3 Nov 2023  •  Blog, Marketing and Design  •  7min read By  • Les Jones

The importance of marketing in a dental practice

Practice Plan’s Creative Director Les Jones, spoke to Hayley Irons Director at HI Marketing Ltd about marketing for dental practices.

Les: You’ve been involved in marketing for a number of years now Hayley, what for you is marketing. Is it advertising? Is it just selling? What defines marketing?

Hayley: The two words that define marketing are selling and promotion. Yes, you are selling your services or a product but to me it’s more about promotion and building brand loyalty. Customer service and experience is so important to building a brand and the loyalty. That’s not just about saying, ‘we do teeth, we do whitening, we do dental implants and so on’. It’s about promoting what’s different about you; why you are so good; what it is you can offer. Things such as supporting patients with their oral health throughout their lives. Or it could be that you can give them the smile of their dreams.

So you are selling, but for me it is more about promoting the team and the practice rather than the products and services.

Les: And how important is it for practices to develop a marketing strategy as opposed to doing ad hoc pieces here and there? How important is it to have a longer-term view of where you’re trying to get to?

Hayley: I think that depends on who you speak to. I believe you need a strategy. Some people say you need a six-month, 12-month strategy of where you want to be, and I see the benefits of that. However, what I find with most industries, things change quickly. Your targets and your aims may change. You may discover once you go down the marketing route that what you thought were going to be your aims and targets alter because the market has moved, the perception of dentistry changes, whatever it may be. So, I would prefer shorter strategies such as two to three months and to keep things under review.

Although it is important to have a plan of what you’re going to cover and what you want to aim for, whether that’s to build up your audience on social media, to sell more of a particular treatment or to fill up the hygiene book. But for me, shorter plans are better because things happen all the time and you may need to adjust your goals quite quickly. So a shorter plan of what you’re going to cover and what your aim is, is better in my view than a long-term plan.

Les: As a Marketing Consultant, you go to see a lot of dental practices and talk to them about their marketing. What would you say are the most common reasons why you are called in? What problems are practices trying to solve?

Hayley: Most practices now know that they need to do some form of marketing. When practices were mostly NHS, patients just came anyway so they didn’t really have to do anything. And back then, all the adverts had to be the same as the NHS defined them. It was all done for them.

Now there are more private practices so they have to do their own marketing. Whilst there may be some courses out there now, years ago people didn’t learn about marketing, especially in dental school. And even now people can be a bit unsure of how to go about it and what to do. So most people when they contact me, want to know how to do it. They’re not sure they have the time and the knowledge to do it. Those are the key struggles practices have, with time being the main one.

Les: What about budgets then? I speak to dental practices sometimes about their marketing and some of them can have a strange opinion of marketing. They see it as a cost, not as an investment that should give them a return. How do you talk to practices about what they should allocate in terms of budgets?

Hayley: It’s interesting you say they see it as a cost rather than an investment. I found this out during COVID, when I lost three quarters of my business. Because most practices saw it as a cost they had to cut out as they had so many other things going on. A few practices kept it going, as they saw it as an investment. Then when it became easier for them to see patients again, they were in the right position to attract patients, especially ones that had suffered with their dental health during COVID. So yes, I agree with you that I often say it is an investment and practices shouldn’t see it as just another outlay, another cost.

With regards to budgets, I think at the moment the industry rule of thumb for the suggested spend is 2% to 5% of your gross income. I never use that as a guide as I always ask a practice to state how much they feel comfortable spending? I know that’s a bit of a curve ball for them but if I were to say, “Right, you have got to spend £3,000-a-month on marketing, they might not appreciate what they will get in return and it might not meet their expectations. We all have a figure in our minds we’re comfortable spending, even though we may not say it and if we’re convinced to spend over that figure, we’re not so sure about it. So the practice owner has to be comfortable with the amount they allocate.

So, when practices come to me and ask what I charge for social media marketing, I can give them an idea of what they can get for a certain budget. Then I put the ball back in their court and ask what that sounds like to them? I ask for their instant reaction – whether it was too much or less than they thought. That will then give both parties an idea of what their attitude is towards marketing.

If they have a lower budget then we start off doing a little less for them, but once they see what they can get from it, they can explore what else is available. So, sometimes I work with the practice, find out what they are expecting and what they would like to spend and we see what we can do with that. Then hopefully it works well, things continue to grow between us and we can get them spending the right amount for the return they’re after.

Les: Thanks for your insights Hayley.

You can hear more of Hayley’s thoughts on marketing in a dental practice on this podcast

About Hayley

Hayley Irons, Director at Hayley Irons Marketing Solutions, is a marketing consultant with 20 years of marketing and advertising experience, working with great brands, clients and agencies along the way.

Hayley also has a wealth of experience within the dental industry, including eight years working as a dental practice manager, which has given her insight into dental surgeries, procedures, how to increase turnover, and build patient lists. She has successfully managed marketing campaigns and boosted the profiles of many private dental surgeries all over the UK.

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