I’ve converted my white paper: A Brief Introduction to Marketing your Dental Practice into a blog post.

Traditional Media Died a Long Time Ago

In 1886, Reuben Donnelley revolutionized local advertising with the first edition of the Yellow Pages. For the first time in history, a potential customer could conveniently and affordably access almost every local business. Imagine how fascinated businesses of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s would have been by the prospect of putting their names in front of thousands of highly targeted potential clients for a low-flat rate. Donnelley effectively took the effort out of advertising—reaping the benefits for generations.


For dentists, Yellow Page advertising was an almost perfect solution for an age-old problem—how can small business owners advertise their services to qualified customers in the immediate vicinity of their storefront? There was a dilemma though; business owners realized that listing their businesses in black boxes surrounded by competitors’ black boxes was problematic. It had never been so clear that the marketplace was crowded and competitive.

In an attempt to stand out from the crowd, business owners bought bigger boxes, purchased colored inks, or changed their business names to begin with an “A”. But, results were difficult to measure, and return on investment for bigger boxes, brighter colors, and better placement was challenging to calculate.


Then, in 1995—when AOL began spamming our mailboxes with installation discs—it all began to change.


Today, you will have a hard time finding the Yellow Pages in a handful of homes—not to mention the low percentage of people who actually finger through the bulky book. 


Break the Mold: It’s Time to Stop Pushing


The Yellow Pages, newspaper inserts, direct mail, online display advertising, television commercials, radio spots, and magazine ads are all push mechanisms.


Big businesses push their brands because they can afford to splurge on an un-targeted audience to promote brand awareness. For example, we constantly see and hear Toyota’s advertisements—on television, over the radio, in magazines, and online—but the majority of the population being force-fed these commercials are not currently looking to buy a new vehicle.


Toyota uses push mechanisms to establish brand awareness and promote trust—meaning, they frequently bombard a mass of unqualified customers with their products, knowing (or hoping) that their message will resonate with just enough qualified leads to make the campaign profitable.


Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Best Buy, Apple, and hundreds of other big names are guilty of the same waste. But, you cannot afford to be.

The Establishment of Two Rules


Rule #1: Frequency > Reach

Rule #2: It Must Be Measured


Twenty-Seven Times


A common mistake dentists make when establishing an advertising plan is assuming reach (displaying your ad to more people) is more effective than frequency (showing your ad to less people more often).


Seth Godin said it best in Permission Marketing where he states:

“Given the choice between reach and frequency, many unseasoned marketers make the mistake of going for reach instead. They argue that touching one hundred people with a brilliant ad is more effective than reaching twenty-five people four times each”.[1]


To borrow the words of marketing guru and father of Guerrilla Marketing, Jay Conrad Levinson, “Remember, familiarity breeds confidence, and confidence serves as the springboard to sales”.[2]


To be familiar, you must be frequent. Frequent means this: it is better to show your advertisement to 1,000 people 10 times than to 10,000 people once.


In fact, Jay Levinson figures you have to run an ad twenty-seven times against one individual before it has its desired impact. Why? Because only one out of nine ads will be seen, and your audience has to see the advertisement at least three times before it sinks in.[3]


If you can accept this rule without experimentation, and only run an ad when your business can commit to running the same message twenty-seven times in the same medium, you will be far ahead of other dental practices in your area.


Measuring Your Return on Investment


For every dollar you spend on marketing, how many dollars are returned?


The money you spend on marketing can be measured, and results must be analyzed properly. For example, when an advertising firm offers to structure a direct mail campaign targeting 3 zip codes surrounding your dental practice, you must tell your agency to include the following in the ad’s design:


1.    Assign each zip code a unique URL and phone number.


By including unique URLs and phone numbers, you can easily track the number of calls, visits, and ultimately conversions each advertisement receives at the zip code level.


By establishing a means to identify the origin of the new transaction, you will be able to decide with certainty which zip codes yield better results—thus gaining the ability to better focus your marketing dollars on your next campaign.


2.    A unique design.


Do not use a pre-designed template to market your business. Instead, hire a professional copywriter and designer to create a custom look for your pitch.


Why do you need your own design? Chances are, the advertising agency you are working with is also helping other small businesses in your area. Without a doubt, some of the agency’s clients are other dental practices using the same mailing list you selected. Using the same or similar designs as your present and past competition does not separate you from the noise, and your dollars look just as much (if not more) like junk-mail than your competitors’.


3.    Coupon codes.


If you have decided to discount your services, each zip code should be assigned a unique code so results can be measured for future reference.

Building a Brand


Branding is about connecting with your customers to form trustworthy relationships. To quote Seth Godin, “If you make a difference, you also make a connection. You interact with people who want to be interacted with, and you make changes that people respect and yearn for”.[4]


While we constantly connect with people in our small businesses, developing trust is fundamental to closing a sale and creating customer loyalty. Fortunately, the Internet facilitates connecting with others to a point where making and keeping connections is the easiest and cheapest it has ever been. However, what is rather unfortunate is that developing trust has never been so difficult.


Why is Consumer Trust so Hard to Earn?


It is actually our fault. Advertising agencies (and the businesses that paid them) collected customers’ data and one by one, started abusing every line of communication. First, your mailbox was filled with coupons, inserts, and postcards you had never subscribed to; next, telemarketers  interrupted your dinners, conversations, and vacations; then, your email inbox was spammed and pop-ups filled your computer screen; now, marketers are trying to get your attention by being viral instead of creating good content that educates people who want to learn.




Somewhere along the line we were deceived. The sweepstakes we entered, the survey we filled out, or the blog we subscribed to fooled us with fine print and sold our data.


The result of this type of deception forces us to hoard our personal information, making it difficult for honest, thoughtful, and genuine business owners to communicate with us.


How To Develop Trust:


In order to build trust between your business and potential clients, you must establish an identity.


In Duct Tape Marketing, John Lantsch lists some elements of identity. 




John’s take away message is simple, “all of the items listed above either support your company’s image or detract from it.”[5]


We would much rather do business with people whose logo remains consistent across all of their printed materials; whose website looks secure; and whose employees seem to stay as opposed to a business that continues to alter its identity.

Designing Your Website


It is not uncommon for non-ecommerce small business owners to mistakenly identify their website as a place where transactions are meant to be initiated and completed.


Every dentist wishes that her website was enough to persuade a stranger to make an appointment, and while it sometimes is, most customers are left looking for more information.


As a dentist, your website should not be designed to make a sale. Instead, your website should be optimized to gain permission.




Remember, your website is only one piece of your marketing strategy, and its persuasive power is limited.


While your website may not be persuasive enough to convince every visitor to make an appointment, it can be a compelling place to offer more information about your practice in exchange for permission to talk to the visitor via email.


This being said, the goal of your website should be to collect each visitor’s contact information. In order to collect this information, your website must offer something in return. In the case of a dentist’s website, providing a detailed brochure about your dental practice in exchange for someone’s email address will be perceived as a fair trade.




Running a successful business depends on keeping as many customers as possible, but for small businesses, relationship building is more than essential. Small businesses are about having “ongoing relationships with [their customers], to invent fun ways to delight [them] and mostly about following through in a way they’ll tell their friends about”[6].


As you strive to maximize your current customers’ willingness to bring their friends and family to your practice, remember that people want valuable insight, access to great people, and recognition before they want your products and services.[7] The key concept here is recognition. If we recognize our patients; if we thank them for their referrals; if we let them know the important role they play in our success; they will reciprocate.




Today’s dentists need to get out of the Yellow Pages and onto the Internet. This process begins with a high quality website that is both user and search engine friendly.


After a professional website has been designed, ensure that your business identity is consistent, if not, make the necessary adjustments to your brand name, image, and other business stationary.


Lastly, make giving your customers access to great care and great people your priority.


[1] Godin, S. Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends and Friends Into Customers (New York, Simon & Schuster 1999).

[2] Levinson, J. Guerrilla Marketing: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business (New York, Houghton Mifflin Company 2007).

[3] Godin, S. Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends and Friends Into Customers (New York, Simon & Schuster 1999).

[4] Godin, Seth. What Matters Now. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Web.

[5] Jantsch, J. Duct Tape Marketing: The World’s Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2006).

[6] Godin, Seth. What Matters Now. [s.l.]: Lulu.com, 2010. Print.

[7] Stelzner, Michael A. Launch: How to Quickly Propel Your Business beyond the Competition. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2011. Print.