When most dentists ask me this, they usually are asking about their advertising spending, not their marketing, which encompasses much more. And my answer is that it’s more likely that they’re probably not spending enough, or they’re spending it in the wrong places.
Tracking your results is essential to being able to answer this question. You need to know the source of your patients, and this can be done primarily by making sure that the source–either promotion or existing patient–that a patient came from is entered in your PMS, so that you can run a production report on your advertising results. And, more and more, you can track results back a few steps from there.
For example, with direct mail you can use a unique phone number that forwards to your main line, so that you can track exactly how many calls you received, not just how many patients you acquired. And with Google, Yelp! and other digital advertising you can see a lot of data, particularly how many people clicked on your ad, so you can compare that to the new patient count.
But let’s get back to the main question. There are only two reasons why you might be spending too much overall on advertising and promotion:
1. Your schedule is full for the next three to six weeks. If you can’t see new patients within two or three days at the most, then you will be wasting money on advertising;
2. Word of mouth is not your number one source of new patients. This the clearest indicator that the experience of being one of your patients does not inspire people to recommend you, and you need to fix that.
As far as your marketing/advertising budget, there are two ways to look at it: as a dollar amount, or as a percentage of your annual revenue.
As a rule of thumb, 5% of your annual revenue is a reasonable amount to spend on your advertising. I know thriving practices that spend as high as 8%, because they know that their profitability is higher once they have paid their fixed expenses, so they can afford to invest in growth.
As a dollar amount, your marketing costs should range from $20,000 to $40,000 per year. This would be higher with a startup practice–perhaps double that amount–because you need to start building a patient base.
Here is how I would break down the spending:
1. Your Website. This is the cornerstone of your practice promotion. Even word of mouth patients are likely to visit your website before calling the practice. And this is important to remember–your website is a work in progress. It’s never done, because Google is looking every day at it, seeing what has changed. So you need a dynamic website, where content changes automatically and you can add and change content easily yourself. For more on this, read my previous blog on websites.
Cost: $3000 for a new website, $75 per month to host and maintain it.
2. Social Media. This is a marketing cost, primarily. You should be paying someone in your office to add posts, request them from patients, monitor and respond to them, and also keep track of online reviews. This cost is part of their pay, but 12-15 hours a month should be dedicated to this. There are outside services that can do this, but they still need someone monitoring them.
Cost: $250 per month.
3. Discounts. This is part of your marketing cost, and often people forget that. If you’re doing a free exam, cleaning and x-rays, the cost is not high if you have digital radiography, but it’s not nothing. You still have to pay your hygienist.
Cost: $300 per month, assuming 10 new patients attracted this way.
4. Insurance plans. Dentists often forget that this is a marketing cost. You are discounting your work to attract patients through the plan. This number is impossible for me to estimate for you, but I want you to be mindful of it as a promotional expense. And you can calculate it fairly easily, since you know what you collect versus what you would have.
5. Advertising. This could be anything from bidding on AdWords to advertising on Yelp! or Facebook, doing direct mail, local newspaper ads, or even radio or TV. Or referral programs like 1-800-DENTIST. I believe in doing everything that works. Keep in mind that the lifetime value of a new patient to your practice is substantial, and worth investing in. If you don’t get that yet, watch this video.
Cost: $1000 to 3000 per month.
6. Incentives. You should have a new patient incentive program for your team members. Nothing crazy, but $25 seems to be an effective amount. There are systems like Viva that work very well in this area.
Other factors that would increase your advertising cost:
1. You don’t have storefront visibility to your practice. This could add 20% or more to your budget.
2. You have limited hours, or less convenient hours than your local competitors.
3. You don’t take any emergency patients.
Anything that limits the convenience and appeal to a new patient is going to diminish your results, making advertising more expensive. What else could you be doing wrong? Several things.
Let’s start with your front desk. If you have someone who is not personable, or who is over-screening the patients, or generally not skilled at converting callers into patients who show up, your advertising spend is being largely wasted. Fix that first.
You could also be spending too much on a particular marketing approach. Every medium will have diminishing results eventually, either as you increase the budget to too high a level, or over the course of time. Direct mail, for example, will almost always over-saturating a market eventually, and you need to stop for a few months. (1-800-DENTIST would be an exception, because we’re constantly modifying our advertising approach to compensate for this.)
You could be using a promotional approach that gets lots of calls, with very little conversion into real patients, or low production on them. The wrong type of patients means either the message is wrong, or you aimed at the wrong target audience, or the medium is wrong. I consider Groupon a classic example of this, and though a few people made it work, I’m glad it’s faded away from the dental world.
My main suggestion is to get professional help. Advertising as an industry is changing at a dizzying pace, and it’s all any of us can do to keep up. And get someone who works in the dental industry. People behave very differently when it comes to dentistry, ( in case you haven’t noticed!) and you want a resource that understands that.
A good practice consultant and also your product distributor rep should both be resources for you to find the best help, and to make sure you’re getting the best results.