By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
It’s no secret that dentistry is evolving throughout much of the Middle East. Until recently, the majority of patients failed to understand the value of quality dentistry, the Emirati market was limited to government-subsidised care, and dental marketing was virtually nonexistent. Now the landscape is rapidly changing. Rising numbers of affluent patients are beginning to demand top-notch dentistry – and they have the means to pay for it. With ripe pickings on offer, regional dentists are starting to experiment with marketing, and are seeing the limits to their practice success dissolve right before their eyes.
So how will the future unfold for Middle Eastern dentistry and, more to the point, how can you ensure your practice is well positioned to benefit? While no one has a crystal ball, local practices can learn a lot from the changes that have taken place in USA dentistry over the past 30 years. And, with some basic rules, that knowledge can be converted directly into greatly enhanced practice profits.
A LESSON LEARNED
Admittedly, market factors are very different in the US. Both dentists and patients in America view the industry differently to their counterparts in the Middle East. Perhaps the most striking example of this difference in attitudes is the fact that many dentists in the United States market their practices very aggressively. They utilise flyers, coupons, discount exams, newspapers, radio, billboards, the internet and even television.
Many dentists find the competition so tough that they must market themselves not only to succeed, but simply to survive. In such an overheated marketplace, you’d never imagine that healthcare advertising was illegal only a generation ago; it was prohibited until 1979. And even when federal rules relaxed, it would be a misconception to suggest that thousands of dentists immediately began promoting their practices. In the added few years before dental boards (begrudgingly) deemed marketing to be legal, the vast majority of dentists still did absolutely nothing. Marketing, in short, was too taboo for most dentists to contemplate. They either dismissed the subject entirely or assumed that only desperate or unethical dentists would resort to marketing.
In time, the more business-savvy dentists began to quietly experiment with promotional tactics, and the lack of competition meant success came easily. As their profits and marketing budgets grew, they hired marketing consultants and advertising agencies to help them reach the next level. Over time, many dentists became incredibly proficient at marketing, and enjoyed enormous – sometimes multi-million dollar – successes. It is these dentists who, by seizing the reins, have built virtual dental empires by harnessing the power of marketing; and doing so tastefully and ethically. You can, too.
Based upon our experiences in marketing dental practices over the past few decades in the US, we strongly believe that your age of golden opportunity has finally arrived. The chance to secure your share of patients and build a thriving practice will never be this good again. The chances are, however, that many Middle Eastern dentists will be slow to take action and adjust to the new market realities. Competition will be light and your marketing far more likely to succeed. But your window of opportunity will likely be much shorter. Start now, and begin building a long-term competitive advantage.
SMALL MOVES; BIG RESULTS
Many of the Arab dentists we’ve talked to are eager to learn how to build their practices at home. Yes, we recognise that there are cultural differences to overcome, but human behaviour is fairly universal. Here’s how to get started.
HOW MARKETING HELPS
Are you already one of the most popular dentists in your city or town? Then we’d advise you to protect what you’ve built by solidifying your position and making it twice as difficult for another practice to come in and encroach on your turf.
Is your clinic one of the best-kept secrets in town? Then it’s a matter of survival – you must attract more patients and better-paying cases in order to survive and thrive. Perhaps you are somewhere in the middle?
For any tier of practice, marketing is a powerful tool that can help you grow your profits and attract the types of cases you want.
‘BUT I BECAME A DENTIST TO HELP PEOPLE’
And if you think about it, that’s one more reason why you should get the word out about what a great dentist you are. After all, patients can’t utilise your care if they don’t know you exist. So the more people hear about the fantastic care you provide, the more people you have the chance to help.
MARKETING CAN BE ETHICAL
Advertising gets a bad rap. You don’t need to plaster the city with tacky billboards and neon signs. Promotion needn’t be flashy or uncomfortable. Your aim is to build your image through respectable channels, without risking your reputation.
Done properly, you can improve your reputation with both colleagues and patients while you grow your practice with ethical and effective marketing. Here again, you can learn from successful American practitioners who have tested the water and learnt what really works. What they’ve found time and again is this: the easiest place to begin is your patients.
BUILD ON CURRENT PATIENTS
We would all rather pick low-hanging fruit. All businesses want the most results for the least amount of effort and your practice is no different. That’s what you’ll achieve if you first focus on marketing to the patients you already have. The approach is called ‘internal marketing’, and it’s always the best place to start.
So why are your existing patients so valuable? These are people who already know you and trust you. Their ongoing custom suggests they are happy with your care and have a relationship with you. All they need is a little encouragement to recommend you to their friends and family, and to use more of your services themselves. Make sure these patients are primed, by providing exceptional service each visit. They’ll spread the word about your service, personal care and all the ways in which you’ve helped them. But first, you must be sure that’s true.
PERFECT YOUR PRODUCT
As the market becomes more sophisticated, the standard of dental care is sure to rise. One of the consequences of increased marketing and competition is that, over time, patient expectation will also begin to climb.
Building your practice with superb marketing will remain an uphill battle if you don’t support it with a great product. That includes a friendly staff, timely service, attentive care and positive results in a clean, comfortable environment. Be absolutely sure you are meeting these standards before you begin advertising. Your efforts will fail if patients detect a difference between what you provide and what you say you provide.
FAIL TO PLAN; PLAN TO FAIL
Service attributes are an essential part of your marketing plan. Contrary to popular myth, successful marketing is not about creating interesting advertisements. Rather, it is about creating a great product designed to fit the consumer’s needs, differentiating that product from others in the marketplace, and only then promoting it.
An anecdote illustrates this point well. The leader of one of the most successful dental practices we’ve ever worked with told us; “The best thing about the marketing you did for us was not that we grew our revenue by millions of dollars. The more exciting thing was that your ads promised patients a great experience, so patients came in expecting one. As a result, we found all of our dentists quickly adapted and raised their standard of care. Today we are not only a lot more successful financially, but we also deliver far better dentistry.”
KEEP IT CURRENT
Once you are routinely delivering a great product, the single easiest path to new patients is one that’s commonly overlooked: asking for referrals. Most patients know at least one person who could potentially utilize your services. Often, all you need to do is ask. You could say something like this: “I’m so glad I helped you out of pain. You know, the reason I became a dentist in the first place is to help people. If you know anyone else I can help, I’d really appreciate it if you sent them to my office. And I’m sure they’d appreciate it too.”
Once you’ve made the suggestion, people are much more inclined to follow through with recommendations.
Time and again, frustrated dentists have told us that they’ve discovered patients going elsewhere for services they didn’t know their dentist provided. As a rule, we’ve found that patients are very narrowly aware of what you do. A family dentist we know is an example. A woman whose entire family had been patients for years showed up with freshly whitened teeth. She had assumed that was the domain of a cosmetic dentist. She responded to an advertisement she received in the mail and was completely unaware that her trusted dentist could have performed the same service.
The solution is simple. Be sure that you and your staff teach your patients about the breadth of services available in your office. One way to do this is to choose one service a month as a topic for your ‘one-minute message’. Each person on your staff should learn how to quickly and positively describe one service or procedure you perform and ensure every patient who visits your office hears the message.
Internal marketing is the easiest, most obvious place to start. Use these basic tools to get yourself started in the right direction. In upcoming articles, we’ll help you build on your knowledge so that you can continue to grow your practice and protect yourself from competition.