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Hooking New Patients: How Data-Driven Marketing Can Increase Your Bottom Line

Hooking New Patients: How Data-Driven Marketing Can Increase Your Bottom Line
Dr. Christopher Phelps

New patients are the lifeblood of any dental practice. According to a survey conducted by the ADA, more than a quarter of American dentists feel that they’re not busy enough and want to increase the number of patients they see. In counties with at least 1.5 million residents, 38% of dentists would like to see more patients. If you want to run a profitable practice, you need to attract new patients. In my own research, I’ve found that the average new patient is worth $1000 a year to a dental practice. Patients who need extensive work can bring your practice an additional $2500 a year. Marketing helps new patients find your practice, and data-driven marketing can help ensure that the new patients will be good fits for you and your practice. Without data, you may attract new patients, but they won’t be the sort of patients who keep coming back. You want new patients who will like your practice and who recommend you to family, friends, and coworkers.


Using Data to Catch Big Fish

Many of my fellow dentists practice follow what I like to call the “Hunting” method of marketing. They invest all of their marketing dollars in a single strategy, one that they often chose based on emotion. Then they hope that a few patients will stumble into their line of sight. They sometimes spend more money attracting new patients than they earn from treating those new patients.

Data driven marketing is more like fishing with multiple poles. You start out with small investments across a variety of media types: newspapers, radio, direct mailers, websites, community sponsorships, etc. You track how many new patients each of your ‘poles’ attracts. If a certain pole doesn’t get any bites, you stop using it. If you get a lot of bites in one place, you add more poles. You already use data and experimentation when you practice evidence-based dentistry. By applying that same scientific mindset to marketing, you can improve your results and increase your return on investment (ROI) from your marketing dollars.


Deciding Which Lures to Use

A good fisherman knows that different types of bait attract different kinds of fish. He won’t use the same lure for trout as he would for bass, or for salmon as he would for catfish. Apply the same logic to marketing your practice. What sort of new patients do you want? In general, you want more of the sort of patients who already make your profit successful. If you specialize in pediatrics, you don’t want to use marketing methods that attract adults without children at home. If your best patients are retirees, you probably shouldn’t be trying to attract more families to the practice. Focus on the patients who are the best match for your practice, and your marketing dollars will yield a higher ROI.



Use data, not feelings to determine who your best patients are. Learn to run reports using your practice management software (or train a staff member to do it) and start asking questions. Who are your 20 most profitable patients? What demographic traits do they share? Once you’ve identified your most profitable patients, you have a better idea of where to find your target demographic.

Once you know what kind of ‘fish’ you want, it’s time to examine different kinds of ‘bait.’ For instance, if your best patients are young professionals, you may want to try to reach them through their phones, or along their commutes. If you seek retirees, newspapers and phone books might be wise investments. If you’d like to connect more families with young children to your practice, you may want to focus your marketing on sponsoring Little League teams, handing out balloons at festivals, or even visiting schools. Each of these styles of marketing is geared towards a particular type of patient. Little league teams won’t introduce you to young professionals, and social media may have limited reach among older patients.


Check your intuitions about marketing ideas against data. Consider surveying your current patients to find out which forms of media they consume. Read industry publications like Adweek to find out what different demographic groups prefer. Look at industry surveys. For instance, recent studies have found that Americans over 65 are most likely to watch television, read newspapers, and listen to radio. And 95% of older Americans check the weather report daily. So, if you’re trying to reach retirees, you may want to schedule your ad spots around weather reports and buy ad space on the weather page of the newspaper.


You’ve collected you data, you’ve analyzed it, and you’ve learned how patients in your favorite demographics consume media. That means you’re done, right? You can place ads and watch the new patients roll in. Not quite. Before you develop and place ads, you have one last job to do. You have to figure out what makes your practice special.



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