The New Dental Marketing Paradigm

Companies aim their marketing messages at us in an ever-evolving variety of ways. Dental marketing is changing just as quickly, and practices need to adapt or be left on the sidelines. The new paradigm is based on an understanding of four factors: 

  • Branding in the 21st century
  • Lead generation
  • Why some leads are not qualified
  • How to nurture and convert leads


Most dental websites follow a familiar pattern. The majority of the pages are devoted to explanations of procedures and photos of excellent case outcomes. This type of content is necessary, especially dramatic before and after images. The problem is that there is no shortage of dental websites with this content. If a prospective patient is looking for a dentist who can transform her smile, then how does your website make you stand out from all the other dentists with similar content?

The answer is to put more emphasis on what makes you unique. You have a story to tell. Your background, personality, philosophy, life experience, and abilities are unique to you and therefore not exactly the same as any other dentist. A great marketing axiom is “People buy people.” Your branding has to show why you (or you and your colleagues if you have a group practice) are special, interesting, caring, and uniquely qualified professionals who can solve problems for patients. While you want your website to include great photos and videos, you, the doctor, are the brand. A patient can find promises of great outcomes on many dental websites, but they can take only advantage of your expertise when they see you. Your website should be mostly about what sets you apart. The images of beautiful smiles support your brand; they are not the brand itself.

Lead Generation

Some years ago, when I was living in Chicago, Swissair was running daily ads on a popular radio station. The message was that Swissair provided a luxury experience in first class. The goal of the ad was to entice people to book a first-class ticket from Chicago to Zurich. That campaign was a classic example of “mass marketing.” Swissair reached tens of thousands of radio listeners every day, but how many of those people were in the market for a first-class ticket to Switzerland? It is likely that only a small fraction of the people who heard that radio ad was planning such a trip, and a much smaller fraction had the means or the inclination to buy a first-class ticket.

Today, social media has revolutionized marketing. Here are three salient facts to keep in mind about social media:

  • Predictions about the demise of Facebook, the king of social media, have proven to be unfounded: in 2018 the social media giant’s user base increased 9 percent to 2.32 billion people—about 30 percent of the Earth’s population. Facebook ad revenue increased 55 percent in 2018, to a record high of $55 billion.[1] This growth occurred in spite of widespread concerns about privacy, and renewed attempts to increase governmental regulation. Google ad revenue was also up sharply last year. There are two reasons for this growth. First, social media democratizes advertising. You don’t need to be an airline or other major company to advertise on social media. Small businesses are jumping into social media because they can be players for an affordable expenditure of advertising dollars. Second, social media advertising works. If advertising on social media did not produce results, the dollars invested would dry up. Exactly the opposite is happening.
  • It is no longer a question of broadcasting a message to the masses and hoping to find people who are in the market for a first-class airline ticket or a full mouth reconstruction. With the aid of sophisticated algorithms, social media platforms have become very sophisticated at targeting potential customers.
  • If you use a reputable and experienced marketing company, you can generate leads—many leads—for your dental practice. In fact, marketing has changed so much that getting leads is now the easy part!

Why Some Leads Are Not Qualified

There is a caveat. Even though social media advertising is highly targeted, there is no guarantee that it will attract only people with a mouthful of problems and a pocketful of money. Some leads are not qualified, for several reasons:

  • People don’t know what they don’t know. Some people may perceive their dental problem to be minimal or manageable, when in fact a comprehensive examination in your office—if you can entice them to come in—may reveal otherwise. In other words, there can be a disconnect between expressed interest (someone responded to an ad) and how that individual prioritizes their dental needs. Some potential patients who have enough interest to request information may not rank dentistry high enough on their priority list to go forward with treatment or even an initial consultation.
  • The timing may not be right. Procrastination is the great enemy of dental treatment. There are people who understand they need treatment and appreciate the benefits but still decide to wait. These potential patients are interested, they have been educated about the services you offer, but they are not ready to commit.
  • They may not be financially qualified. Even with the best targeting, you will attract some patients who cannot afford your services. Some people walk into Nieman Marcus, look around, and leave without buying anything. They either cannot afford that store or elect to shop somewhere else where the prices are lower. Nieman Marcus still maintains its brand identity. It is not the store for everyone, and you cannot be the dentist for everyone.

How to Nurture and Convert Leads

Much of modern marketing needs to be outsourced. You can have someone in your office post to Facebook and other social media platforms—the more content, the better. However, to run a consistent, sophisticated ad campaign, you need to outsource social media advertising. While a strong web presence to establish your brand and social media advertising to get your message out are critical, some practices also use more traditional media such as direct mail, radio and television.

It is important to remember these advertising efforts do not directly increase practice revenue. The goal of advertising is to generate leads. People call, click, email—whatever the response mechanism—to indicate their interest. If their initial contact is electronic (“click here for more information”), they may go into a “sales funnel” that automatically sends them information. At some point in the process, however, the prospective patient will have a phone call with a representative in the practice. This phone call is critical.

Here are some practical guidelines to follow regarding the first phone call with a lead:

  • Call them promptly. There are too many practices that pay for leads and then let those leads lie fallow. Some practices have lists of leads at the end of the month that have never been called! Leads need to be nurtured; they must receive immediate attention or they will dry up. If a request for information or an appointment comes in after office hours, call the prospective patient the next business day.
  • Listen carefully to their needs. If someone says they are missing teeth, tell them that “replacing missing teeth is what we do.” Ask them what motivated their call today. They may say that they have been putting off treatment, but they have decided that now is the time to do something. Echo their comments, “You say that now is the time to do something, and we will certainly help you get started and answer all your questions.”
  • Handle the cost question in a straightforward manner. The goal of the phone call is to have the patient come in for an examination. When they ask about cost, talk options. Someone who needs a complete arch of teeth has options, including conventional dentures, implant-retained overdentures, or a fixed, implant-retained denture. You can say that the fees range from x to y to z, depending on the option the patient chooses. Position the options as good, better, best. The fee range will be very wide. Your point is that there is a treatment option for every budget. If the patient says that they cannot afford even the least costly option, then you have screened out an unqualified patient. However, be careful not to build the fence too high. At this point, you are only talking to a potential patient on the phone. Some patients who have initial reservations about fees can be educated in the office. Once they understand the benefits, they can select the treatment plan of their choice.
  • Sell the doctor, not the treatment. Remember that the caller is a shopper. They have countless options. The treatment you offer is available in many other practices, and all those practices promise excellent results. To distinguish your practice, you need to reinforce your brand by talking about the background, experience and reputation of the doctor. The best way to talk about background is to summarize it and hit the high points. Example: “Dr Smile is a board-certified specialist in (specialty). He teaches other dentists at (dental school) and lectures in this area and throughout the country.” To convey the doctor’s experience, you need to use statistics: “Dr Smile has placed (or restored) more than x number of implants and his success rate is y percent.” Reputation can be communicated effectively through patient testimonials. “We have so many patients who cannot thank Dr Smile enough for all he has done for them. Have you visited our website and watched our video testimonials?” Finally, tell the patient the doctor is a great listener. “Dr Smile will listen carefully, provide you with options, and answer all your questions.” At that point, the patient is thinking, “This doctor sounds great! I want to meet him.”
  • Make the appointment. When patients start asking numerous questions on the phone, your response should be to defer to the doctor. “That’s a great question. Be sure to ask Dr Smile when you come in.” Another way to handle numerous specific questions is to say, “Each person is different and treatment is always customized. Dr Smile will do an examination and take an x-ray. Then he will sit down with you and discuss the specifics of your case and answer all your questions.” You can then move on to close the conversation: “Do you prefer mornings or afternoons?”

As dental practices adapt to the new realities of dental marketing, doctors should keep in mind that they need collaboration both inside and outside the office. Inside the office, team training is more important than ever because there is world of difference between Internet shoppers (some of whom become great patients) and more traditional patients who are referred by family, friends or other professionals. Outside the office, practices need to collaborate with those who have the both the expertise to run a marketing program and the skills to make the team an important part of the process.

The new paradigm is more complex than the simpler model it replaces, but the end result is that patients with significant dental needs can be identified, educated and treated appropriately.