laid an egg.
Ship wreck. Train wreck. Wash out. Disaster. Implosion.
DOA. (Oops, dropped my thesaurus).
I think he got all of 6 calls and two
Actually it produced about a 2:1
return on investment, which sounds OK but in my book is
a bomb. The only thing that kept it from being a money
loser is ONE of the two patients ended up being a fairly
decent case and that pretty much paid for the project.
If not for that it would have been a complete waste of
Let's leave Dr. Jones for a moment
and drop in on another client, Dr. Smith (not his real
For the sake of brevity let me just
tell you that Dr. Smith and Dr. Jones could be the same
person. Their staffs could be interchangeable, as well
as their locations. They had the same qualifications,
training, experience, same great staff, same
demographics, same equipment, same first class facility,
same closing skills - they were exactly the same in all
important aspects and even the unimportant ones. Heck,
they even looked alike!
They also had the same
goals - do high end, high fee dentistry on a select
group of patients.
We designed a mailing package for
Dr. Jones. It had more of a family appeal, and while it
was very professional it definitely was not high end
looking or "slick." In fact, it was kind of corny, a bit
too down homey, too pedestrian, just not snotty
enough. Or so he thought.
Grand slam home run. It got such a
great response that the doctor still uses it to this
day. It has produced an average of 25 new
fee-for-service patients per month for 3 years. Lots of
veneers, rehabs, implants, and of course crown and
bridge, RCTs, the whole nine yards.
Just what Dr. Jones had hoped for
but didn't get. Yet Dr. Smith got it in
What was the difference? Dr. Jones'
image of how he should promote himself missed the mark.
The public wouldn't respond to it. We found out later
that many people thought it was certainly a high quality
piece and he must be a great dentist but their reaction
was, "I'd like to have him as my dentist but I don't
think I could afford him. I only need a couple of
fillings but he probably doesn't want to do fillings. He
must treat only movie stars or CEOs of big
The public reaction to Dr. Smith's
piece was, "I can trust this guy, and he's competent. He
knows what he's doing. It would be great to have him as
my dentist. He sounds like he wants me as a
Oh, one more thing. Dr. Smith and
Dr. Jones fee schedules? Virtually identical.
So we have two practices with
identical fees, demographics, patient pools, skills,
equipment and staffs. The dentists even do the exact
same dentistry on their patients.
But they had vastly
different public faces.
Dr. Jones came across as
professional but also expensive, slick, aloof, arrogant
and not at all inviting.
Dr. Smith came across as
professional as well but also competent, trustworthy,
caring and most of all, accessible. Note: No one said
anything about Dr. Smith having high fees. It just
wasn't a factor one way or the other. His fees were as
high as Dr. Jones, but people didn't perceive that to be
the case or didn't care.
Remember, we're not talking about
having to have a specific practice philosophy or having
to practice only certain kinds of dentistry, or having
to service only a certain level of the populace, we're
simply talking about how to attract people.
The two doctors in our example each
had a chance to connect with their audience but only one
did. The other was perceived to be out of reach. One was
emotionally warm, the other cold and distant.
The moral of the story is what you
think about yourself and how you want to display
yourself is one thing. What people will respond to is
often something else.