11.23.07 - Issue # 298 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Scott McDonald
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Should You Continue To Promote Your Practice In a “Down” Market?

Our company tracks the successes and failures of dentists throughout the United States. After all, we have to know WHERE practices are doing better or worse and WHY. We don’t think we are letting the “cat out of the bag” by saying that most great successes and spectacular failures are not due to external forces. Instead, it is the doctor’s approach to practice, patients, life, and business that will be the motivating force behind the results that the practice will see.

Still, we have to consider the external forces because they WILL have an impact upon the bottom line. These forces are often regional rather than national. Texas is growing. Michigan is shrinking. But we also know that the Credit Market is in distress on a national level. If your practice is in an area hard-hit by unemployment, a shrinking population, an exploding competition level, and withering consumer confidence, the practice will feel the downturn. There is no doubt. But most professionals find themselves in a market that may only have one or two of these negative factors. Is it worth being in practice? Should you continue promoting your practice? Is there a wonderful land somewhere that dentists do not have problems?

The answer to the last question first: NO! Every location will have challenges. There is nowhere that patients will wait for find a great dentist with wads of cash stuffed in their fists; appalled at the thought of being late for an appointment. Sorry.

The question on whether you should continue promoting your practice even when things look grim is simple: “YES!” During downturns, it is perhaps MORE necessary to maintain your practice’s name recognition than during times of plenty. It escapes some people that millionaires were MADE during the Great Depression. Fortunes were amassed because some investors and business owners understood that there is more than a change in the economic weather, there was a shift in how consumers perceived it. It is not so much a matter of climate shifts that are changing but shorter-term adjustments in attitude (weather).

The wise professional will understand that to promote a practice at the height of one’s busiest time does not make sense EXCEPT if he or she is taking the long view. Things always slow after a busy time. We also know that things will always pick up after a slow time. Consistent practice promotion is the best way to keep the practice’s “brand” and/or the doctor’s “name recognition” high. It is the income equivalent of “dollar-cost averaging.” 

Certainly, practices need to shift what they offer in order to meet the changing demands of the local market. There is the perception among many dentists that people care more about money than any other aspect of practice when times get hard. Research and experience say that this is not entirely true. Instead, what people VALUE about what dentistry does will shift with the public mood or perception of the market at the moment..  For example, they will not want dentistry delivered in the same way that they did before. They may want alternatives to payment mechanisms that have been working for years but have stopped. They want something different from the doctor in his or her diagnosis. They may expect something different from your staff than they did before.

The truth about dentistry is that at its core, it is not a service that can be put-off forever. For this reason, pent-up demand will often be the sign of the most economically stressed areas.  Every practice area goes through cycles of consumer confidence, employment, insurance, and competition. This is nothing new. The length and nature of the cycles change but they are always there.

In Southern California devastating fires displaced millions of people, many of whom were the most affluent residents of the foothill communities threatened by the blazes. While we believe that dentistry will suffer a downturn in these locations, no one should assume that dental need has left the area.  If nothing else, it has merely been delayed.

It may seem like an irony but we believe that given the credit crisis, the fires, and lower than expected consumer confidence that the total production of dentistry in San Diego County will be higher in 2008 than at any previous year for 20 years (when adjusted for inflation).

We predict that the practices that will do best are those that will continue to present the core message of their practice; its brand; so that when the patients are ready to come back, they will know for certain that “their” practice is still there to serve them and to accept their referrals.

The time, effort, and money that it takes to promote a practice should be a regular process for every practice rather than an event.

Interested in knowing more about the demographics of your area?  Go here. Scott McDonald is the largest provider of dental marketing research to dental practices.  For more information demographics@mckenziemgmt.com.

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