When you hear the word “brand,” most people think of large companies such as Coca-Cola, Nike, or McDonald’s. The mere mention of these company names or sighting of their logos triggers an emotional response in the heart of the consumer that is consistent and predictable. These companies have longstanding developed brands that are essential to each company’s position in the marketplace and the profitability of the company. A well-developed brand such as these commands premium pricing in the marketplace due to the immediate recognition of the brand and the predictability of the product or service represented by the brand. However, brands and branding are not limited to large companies.
Is branding relevant to dental practice? Absolutely. It is an emotional connection between your patients (and potential patients) and your practice. It is the cultivated identity of who you are and what you do, and your reputation in the community. It is the predictable service in the minds of consumers that is relevant to their daily needs.
You are already branded simply by graduating from dental school. Earning a D.D.S. or D.M.D. degree creates an emotional connection between the community and its perceived notion of who you are and what you do. Historically, most consumers thought all dentists were the same and offered the same services. Times are changing, though. Consumers realize that there is a difference and they do have choices to make. In a large city, they may look in the yellow pages and have hundreds of potential dental providers to choose from. It is your job to “brand yourself” and help them in their selection process. This will help consumers find the practice that is right for them and help you to attract the desired patients to your practice.
The problem with the simple D.D.S. brand is that the public perceives you as Dr. Generic, D.D.S. This may not be what you want to be. Do you want to be known for outstanding technical skills, outstanding customer service, convenient before and after work appointments, the place for outstanding cosmetic dentistry, low prices, or a myriad of other features? If you do not want to be Dr. Generic, D.D.S., you must decide how you want your practice to be viewed in the community and take proactive steps to position your practice as such.
As you are developing your brand or identity, it is important to understand patients and consider how and why they make buying decisions in dental care. Ongoing research at the University of California–Los Angeles (received in a private communiqué from Eddie Facey, M.B.A., president of New Patients, Inc.) reveals the relative weighting of factors in making buying decisions in dental care as follows:
Technological adoption: 18.6%
Geographic convenience: 12.2%
Familiarity of the dentist through referral or advertising: 9.9%
Office amenities: 6.8%
Dentist of the same ethnicity/culture as the patient: 6.2%
Years of experience: 5.8%
Suitable specialization as a family or cosmetic dentist: 5.8%
Many dentists operate general practices where they attempt to be all things to all people. This is the most difficult type of practice to brand and market effectively, as there is little to differentiate this type of practice from the rest of the dental community. A decision to develop a subbrand within these general practices may be indicated. Two of the most common subbrands are cosmetic dentistry and dental implants.
The most successful cosmetic dentistry brand execution that I am aware of is by Dr. Larry Rosenthal of New York City. His practice markets itself as creating “The Most Beautiful Smiles in the World,” and his clientele is a virtual who’s who of the business and entertainment world. The office staff includes a personal concierge to make travel, hotel, and dining arrangements for his clients. This outstanding customer service linked with extreme technical excellence creates a powerful brand. Your patient base may not include Donald Trump, but you can learn a great deal about cosmetic dentistry and customer service if you participate in the Rosenthal Institute Continuum at New York University College of Dentistry.
With regard to dental implants, a dentist could offer “dentures that won’t slip.” This would apply to an implant-retained denture, which has vastly improved function over a traditional full denture. This could be quite effective if you practice in an area with a large number of potential patients over 50 years of age.
Neither cosmetic nor implant dentistry would have to be the exclusive focus of your practice. You could continue to be branded as a general practice, but with a subbrand area of expertise. After you have decided on your brand, you must consider if your market will support your aspirations. That is, will a town of 5,000 in rural Nebraska support a purely cosmetic practice, or do you need a larger market to build your dream? Or, does the metro market in Phoenix have room for another practice focusing on cosmetics?
While in the process of establishing your brand in the community, you must honestly consider the value of your brand and whether the community places enough value on it to pay a brand premium for your services. For example, people will pay more for Coca-Cola then generic cola. In dentistry, people will pay more than $3,000 for a bonded porcelain restoration placed by Larry Rosenthal in New York City, but only $750 for the same restoration placed by Dr. Generic, D.D.S., in Anytown, U.S.A. What is your market? Will patients pay a premium for your brand? Have you considered the concept of brand premium when establishing the fees for your services? If you have inadequate demand for your brand, are you overpriced? If you are overrun with patients demanding your services, are you underpriced?
What is a “tagline”? This is a single line that conveys your brand image. Timex Watches used the tagline “takes a licking and keeps on ticking,” while DeBeers Diamonds used “diamonds are forever.” Both created an emotional image of what the company was trying to convey.
Does your dental practice need a tagline? Only if you want a successful branding campaign. Some examples for various types of practices are
- General dentist: “Personalized and comfortable”
- Cosmetic dentist: “Smiles to die for”
- Laser dentist: “For those tired of the drill”
- Sedation dentist: “Sleep through your dental visit”
- Implant dentist: “Dentures that won’t slip”
The opportunities are only limited by your imagination.
You need to decide on what you want to be known for and convey this message to your community. You cannot rest until approximately 90% of your community knows of your brand. When this occurs, you will have reached a critical mass of growth, where you will be receiving referrals from people you have never treated, simply because they are familiar with your brand. This familiarity in your community comes at a cost though.
Prior to opening your doors, you should have created a business plan that considers potential income and expenses for at least the first 3 years of practice. You will benefit by studying the chapter 2 on business plans. You should consider your personal lifestyle costs first, and then add in your practice expenses to create a model of what revenues your practice needs to generate to pay your lifestyle costs, pay all business expenses, and position your practice to grow.
There are various opinions as to how much money you should spend to grow and develop your practice. Most experts say you should spend between 3% and 7% of your practice revenues on marketing. You would spend less if your practice reaches a plateau and you are comfortable with this. You would spend more if you were a new start-up practice and desired rapid growth. You must have the production capacity to accommodate this growth. What I mean by this is that the marketing is only cost-effective for you if you have adequate space, equipment, and personnel to service this growing portion of the practice. You do not have adequate production capacity if your schedule is booked several weeks in advance and you cannot see a new patient for 2 or more weeks. Many practitioners continue to market the practice and crowd out patients of record because they have not added the space, equipment, and personnel to take care of the growing demand. The bottom line is this: you should have more space, equipment, and personnel than it currently takes to service your demand; then spend 5% of what you want your practice revenues to be on marketing, not 5% of what your current practice revenues are.
What should you expect from this marketing investment? All you can realistically expect is for your telephone to ring. After that it is up to you and your dental team to reach out to the caller and schedule a prospective patient, provide a service that at least meets or preferably exceeds the expectations of the patient, and convert this patient into a referral source in your community.
Most business consultants will talk about marketing and return on investment (ROI). The gold standard on ROI in dentistry is 3 : 1. This means that for every dollar that you spend on marketing, you would expect to produce $3 of services over the first year. But dentistry is a recurring revenue business. This means that the patients generated />