Understanding & Implementing a Marketing Investment in Your Dental Practice


This week we’re bringing a very special guest into the studio to talk about marketing your dental practice. Jacob Puhl is the Co-Owner and Co-Founder of Firegang Dental Marketing, and has some great insights into growing a dental practice through marketing.

While dental school teaches you how to be an effective doctor, unfortunately there aren’t many opportunities to learn how to run a business. Dr. Hornbrook and Jacob talk about things dentists are doing right and wrong, how to create a successful practice by changing your mindset, and executing a growth plan for your practice.

Dentistry is a Business

What’s the difference between corporate dentistry and private practices in regards to growth? It’s a small mindset change that leads to significant rewards. Companies like Aspen Dental, Gentle Dental, and Mortenson Dental Partners are run like businesses.

They’re looking at their profit and loss statements, their overhead, and their percentages. They know what they spend in each area, and are being strategic with those amounts. In this case, the percentage they spend on marketing their practice.

Some private practices may be doing marketing, whether radio or print ads or Facebook Ads, but it’s sporadic and they don’t know how much in relation to their revenue. Dentistry is an industry where the doctors are also and employee of their own business, which can create a weird dynamic. But it’s important to see the practice as more than that in order to grow.

Measuring Is Crucial

There’s a saying, “what gets measured gets improved.” When you begin to measure parts of your practice, you have the opportunity to improve profitability and save money. In order to grow, you need to have a good idea of where your money is going so that it can be funneled into the best options for your practice.

Jacob goes into more detail, saying that the successful practices are those that understand the need to invest in marketing. Corporate dentistry offices have the fundamental understanding that in order to grow, investment is necessary. Even if a dentist knows their current number of patients, and their goal number, they often don’t know the most efficient path to growth.

Investment is Essential for Growth

The Small Business Association recommends a marketing budget of five to ten percent of revenue, and many dental consultants will recommend three to seven percent of gross earnings as a marketing budget.

However, many practices are only investing one to two percent. And the five to seven percent mentioned previously doesn’t account for growth, either. If you’re looking to grow your practice substantially, the percentage may need to be closer to ten to fifteen percent.

This is where the business mindset comes in. In order to grow, you need to invest in the key strategies that will get you to your goal. This can be a challenging situation, because of the high overhead in dentistry, and there are crucial pieces that can’t be trimmed.

The good news is that it’s not an all or nothing approach. You can stair-step your way up to your goal, working on increasing one percentage point at a time by using the ROI of the initial increase to grow the percentage.

Track Your Dental Practice to Grow

One of the most important things to realize is that this is a competitive environment. If you’re looking to grow, then you need to be working towards growing your marketing budget and tracking what is and isn’t working. If you’re looking to maintain, then the five to seven percent marketing budget can work.

In marketing, tracking is seeing what does and doesn’t work by keeping an eye on what you change and the results. There are a incredible number of metrics you can track, but we’d recommend focusing on a few key places you want to improve.

First, you can track your website metrics by using a tracking number, like using Google Analytics. It’s free, and gives you insight into visitor’s behavior. You’ll also want to be tracking phone calls and touch in with the patient. By asking “how did you hear about us?”, you can hone in on where people are finding you. If they say the Internet, then where? Yelp, Facebook, or something else? And what specific terms are they using? These pieces can all help you find the best way to increase marketing the smart way.

You’ll also want to look at the services patients are purchasing. This can help you determine the most popular services (cosmetic or otherwise), and how to market those services best.

One of the biggest benefits of tracking your marketing spend and where it’s going means you can allocate resources accordingly. So if Google AdWords is getting a four or five to one return — meaning four or five dollars ROI on each dollar spent — but your direct mail efforts are only a two to one or less return, then focus on what’s working.

While we’re focusing on digital marketing, it’s important to note that if you’re seeing good returns on direct mail and less on pay-per-click advertising, then focus on direct mail.

Community Differences Matter

Different communities will have different ideal marketing opportunities. Demographics like age and location will determine whether the ideal is Facebook marketing or direct mail. The population will also determine your method; areas like California are highly competitive, and patients are more likely to use Yelp. Though if your practice is in rural Ohio, Yelp may not give you the same results as if your practice was on the East or West coast.

The subject of your marketing will also vary. Practices in California are seeing a rise in holistic dentistry, as well as other progressive areas of the country. To get an idea of what patients in your area are looking for, you can use Google Trends to see high performing keywords.

For example, sedation is becoming more popular, as patients are becoming more educated about the options available to make their appointments more manageable.

Marketing Metrics to Watch

Metrics are parameters that act as benchmarks. One popular metric for dentists to watch is production. This includes the number of new patients per month, treatment acceptance, and their lifetime value.

It may sound like a lot to spend $250 to bring in a patient, but if their lifetime value is two to three thousand, then it’s a significant ROI and that’s where you should be focusing your marketing.

Another metric to watch is a little deeper, and involves your practice’s website. This involves search engine ranking, the time they spend on your website, and what pages are most popular. These numbers will show where you should focus your time and efforts.

Conversion rates are also a good metric to follow, which means how many website visits led to a call, which led to an appointment. Conversion rates will give you a path to follow in how your patients are finding you.

Create A “Living” Website

Jacob calls websites a “living and breathing” resource for a business, especially for dentists. You’ll want to keep your website updated, including a blog page if you have the resources. Not only does this create value for your patients (and potential patients), but it also improves your search engine rankings. The algorithms Google and other search engines use look for activity, and prioritizes accordingly.

High-end patients especially will notice your website and if it’s up to date, as well as if the design is current. If your primary demographic is millennials, you’ll want to make sure its mobile-friendly.

You’ll want to keep your website updated as you hear patients ask questions or when new products or procedures come to market. Updating your FAQs are a way to provide your patients with more value, and writing blog posts about new procedures can further educate patients, as well as provide content for your social channels.

Execute a Marketing Plan

There are so many things that need your attention during the day, and we know it can be a challenge to effectively market your practice. But there are a few ways to remedy this, depending on your team and resources available.

If you have a staff member who’s excited about social media and is willing to learn more about digital marketing, then you can benefit without finding a new staff member or bringing in a marketing agency.

However, if you have the resources to make the commitment, a marketing agency, like Jacob’s Firegang Dental Marketing, can take the workload off you and your staff and deliver the results you’re looking for.

Invest for Your Future

Aside from the marketing investment, there are other ways to help your business grow and set you up for future success. By looking at your practice like a business, you’ll know where the investment is going and the kind of return you’re getting.

Brand recognition is also important, and we can see the success of great branding in dentistry from these CDOs like Aspen Dental. Every office space is the same, and matches their website. The logo is that same regardless of marketing outlet; they’ve created an identity.

The investment into a cohesive brand, including a high-quality logo and design, correct signage, and corresponding social outlets will help you grow, especially if you’re looking to sell in the next ten years or so. Your online presence is an extension your office, and you’ll want it to be clean and streamlined to best bring in new patients.

Even though it may seem like these CDOs have all the advantages, your practice has a very big one that they can’t take advantage of: you. By putting a face with your practice, you can create an emotional connection. Are you involved in the community? Make that part of your brand.

Creating videos and posting pictures of you and your staff on your website is a great way to create a welcoming brand and emotional connection. Your brand is yourself.

Technology Fuels Grow

Corporate dentistry has realized that technology attracts patients. Utilizing these advances, like digital scanning, dental lasers, and digital charting, will grow your practice. Yes, this equipment is definitely an investment, but the ROI is there.

If you’re looking to sell your practice within the next five to ten years, bringing in this technology will increase the salability of your practice. Investing in a $20,000 digital impression machine can add $50,000 immediately to your practice’s value. Those looking to purchase a dental practice will be looking for one that has invested in new technology.

By looking at your dental practice like a business, you can employ some of these techniques to better grow your practice. Tracking your growth, watching your marketing budget and metrics, and focusing on setting yourself up for success can create a thriving business out of your practice, which means you’re helping more people while also providing for your team.

We appreciate Jacob Puhl’s insight on this podcast, and we’re grateful to have him on Dental Up! His company, Firegang Dental Marketing, is based out of Portland and has helped a wide range of practices feel empowered in an ever-changing world of marketing. And keep an eye out for our next episode with Jacob on Dental Up.

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