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6.16.06 Issue #223


Hunting with a Hand Grenade

Scott McDonald

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There are several reasons that going deer hunting with a hand grenade is less than a perfect idea. In general, hand grenades are “messy.” They tend to kill and maim indiscriminately. The “trophy” isn’t much to look at. A single grenade has the effect of warning prey in the area so a second shot isn’t possible. And, of course, the hunter is often as much a victim as his prey.

Assuming that we are hunting for new patients, it is amazing how often dentists resort to the marketing equivalent of hand grenades. They will buy a mailing list with ALL the people who live in a geographic radius around their practice. They will offer two or three very broad discounts to the mailer in hopes of “catching someone’s eye.” A laundry list of services will appear in the advertisement as well. As many as 30,000 mailers are sent out each month to these households with the expectation that “someone will call.”

Invariably, the percentages are pretty good that “someone will call.” Attracted by a deep discount, dental “shoppers” are commonly the first to come in. In fact, by our experience the most common result from such a marketing “grenade” is a stream of patients, none of whom are interested in a long-term dental relationship with the practice.  Lack of cash or credit seems to be the most common element among this marketing “prey.” And while the revenues from such marketing efforts may pay for their costs, the practice gains little over the long-term for its investment.

On the other hand, if the purpose of the practice’s marketing efforts is to add to the underlying value of the practice, the primary goal for marketing is collections rather than new patients. True, production is important but one can always produce free dentistry and collect very little from it. Therefore, the goals of the practice should be to attract patients who will stay with the practice for the long-term, be fairly compensated from the doctor-patient relationship, and enhance internal referrals as much as possible. Oh, yes. And to collect fees.

Hand grenade marketing won’t get it. Target marketing will.

Target marketing will use a “scope” or sighting-mechanism to see what prey might exist within the region. The selection of prey (or an ideal potential patient) is to consider either what kind of “trophies” are most abundant in the region, easiest to attract, and/or most profitable to pursue. Maybe the 16-point buck can’t be found nearby. Perhaps you should consider rabbits. Perhaps wild boars are more common. The marketing equivalent of the “scope” is marketing research.

Target Marketing allows the dentist to focus upon a specific sub-set of the general population that will be his or her “best patient” AND allows the doctor to figure out a cost-effective strategy to attract them. Hand grenade marketing will, at best, have a result. Target marketing, however, will provide a result that is more predictable and desirable because it will be most cost-effective in attracting just the kind of potential patient YOUR practice wants.

Specifically, target marketing allows the “hunter” to adjust for the right weapon and ammunition that is appropriate for the “prey” that is sought. For example, some patients prefer post cards. Others want discount coupons. Still others will want a newsletter. Within this chosen “medium” the dentist will select a message that will appeal to the patient-type they most want. For example, some patients want a dentist who is fast (one-hour appointments), or convenient (located near your home or office), or even accessible (very early and very late appointments). Sometimes the message will be clinical (cosmetic procedures or dental implants) or non-clinical (friendly staff or affordable pricing).

It is worth noting that research has proven again and again that the dentist cannot be all things to all people. Therefore, targeting the right potential patient with the right medium, at the right time, with the right message will actually cost less but deliver superior results. This is the heart of our Marketing Report offered through McKenzie Management.

Scott McDonald is the largest provider of dental marketing research to dental practices.  For more information

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