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Losing the God Complex in Your Dental Marketing

Losing the God Complex in Your Dental Marketing
Dr. Christopher Phelps

If you read Chapter 7 of my new book, Grow Your Dental Practice with Wine and Cheese, you’ll notice I talk a lot about trial and error, and the lessons I learned as I rolled out my in-house dental savings plan.  Now, some people think my tendency to leap in, try things, and tweak things is a little reckless. They think that I should sit down, plan out all my marketing ahead of time, and then stick to a plan. “You’re a smart guy,” they tell me. “Surely you can figure this all out before you start.”

I saw a TED talk the other day that made me realize why trial and error works so well for dental marketing, and why the planners often fail.  It was a talk by Tim Hartford called “Trial, Error, and the God Complex.”  Hartford used examples from World War II POW camps, economics and industry to explain why trial and error is the best way to build or explore complex systems. It’s a great talk. If you have a chance, you should watch the whole thing. In his talk, Hartford warned that a lot of smart people can develop something called a “God Complex.” Basically, it’s when you think you understand everything there is to know about a complex system. You’re sure that your solution is correct, because it fits the facts you know and you’ve spent time working it out. When you sit down, plan out your marketing, and set it in stone, you have a God Complex. The thing is, most complex systems evolved slowly over time. Some things succeeded, and people did more of them. Other things failed, and so they stopped happening. There are so many variables involved in these systems that no human can master them all. In fact, even the best computers on the planet can’t master them all.  With complex systems, you can use trial and error to figure out what works, but even then you might not know enough to understand why it works. Dental marketing is a complex system. There’s no one formula. What works depends on where your practice is, who the other dentists in your area are, and what sort of people are looking for dental care.  No one can say “This method of marketing will work for you 100% of the time.”  The only way you can figure out what works is to experiment with lots of different methods; collect data, look at what worked and what didn’t, and then refine your approach and try again.

Over time, you’ll get an excellent approach that works for you. However, trial and error only works if you have good data. My Call Tracker ROI product evolved out of my own quest for good dental marketing data. By tracking ads and responses, I was able to figure out what methods attracted new patients to my practice.  If I’d had a God Complex and assumed I already knew what worked, I’d still be investing in worthless marketing avenues.


Trial and error is how we learn and how we improve. If you can’t try something new, fail, and learn from your mistake, you’ll stagnate. So, abandon your dental marketing God complex, and get ready to improve.

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