Karen Galley, President, and I just got back from the annual Direct Marketing Association (DMA) meeting in Boston, MA. We’ve been members and have attended the annual session for many years and always learn from impressive speakers, marketing experts, and industry visionaries. As dental professionals committed to continuing education, you can certainly appreciate how the courses serve to inspire, re-energize, and arouse new ideas. This year Larry Kimmel, CEO of the DMA, opened the meeting by reminding us of the importance of relevancy, transparency, and providing value. “Now that we’re everywhere, are we nowhere?” he asked. Companies, he said, must help clients solve their issues by using and sharing the knowledge they have to educate and connect with clients.

Biz Stone, the founder of Twitter, spoke about the emergence of meaningful marketing … and how people, not technology, are the drivers of change. That’s why every interaction with your customer must be viewed as a marketing conversation. All contacts, even complaints, can be turned into a positive interaction. He pointed out that today, because there is so much choice available, consumers are seeking a deeper relationship with their service providers. People want to connect.

Ah ha, when Biz Stone says there’s an emergence of “meaningful” marketing, it sounds like something new, but that’s what we’ve been doing at Patient News since we founded the company in 1993! In 2,000, we set our core purpose and values to paper. Listen to this: we said we were committed to “contributing to our clients’ success by providing products and services that build and strengthen their patient relationships.” Okay, there’s no marketing epiphany, but there is an important reminder in his message… When you can deepen the bond between you and your patients, when you can build empathy by helping or offering something meaningful to them (e.g. patient education and your patient newsletters), then your “brand” becomes more meaningful and your patients will want to stay loyal to you and reciprocate.

Clearly an interesting shift is occurring as the recession is waning … with the major focus on acquisition in recent years, now marketers are suggesting that acquisition is easy (if only it was as easy as they made it sound) and the “newest” issue is the difficulty of retention. The factor to watch is the role that client engagement will play. That’s why content is king – according to a round table with Biz Stone and Gary Vaynerchuck, author of Crush It, “consumers’ bullshit radars are more incredible than ever.” They are not listening to the radio; they’ve got their iPods plugged in, so how do you reach your consumers eyes and ears? I think Patient News clients already know! The pulse at the DMA came across loud and clear.

While online options are getting most of the attention, companies cannot exist without a traditional foundation of print and event marketing. Facebook can assist with branding, twitter could build web traffic, your blog will help you trademark, but for explicit objectives, traditional marketing efforts are the only options proven to drive results and help to achieve specific goals. Direct mail and email are incredible tools not to be overlooked, and in particular, there is an incredible opportunity for mail in your marketing mix.

People don’t want to have to think. They don’t want to make an effort. Direct mail delivers your message with ease to your target audience. Nancy Harhut, human behavior expert stated, “humans have developed short-cuts to decision making” due to the approximately 5,000 marketing messages we receive every day. And consequently, we are getting selective about who we choose to engage with. I noted in a recent blog that people who had regularly visited the dentist, who still had the financial means including insurance benefits to cover their visits, had chosen not to go the dentist for the past two years. Where is the sense in that? It was loud and clear from many of the presentations at this meeting that dentists are not alone with the problem of client attrition. People want to make sure they’re not making a spending mistake, so they’re doing more research. And if they’re going online, then they’re not only learning more about you … but also your competitors.

Proactive marketing, reaching out to your consumer first, is critical. Word-of-mouth and print communications are still among the strongest influencers in a buying decision. I know that’s why we have such great loyalty among PNP clients. Patients enjoy and appreciate the effort our clients are making to communicate in a relevant way and for the quality educational information they are receiving. These types of extra value-added efforts are inspiring patients to make recommendations about their practices and to remain loyal.

We were honored to be invited by our mentor, colleague, and friend Ernan Roman to join him, along with his wife Sherri, son Elias, and daughter Helaina, as he was inducted into the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame. Karen and I met Ernan three years ago at the DMA annual session and have been working with him since. Ernan was recognized for his overall contributions to the industry, his unique marketing methodologies, and specifically his groundbreaking Voice of Customer research. It’s never too late, and nothing is ever finished when it comes to your client communication plan. Map each touch point you have with your clients. Identify opportunities to add value. Anticipate needs. With a proactive approach, you’ll be driving compelling interactions and improving your client experience.

I’ll share more about the meeting in upcoming blogs, but the important take-away for me was the importance of a rounded marketing mix. Be where your customers want you, which is definitely varied and includes both offline and online media, and remember NOT to only track the last marketing touch … your overall marketing mix, when well planned and executed, will improve both acquisition and retention and ultimately, client lifetime value. If you have any questions about improving the effectiveness of your patient outreach program, please call 888.377.2404 for a free consultation. Right now we have holiday greetings ready to go for Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years and more… We’ll save you time and money, and elevate your practice reputation. Call for details!