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The Top 3 Challenges Independent Dental Practices Face and How Partnering With a Marketing Agency Can Help

It’s not easy being an independent dentist.

Research shows solo dentistry practices are in decline. In 2018, they were falling off at a rate of about 7% per year. The pandemic drove many patients to put off dental care, leaving dentists struggling to fill schedules. Even the most reliable patients have disappeared.

Recent events have accelerated the trends, but they aren’t new. The percentage of dentists owning practices fell 8.6%, to 76.1%, between 2005 and 2019. In that same period, the number of dentists working by themselves in private practice reduced 12.8%.

Behind much of the recent upheaval in dentistry is the rise of corporate Dental Service Organizations (DSOs) that bring together larger dental teams under one roof. DSOs arose partially as a response to changes in health insurance making dental coverage more common than it once was.

By leveraging economies of scale, DSOs have the capacity to see many more patients than the average independent dentist. But that doesn’t mean independent dental practices are doomed to go extinct. A neighborhood dentist can still make a great living – and serve a lot of people – here in Central Florida.

Independent dentists have advantages big DSOs can’t match. Among the most important of these is the personal touch: Knowing your patients and understanding their needs. And for many people, that’s huge. Millions of Americans avoid the dentist: Most of those who do would rather not switch!

There are three major challenges facing today’s independent dentists, and good dental office marketing can alleviate all of them. Problems that might seem insurmountable at first become a lot easier to deal with when you break them down and look at them in terms of patient lifecycle.

Let’s review the big challenges and how a marketing agency can help:

1. Attracting New Patients in an Increasingly Competitive Landscape

In Central Florida and beyond, patients have more options than ever. Over the last few years, millions of Americans have gotten access to dental insurance for the first time. While their care decisions are often driven by cost, you can still compete with the big guys.

Cost looms large in patient’s minds in two situations:

  • When they need major procedures, such as a dental implant, that can be very expensive
  • When they don’t perceive much of a difference between one local dentist and another

Dentists need to beware the trap of falling into “commodity mode.” In commodity mode, patients don’t appreciate the unique value you add, so they are only interested in how much the bill is. Even if you do an outstanding job, they will switch brands if a lower price comes along.

Dental office marketing does the work of bringing more of your ideal patients into your practice while also fighting the idea that one dentist is the same as any other. Marketing gives you the chance to offer value from the start, while a prospective patient is still choosing between options.

With helpful, informative online content, you can answer future patients’ burning questions and help them solve their problems. That often means authoring a base of “evergreen content” about common dental health issues like gingivitis – the things people search for when they’re worried about their teeth!

The more targeted content you develop, the more likely your website will appear prominently in online searches related to your business. This draws visitors in and gives them an introduction to your practice, positioning you as a trusted expert from the start.

Done correctly, digital marketing can turn your website into a conversion engine that gets more people to schedule first appointments every month. With social media or email marketing, you can deepen the relationship for weeks or even months … as long as it takes before the prospect chooses a dentist.

With an established relationship, you’ll not only start from a place of trust, but be able to command higher fees. Patients are no longer picking between “just any dentist,” but between you and “the rest.”

2. Raising Patient Retention and Maintaining Follow-Up Appointments

Patient retention is difficult in the best of times, but it’s getting even tougher today.

Even for patients who never missed a check-up in the past, the pandemic has upended years of good habits. A delay of two years or more means many patients are starting from scratch, and some have seen their neighborhood dentist close down for good in the interim.

Not all patients are ready to head out to the dentist, either. Public health restrictions are falling by the wayside, but older and immuno-compromised patients may be a long time in coming back. And some Floridians are under the impression that a dentist’s office is one of the more dangerous places to be.

In a situation like this, you need to mobilize dentist office marketing to keep your brand fresh in patients’ minds. You may only see patients once a year, but each encounter comes after a long period of internal negotiation, “deciding” to go to the dentist, and planning exactly when to do it.

How can you make that whole matter easier for your patients?

In the old days, it was usual for dental offices to send reminder postcards to patients or even to call them up on the phone. These methods can be effective, but they don’t always get results. Digital marketing offers a number of alternatives that can be fast and powerful.

First, leverage the power of email marketing. Email is one of the most efficient marketing techniques around, delivering an average of more than $30 dollars of value for every dollar spent. Over time, a growing list can become one of your most valuable assets.

If you already have an email marketing list, consider “segmenting” it so your existing patients receive content tailored to them – not to prospective patients, leads, or lapsed patients. On top of reminders, you can also provide customized tips and information.

These days, most consumers are willing to receive 4-6 emails a month from the brands they already trust. As long as they affirmatively opt in to your email marketing, they are far more likely to simply ignore a message they don’t care for rather than unsubscribe.

Each email gives you a new opportunity to learn more about your audience, what resonates with them, and how to make a stronger connection. Over time, that can benefit all of your marketing efforts, since you can focus on what works and move away from what doesn’t.

Second, use text marketing. More than 95% of all Americans now own a cell phone of some kind, and the vast majority own a smartphone. Millennials likely make up most of your patient base, and older Generation Z – now in their 20s – will soon be starting families.

That means their dental needs are changing!

These younger audiences are responsive to text marketing. They see it as less intrusive than a voice call that interrupts their day. And you can even get them to engage – asking a quick question or linking to helpful content may get them talking to your brand again, directly or indirectly.

3. Inspiring Patient Referrals and Building Long-Term Business

Perhaps more than any other Central Florida business, dentists should look at patient relationships in the long term. Lifetime customer value can be higher than in virtually any other industry, with the most dedicated patients visiting at least once a year for their annual cleaning and X-ray.

You can only influence patients’ schedules indirectly with your reminders and dental office marketing, but that doesn’t mean you need to take a “wait and see” approach. On the contrary, you can always activate your strongest relationships. Simply ask for referrals and see what happens!

It’s sad but true that people who’ve had a negative experience are far more likely to speak up online. Those who love your service often think that everyone else must already know about you. They miss out on opportunities to leave good reviews, ceding the online conversation to the loudest voices.

Combine your digital marketing with a little reputation management and you can build your local brand:

  • Follow Up with Patients within 48 Hours of Their Appointment
    Through your chair-side interactions, you already know which patients are pleased with your services. With that in mind, you can follow up fast to request a review or testimonial when the experience is still fresh in mind.
  • Know Exactly What You’re Going to Ask For
    These days, many patients check out Google or Yelp reviews before they choose a dentist. While Yelp is well-known, Google tends to be more visible. Know which platform nets you business and send would-be reviewers to only the most relevant one.
  • Get Feedback Through Customer Surveys
    A simple customer survey can help you find opportunities to improve your practice. Since they don’t deal with your office processes every day, patients often notice things dentists and their staff might not. Keep surveys short, and be sure to thank those who fill one out.
  • Learn About Your Patients
    The more time you can spend with an individual patient, the better. A personalized follow-up on holidays or anniversaries helps patients to see that you know and care about them. Recognize what matters to them and they will reward you with loyalty.

Independent Dentists Don’t Just Need to “Survive” – With Marketing, They Can Thrive

As bigger and bigger organizations come to dominate the discussion around modern dentistry, patients will be left looking for a familiar face they know and trust. It is impossible to build a huge organization without leaving some patients wondering if they are “just a number” – and therein lies opportunity.

No matter where you are in your career, it’s not too late to create a flourishing dental practice in Central Florida. Dental office marketing is your link to your future customers, current patients, and even the ones you’ve lost track of along the way.

You don’t have to settle for “stable.” Your business can grow in 2022 and beyond.

Your secret weapon? A Central Florida marketing agency that has been helping independent dental offices grow and scale for years. As a smaller, more nimble business, you have the chance to become a trusted presence your patients rely on – and we can help you do it all.

At New York Ave, we learn about you, your practice, and your unique goals. Then we build a full-scale marketing strategy that will get you there faster while maintaining your budget. It’s convenient, fun, and far more cost-effective than hiring an in-house team.

Contact us to get started today.

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1 Average median salary in Florida for ‘Marketing Director’, based on research by Glassdoor. 2 Retirement calculated at 3% contribution, based on research by nirsonline.org. 3 Health premium average calculated by ranges provided from a 2016 Health Benefits survey. 4 Total employee average calculated at first year and includes the following considerations: $4k onboarding and training, $1k software and subscriptions, and $3.75k outsourcing help. Total agency average based on Florida-located, full-service agency.