In the last few weeks, we have seen practices starting to slowly migrate towards ‘normal’ operations, although what the new normal looks like is still work in progress. With priorities to implement new operating procedures and getting used to delivering a service with enhanced PPE, it’s easy to overlook some of the important patient focussed tasks you still need to undertake. One of these tasks is marketing and in this article, we will look at what may have changed since the significant disruption to dental services that took place in March.

Did this really happen?

Prior to Covid becoming part of our everyday vocabulary, most practices focussed on marketing their practice through both traditional and digital promotion. Those slightly further advanced on their marketing journey were leveraging the benefits afforded by an established group of enthusiastic patients to further increase their reach. Then in March, every dental practice found themselves in the same situation of having to quickly close. This brought disruption, and in a number of cases, significant hardship.

One of the first areas of expenditure to review when income is unpredictable is promotion as this is often mistakenly seen as an unnecessary overhead. Many practices cut back on their spending with just a small percentage maintaining or appearing to increase their spending and efforts in this area. 

Whilst in the early days of shut down this would have had little impact on their ability to promote themselves in the future, as time wore on, many practices quickly realised that patients keen to start treatment were still out there and needed to be nurtured. 

With practices closed, it was not possible to follow the traditional sales route, and some implemented remote consultations using video to ensure a healthy supply of patients once they were able to resume operations. For these, there would have been a steep learning curve as they adopted their approach to promoting the treatments they provide without the familiarity of having the patient at the practice.

From the feedback we have received, there has been a good response from patients and remote consultations have worked well. Patients liked the opportunity to directly engage with someone from the practice and to get their questions answered and team members were pleasantly surprised that remote consultations were far easier than they expected. 

Where do we go from here?

Now that the majority of practices are open, should you resume what you have always done? The answer is probably not. What worked for you before, may not work for you in the same way in the future. The market place in which you operate has changed and this is not a bad thing. Orthodontics has always been highly competitive and probably more so now that there has been a period of inactivity to catch up on. 

Let’s start by looking at the market place. Are there fewer people looking for orthodontic treatment? Probably not and maybe just a few more as we have all had time to reflect on personal care and our longer-term wellbeing. Has the number of options for providers of treatment increased in this time? Surprisingly, the answer is yes. This is because a number of the direct to consumer aligner companies continued promoting themselves heavily throughout this period and at a time when others were quiet. This increased awareness of their services to an audience of people keen to get their teeth straightened and who could not be served by anyone else during this time. 

If you review their marketing, they subtly turned some of the negatives of lockdown into benefits, and whilst there will always be those who prefer seeing an orthodontist, there are an increasing number of people who are discussing their ‘lower-cost’ and ‘more convenient’ treatment on social media. Something you will need to address as you resume your marketing and attempt to reach out to those who are now potentially more aware of other ways to straighten their teeth.

In recent weeks, patients have become keen to catch up on lost time and to find out more about starting treatment. Remember, for many, it is the finish date of treatment that provides the motivation to get started. With so many trips and events postponed until next year, the demand for treatment from those keen to get their new straight white smile is likely to only increase. 

When restarting your marketing, give some thought to what messages your patients may want to hear. They will all be aware that life has not yet returned to normal and for some, they will need additional reassurance that now is a good time to start treatment. There may also be an expectation that priority is being given to catching up with those already in treatment so if you are taking on new patients, you need to make this clear otherwise, out of courtesy, you may find patients going elsewhere. 

Covid is likely to be with us for some time and your marketing needs to reflect this. The popularity of aligners is likely to further increase as patients realise this option allows them to continue treatment especially if practices find they need to close again in the future. And who wants to be left wearing a fixed appliance for longer than necessary so again, think about how some of the challenges faced during the last few months can be turned into positives in your marketing messages.

New opportunities 

Your practice marketing should be constantly evolving. This is not the time to stand still and do what you have always done. If you have looked after your patients throughout the time you were closed, you would have built up significant goodwill. This can be used to your advantage if you take the opportunity to showcase just how wonderful your patients are. Think about who a prospective patient is more likely to listen to, you, or another satisfied patient? 

If remote consultations have worked for others, why not give it a try as part of your new approach to marketing to patients. It allows you to see patients at different times and in a way that is more convenient for them. This helps to make your clinic time more valuable and acts as a useful filter to screen those not yet decided upon starting treatment. 

One significant shift in patient marketing that we have identified is the Tik Tok influence. So many practices are now posting much more engaging and fun content. Teams making light of their new PPE and preparing welcoming content has become the new public face of dentistry. If you are yet to embrace this, give it a go, you might be pleasantly surprised with the response you get. 

Covid has caused much disruption to dentistry but it has also provided an opportunity to rethink how you engage with patients. There is an opportunity to not only use technology such as remote consultations to streamline your sales process but to also engage on a much more human level with others who have been caught up in this shared experience. There are many lessons to learn from Covid but from a marketing perspective, you can’t afford to not adapt and engage otherwise those with a keener eye for new patients will find themselves very busy indeed.

This article first appeared in the Jul/Aug edition of Orthodontic Practice