Crafting (and Sticking to) Your Marketing Budget
Use the “SMART” approach to maximize impact
Setting and adhering to a marketing budget may seem like a daunting task for many dental practitioners. This is a critical step in implementing a successful practice marketing strategy, however. Thomas Edison once famously said, “Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning”—an adage that is particularly salient when it comes to this particular task.
Dentists often lament the issue of patients overlooking the need to budget for dentistry. It is similar for dentists when it comes to budgeting for marketing. Not setting aside funds may result in a scattershot, lackluster strategy for the practice and could even cost the practice more money than would have been spent if a marketing budget had been in place. The good news for dentists is that crafting a marketing budget does not have to be difficult.
Crunching the Numbers
The first step should be determining how much money to allocate to the overall budget. What are the practice’s marketing goals? How expensive is marketing in the community? How well known is the practice? How much has the practice been spending on marketing?
For example, a solo practitioner may not have not updated the practice’s online and printed marketing materials in several years, may not have a customized marketing plan created for the practice by a dental marketing expert in the past 12 to 24 months, or may have simply relied on sporadic marketing efforts as opportunities arise. A good rule of thumb is to allocate a minimum of 3% to 5% of gross production toward marketing in the first year for the basic marketing infrastructure and to plan for approximately 3% in subsequent years for ongoing efforts.
Identifying Target Patients
After the budget scope has been determined, attention can then be focused on how to spend the marketing dollars. Dentists should be strategic in their marketing approaches, as not all marketing activities will be effective for every practice. The key for implementing a strategic marketing plan is for dentists to identify their practices’ target patient profiles. Take into consideration what activities will best help reach these goals. For example, general dentists, orthodontists, and pediatric dentists might focus on reaching mothers. In this day and age, social media marketing and electronic patient communication would be a better use of the marketing budget to reach that particular demographic than advertising in the yellow pages.
Planning for a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Keep in mind that the marketing budget should be fluid, and careful tracking of all marketing efforts is essential for sticking to the marketing budget long term. Set a timeframe within which a specific amount of time, money, and effort of the entire team will be put toward the marketing campaign.
If a certain effort does not yield acceptable results, it does not necessarily indicate that the idea was a complete failure. Sometimes simple tweaks can produce improved results. Tracking the results and making necessary changes to the budget will allow dental practice owners to be sure they are allocating money to the most effective mediums to reach both potential patients and patients of record.
Once the marketing tactics have been determined, put them into a calendar or timeline to ensure that the plan can be executed by those who have been tasked with the responsibility. The key is to set goals that are SMART, which is short for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Careful thought should be given to the timing of each activity, and marketing activities should be scheduled and spread throughout the entire year, with focus given to the slower times of the year when prospective patients aren’t necessarily looking for dental care.
New Opportunities in Online Marketing
Dental practice marketing has completely changed in the past few years. With the explosion of social media marketing and search engine optimization for dental practices, exponentially more new opportunities are available to reach new patients, as well as to connect with existing patients and have them spread positive word of mouth.
What these opportunities do require, however, is ongoing maintenance. Engagement is the name of the game in online marketing, so simply creating an online profile is not going to yield the best results. Setting aside just 15 to 20 minutes a day or delegating the task to a team member within the practice is one option. An ever-increasing number of vendors provide social media monitoring and content creation services for dental practices. Companies such as Sesame Communications (www.sesamecommunications.com), My Social Practice (www.mysocialpractice.com), and Likeable Dentists (www.likeabledentists.com) can be retained for a small monthly fee to keep the online presence updated and the patient base and community at large engaged online, enabling the practice to reach and connect with hundreds of patients who may not otherwise have the chance to interact with the practice.
How to Set the Course for the Future
The individual dental practice owner may find it difficult to know which marketing efforts will best work for a practice. The number of marketing classes taught in dental school is slim to none. So if marketing does not come naturally, a trusted dental marketing consultant or strategic adviser can help guide dentists. Relying on experts to select the most appropriate and effective marketing mediums to grow the practice allows dental practice owners, who likely already wear many hats, to focus on what they know best—providing quality dental care to the community.
Whether dentists create their own plans or employ the expertise of dental marketing consultants, developing and using a marketing budget is crucial for all dental practices. Sticking to a predetermined marketing budget and creating a thoughtful plan for implementation will ensure dentists are most effectively spending their hard-earned money to maximize the reach and return on investment of their marketing efforts.
About the Author
Naomi Cooper is president and founder of Minoa Marketing and serves as chief marketing consultant for Pride Institute. She is a respected dental marketing consultant, author, speaker, and industry opinion leader who co-teaches Pride’s groundbreaking marketing course, The New Rules of Dental Marketing. She blogs regularly at www.minoamarketing.com. Naomi can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @naomi_cooper, or on Facebook at www.fb.com/minoamarketing. For information about upcoming course dates, call Pride Institute at 800-925-2600 or visit www.prideinstitute.com.