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Marketing Myopia: A Classic Insight for Winning New Patients Today

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Rabbit coming out of a magician hatThe following quote is at least 50 years old, but dentists, doctors and healthcare providers can put this classic insight to the task of winning new patients immediately.

Marketing guru and Harvard Business School Professor Theodore Levitt often told his students: "People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!"

The message is a powerful one, and it’s easily applied to dental marketing. Well…perhaps a “drill” isn’t ideal imagery for dentistry, but we’ll make allowances for a “classic.” More importantly the core concept is entirely appropriate and useful for doctors and other healthcare providers as well as dentists—once you practice using it with patients.

The central idea is the need for business—including dental and medical marketing professionals—to clearly understand the true benefit of what’s being sold. Or more accurately, what precisely is the consumer is buying?

The 1960 Harvard Business Review (HBR) article on this topic presented a top-level perspective about the success or failure of large industries. But part of the genius here is that it is not confined to the corporate suite.

In fact, asking about and understanding the needs and motivations of each patient has a practical application for a dentist or a doctor…today…in the office…with the next patient. Making this work is a simple as asking.

To continue with the dental marketing example, you might believe you’re “selling” a teeth-whitening regimen. After all, that’s one of the things that you do in your office, and that’s what the patient said they wanted. Teeth whitening is indeed a feature of the office. Having a bright smile is a benefit to the patient. But there’s more to it. What the consumer (patient) is buying is an improved appearance (and greater self-confidence) to win a new job.

Admittedly, the discovery process may be easier in elective care situations, but the principle carries forward. A patient may see a doctor to resolve pain in the knee, but what they really want to “buy” is the ability to resume square dancing. Here are some tips on making this part of the office routine:

  • Use it with each and every patient. Ask.
  • Make a note of what the patient want to achieve and why.
  • Tabulate the list of all reasons as insight for advertising.
  • With success, ask the patient for a referral to others.

Focusing on what the product or service will ultimately do for them may require several questions in a conversation. And from that point forward—once you understand the true benefit of what you’re selling—you are no longer performing or “selling” a service, you are facilitating an important need for the patient.

Oh, and one more thing about Harvard’s late Professor Levitt. About 30 years ago he proposed a definition for corporate purpose: “Rather than merely making money, it is to create and keep a customer.” It’s another concept that applies to healthcare marketing today.

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