February 2012, Volume 8, Issue 2
Published by AEGIS Communications
Some Things are Certain
There are three basic elements to keep in mind when promoting dentistry during a recession.
In business since 1989, New Patients, Inc., is a full-service marketing firm exclusively for dentists. In this article, the company shares how they advise their clients in promoting their practices during an economic downturn.
A recession creates a sense of uncertainty. You see, read, or hear newscasts daily discussing the condition of our political and economic state of “flux.” Humans do not like not knowing what is going to happen. Uncertainty causes stress.
Effectively promoting dentistry during a recession relies on three basic elements that are known:
- Consumers are still looking for the benefits of dentistry. They are using the same selection criteria when choosing a dentist today as they did before the recession.
- Dentist/owner expectations need to be altered to reflect economic reality.
- Pent-up demand on elective dentistry is building and will return when consumer confidence and buying power returns.
These are all facts. But they may be facts with which the dentist is unfamiliar. An examination of these points is in order.
Consumers Are Still Looking for Dentistry
How do we know this? The first and most obvious way is with the result data and trend lines from our own clientele. In the earlier 2000s (when consumers could max out their credit cards and pay them off with home equity lines), we might have had 40% of the design space centered on what almost everyone would recognize as elective treatments. For definition, design space can be a physical design like an external mailer or newspaper insert. Design space can also mean a 30- or 60-second radio or TV ad. Before March 2008, we could have used up to 40% of that space to promote elective dentistry. After March 2008, we adjusted the percentage down to below 10%. Why? Because this recession is a purchasing-power recession. Less purchasing power means a more careful consumer with adjusted priorities. The consumer shifts to the “core” benefits of dentistry. These are (mainly) family, kids, ortho, technology, and conveniences. These need to be promoted throughout a recession. If 90% of your promotion revolves around the core staples and 10% revolves around elective, you will be hitting the mark more often.
Expectations Need to be Altered to Reflect Economic Reality
To be clear, your dental practice is being impacted by this recession. If your practice has been growing through this recession, it would have grown more without it. If your revenues are down through the recession, they would not have been down as much had we not been in this recession.
So where does that leave you? Look at your revenues from 2008–2011. Do you see a peak in 2008? Is the growth tougher to gain in the years after 2008? If you are still growing, has the growth slowed compared to 2005–2007? For the vast majority of you, the answers are right there in your own numbers. Your own numbers are known. They are not uncertain. They should cause no stress whatsoever. So what does this all mean? It means the expectation from your promotion in a declining market should be lowered. How you promoted dentistry during 2005–2007 would have proven to provide a greater result than 2009–2011. It is the expectation of the return from promotion dollars that needs to be adjusted during a recession. Too many dentists stopped promoting dentistry properly after 2009 simply because the results were not as robust as they were in previous years.
The true dental winners, once we come out of this recessionary cycle, will be the dentists who consistently promoted the benefits of their dental practice during the recession. It seems to be quite natural to scale back marketing budgets when times are tough. After all, as consumers we all tighten our belts and try to eliminate our expenses as much as we can. Dental practices of course do the same thing. Often marketing is the primary expense to be cut.
If your marketing dollars are not returning the investment, then it would seem to make sense to cut back. However, this is precisely the wrong move. You may be “saving” some money in the short term but realize that you are also cutting your outreach to the community and reducing or eliminating your presence in the local dental consumer market. When the spending/borrowing power comes back to the consumer, those dental winners would have already gathered more than their fair share of the top half of the local dental market. When those family patients have the ability to get elective dental work done again, guess who is going to be doing it? Will it be someone who has had no or little presence in the market and has effectively gone into hiding, or the practice that has maintained its presence in the community?
There is another dental niche that is building pent-up demand—emergencies. What happens to teeth and gums that are ignored for 3 or 4 years? Things start to fall apart and break down. Periodontal disease continues to flourish unchecked. This significantly raises the chance that the patient will suffer an emergency situation. Of course dentists would prefer long-term patients, but are they going to turn away emergencies? Of course not. The emergency treatment aspect of the practice, if promoted, will see a significant increase in production during this downturn. In addition, if you have a sedation dentistry component to your service mix and you promote it properly, you are likely seeing a few more people who have neglected their dental care.
Properly and effectively promoting dentistry through a recession does not have to be uncertain. There is more that is known than unknown when it comes to managing this aspect of your dental practice during an economic downturn.
The preceding material was provided by the manufacturer. The statements and opinions contained therein are solely those of the manufacturer and not of the editors, publisher, or the Editorial Board of Inside Dentistry.