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   06.02.05 Issue #169

Striking a Happy Medium (or Media) in Dentistry

Scott McDonald


While almost everyone now accepts that some external marketing is helpful, very few know enough about choosing external marketing media to make an informed decision. This little primer is not a comprehensive list of media choices, nor is it a list of priorities. McKenzie Management can provide you with a detail Marketing Report that will suggest specific media outlets, frequency (rate of repetition), and even costs. The dominant “lifestyle groups” or “demographic/psychographic cluster groups” are described in detail in this Report.

Yellow Pages
When I first started speaking on Dental Marketing for the California Dental Association, yellow page advertising was the first BIG medium of dentistry. “If a little works well, then a LOT will work better,” went the common wisdom. Not so!

We have seen dentists snap up the “double truck” positions in the yellow pages (full pages that face each other) with gusto and NO idea how well or poorly these ads will deliver. In fact, full-pages are not as effective as those smaller ads that also have alphabetical phone listings also on the page. The effective size of the ad and its position are a function of several factors including the “lifestyles” of the people who read the ad. Ironically, the poor and less educated are often more influenced by a large ad than are those with money and more education.

Direct Mailers
There is so much variety in this tool it is hard to know where to start.

The traditional direct mail piece for dentistry is a “self-mailer” (no envelope) that offers a free or very discounted entry-level service like an examination and X-rays. This is effective with some lifestyle groups but it can hurt the practice as well. The biggest slam against this format is that it attracts “shoppers” who want no long-term contact with the practice. We have found that inducements that are specific to the target market work much better. Want families with children? Value-added offers that include a premium work well. Want older fee-for-service adults? Offer a certificate worth $200 toward ANY treatment after they have paid for an examination, cleaning, and X-ray. Each lifestyle group will have a mailer format and offer that will work best for that group. Post cards, envelopes, brochures, and newsletters each work with some groups but can be ineffective with others.

Mailing Lists
There is a theory that the best target for an advertisement is new move-ins. This is a good theory but a bad practice. New residents are often inundated with ads and mailers. They often move from a location not far from their previous home and still retain contact with the previous dentist. As an alternative, we believe that a demographically selected group will be a better target for a mailing than one directed at residents. For example, do the issues of age, income, housing type, children, marital status, or property value make a difference to you? Then don't send mailers to those you either don't want or who don't want you.

This can be wildly useful in the right setting with the right audience and a complete waste of money in others. This is a function of population density, lifestyles of listeners, and the marketplace. Every radio station will be strong in one demographic group at one time during the day (defined as a “day-part' media-speak) and weak in others. Radio stations are selected FIRST upon the format of the station as it relates to the target market and SECOND upon its Reach (how far the signal travels) and Penetration (the number and percentage of the target market hears the message). THIRD is the issue of budgets. Some very expensive “flame throwers” offer good deals if the right ad-buy is negotiated.

Television and Cable
Closely associated with the means of purchasing Radio time, the specific programs are measured against their proven cost-effectiveness of reaching a particular audience. Ironically, cable television can allow for a more targeted buy because competing cable providers may serve the same community.

The difficulty with Television and Cable is the commitment one must make to creating the commercial itself. It is an easy way to let $10,000 slip away.

Newspapers are purchased based upon their circulation AND penetration. Often the section of the paper in which an ad should appear is determined by the penetration of that section with the market we are considering. Regionalized issues may or may not be a desirable option because our target audience may not read that section.

Keep in mind that Radio, Television, and Newspaper advertising should never be considered a short-term advertising media. They require a commitment of several months.

We have considered many old (billboards) and new (internet banners) technologies for dentistry. All of them work BUT none of them will work for everyone. That is why some good old-fashioned market research will go a long way toward building your practice.

Scott McDonald is the former Marketing Manager for the California Dental Association, national lecturer and author and provides demographic marketing and site analysis recommendations for McKenzie Management. For more information email or visit our website at

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