Dental Marketing 101: Right message right time

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You’ve probably heard snippets here and there about the importance of the consumer buying journey. We talk a lot about the dental patient journey at Patient NEWS®. That’s because it’s so useful in mapping out marketing strategy. It’s also because dental patients don’t buy and return on a whim. It takes nurturing throughout their entire “journey” or path to purchase.

When you consider where and who your patients and potential patients are, what motivates them, and how you can mold each possible touchpoint in their decision-making process, you’ll be able to better understand your overall target audience, invest in the right communication channels, and “be there” meeting their preferences and expectations so that patients think of you first and choose you – again and again.

Consider this though. Potential dental patients complete around 90% of the initial phases of buying journey before they ever book an appointment. And then there’s the “loyalty loop,” meaning that because the recurring business model of dentistry, patients have to go through the consideration/buying-decision phase every time they re-engage with your practice.

That means dental offices that want to attract and retain more patients must delve into the journey, find ways to break through the noise, and find important and impactful touchpoints particularly at the awareness and decision-making stages.

The dental patient buying journey really is complex. That’s why it is a vital and important exercise for dental office owners and managers to take a good look at their patient journey and determine what tactics could improve the experience at every touchpoint.

Think about how your potential patients find out about your practice. Where do they see your name? Where they do their research? What do they read? This all shapes their journey.

Using the dental patient path-to-purchase, the journey, you can identify all of the touchpoints you need to enhance to maximize results and success for your practice. There are always more opportunities to attract and retain more patients.



We used to see a TV commercial or hear a radio ad and then go to purchase. When Google released the zero-moment-of-truth buying process, it revealed that consumers consulted over 10 digital or traditional sources before purchasing, which was twice as much as the year prior. That was 2011. Imagine how those numbers have exponentially multiplied today where we have a mixture of many, many, many layers of information that lead to a buying decision.

Here’s a few suggestions to chart out your patient journey…

  • What triggers awareness of your practice; how could potential patients find out about you?
  • What is the call to action, the reason or urgency, to contact your office over another?
  • What can and do patients find out about you online, where do they look, and are you there?
  • What methods can/do they use to contact you (the more options you provide, the more likely a response)?
  • What is the new-patient welcome like, via website or call handling?
  • What is the in-office experience, does the office exterior match marketing, is the entrance as expected, who interacts, and what is the patient supposed to feel?
  • What makes patients return and refer ... and review with 5 stars, and how do you stay engaged when they’re not in office?

Consider all of this in relation to the type of patients that currently choose your practice (that you want more of) and why they choose you.

  1. Who is the primary decision-maker for your services?
  2. What are all the available touchpoints at each phase of their journey?
  3. What channels of communication do they prefer?
  4. How can you improve at every touch?

And all of your patients – active, lapsing, inactive, prospective – all of them have choice … lots of choice. As part of your drill-down into your patient journey, determine what your competitors are doing in comparison with you at each phase.

What dental practices are your potential patient considering and how can you show you’re better? How can you do a better job than those competitors?

You’ll have some good insights there. For sure, you have patients who have switched from a competitor to you. Why did they? For example, we know that many of our clients come to us because of our personal service; having a live person available means a lot to our clients. Our clients have nothing but great things to say about their Account Managers. So what was it that drove patients away from your competitor and over to you? Bounce on that, emphasize it in your new-patient marketing campaigns, and make sure you have that part of the patient experience covered off and enhanced.

Phase 1 – Practice Awareness

This is where you need to make it easy for your consumers to find you. Do you find yourself hearing new patients say, “I didn’t even know you were here!” … or do you KNOW your practice is off the beaten path and you need to do something to generate more awareness? We work with many dentists that are two streets up and one street across from the main traffic zone in their area.

  • Create practice awareness
  • Tailor messaging
  • Include a strong call-to-action

Don’t rule out awareness campaigns you’ve been running for some time, or campaigns you ran in the past thinking that your area is saturated with your message. Short bursts and one-hit-wonders never work. The most successful offices know they need consistency at the awareness phase. Consumers need to be constantly reminded about dental care. Consider even what it takes for you to remind your existing patients to re-book and engage. The consumers that reside around your practice come and go, those who weren’t previously ready to convert might be ready to engage now, and existing patients need education and reinforcement so that they make good decision. Consider the stats.

  • The average dental practice has 2,000 active patients
  • That’s around 800 households
  • 25% of active patients, on average, have not seen their dentist in over 9 months
  • That equals 200 homes (off the 800 active patient households) that are at risk of never returning
  • Average target market area for a single dental practice is 5,000-10,000 households

This means that the average dental office has around 10% of their target audience actively engaged. What is your market share? Are you confident that you’re doing enough consistent, targeted awareness marketing to hold existing market share and gain more?

Phase 2 – Research

People find out about you in a whole host of ways and avenues. New patients respond to direct mail by checking your practice out online. There are many traditional and digital paths that will influence their decisions. What will they find about you online? Lots of recent and positive reviews? A user-friendly website that’s easy to navigate? Accurate information and branding that matches your reputation, signage, or other campaigns?

  • Invest in your online presence with an updated website, accurate listings, SEO, and current reviews
  • Seriously focus on adding positive patient reviews
  • Provide educational materials that allow patients to get to know you and get to trust your expertise

Phase 3 – Decision Making

Studies show over 80% of consumers choose companies that they know and like. This is where campaigns like monthly newsletters can really play a role in shaping the patient experience because you can help your target audience get to know you, to make your brand a known household name, and to become familiar with you, your practice, and your services. The importance of building trust is critical to a dental office and developing good recognition will set the stage when it comes to the buying decision and conversion. This enthusiasm, welcome, and knowledgeable greeting is critical at the first live interaction.

  • Have new-patient scheduling blocks so you’re ready to make it easy for patients to get to you
  • Invest in call coaching for everyone who answers your phone
  • Educate your team about the benefits of your expertise and your services so they can speak enthusiastically about you
  • Make sure that everyone wants to WOW new patients.

Phase 4 – Experience 

Consumers want a superior experience. They just do. We all do. People have so much choice today you can’t afford to slip up. Make the experience great. Make it stand out. What do patients say after a visit at your practice? Do they rave about your staff to you?

  • Make it easy to continue to work with you. On-time appointments. Convenient options. Friendly team.
  • Be proactive with scheduling: reminders, recall, and reactivations
  • Offer up every elective solution and option to enhance health and smiles. Patients WANT to know what’s available to them. Even if they’re not ready to take you up on it immediately, keep it up, and in combination with your monthly/quarterly educational mailings, you’ll boost your patient experience and you’ll boost practice production

Post-purchase (i.e. that first appointment), patients are receptive to upsell. And a new patient wants to tell others about their experience because they want to reinforce the good decision they made. Make a great first impression and keep it rolling at every visit.

Phase 5 - Loyalty

The journey never ends for dentistry. You have a recurring revenue model and you want to focus on that loyalty loop. You need those patients of yours to stay patients of yours, so there is always opportunity to better engage patients and provide superior value when they’re in your chair and when they’re at home in their own chairs!

  • Make sure everyone on your team makes each patient feel important to your practice. The number-one reason patients lapse or leave a dental practice is “perceived indifference.” You don’t want your patients to feel that way. It’s not a good feeling and it’s understandable that this would sway patients in another direction. Often those patients don’t immediately choose another provider, so you have a chance to win them back with great communications.
  • Implement a multi-channel patient loyalty campaign
  • Ask for patient feedback and reviews, listen, read between the lines, respond, and say thank you
  • Send a printed patient newsletter to patient households every quarter which will make you stand out with a superior value-add.

At the end of the day, you always want to think about your full patient journey. You’ll be able to monitor the touchpoints that have the greatest impact on patients and your practice and make informed decisions for practice growth. Using the patient journey is guaranteed to have a positive impact on production and profits. Happy patients = happy staff = happy owners!

Talk to your Account Manager about the dental patient journey, look at the touchpoints your marketing strategy might be missing, and we can help you out!


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