A New World or Is It Really? by Angela Weber

New Marketing Techniques Founded on Traditional Concepts
by Angela Weber

Established orthodontic practices have thoroughly traveled the landscape of traditional marketing techniques – employing everything from direct-mail postcards to word-of-mouth referrals to print ads in local newspapers. Over the last decade or two, technological advances seem to have transformed this landscape into a new world. Although some orthodontic practices have embraced the newer computer-based marketing methods, many remain intimidated by the rapid pace of change and the effort needed to keep up with so many emerging tools.

In actuality, the newer, digital marketing methods do not exist in a foreign land. Their purpose remains essentially the same as traditional marketing methods. That is: let the community know about your practice and then bring new patients in for treatment. In other words, the concepts that underlie traditional marketing are just as relevant as ever. The only difference is that many marketing methods have moved to the online space simply because many aspects of our lives have moved online.

A practice’s effective marketing does not necessarily depend on it being an early adopter of each new digital tool that comes down the pike. Instead, practices should simply be aware of the overlap between traditional and digital marketing tools and embrace the advantages afforded by the new ones.

Direct mail, often in the form of periodic postcards, has been a tried-and-true marketing technique of orthodontic practices. Direct mail typically works best as an ongoing effort. Sporadic bursts of direct mailing might not produce great results, but if a practice sustains a quarterly campaign over a couple of years, the reminders will serve to keep a practice at the forefront of people’s minds for that time when they’re ready to start treatment.

The digital counterpart is obviously e-mail, and the same principles of sustained effort apply to effective email campaigns. E-mail has its advantages over traditional direct mail in that e-mail campaigns are cheaper, faster to develop and easier to track (but a downside is they’re also easier to ignore). Using a professional e-mail service like Constant Contact or MailChimp allows practices to benefit from the many advantages of e-mail marketing.

Marketing Materials
In the past, a print brochure or flyer acted as an orthodontic practice’s principle piece of marketing collateral. Now, Web sites are as essential (and Facebook business pages are shaping up to be the next frontier). Whether in print or digital form, these marketing materials serve the same purpose. They let potential patients know about your services and how you can help them. In addition, they establish your brand and provide practical information such as office locations and hours. The advantage of a Web site is that it’s easy to update, offers more space for details and personality and doesn’t incur printing or distribution costs. Web sites are also more versatile, with their ability to include video, plenty of images and social networking functions.

Orthodontic advertising used to be limited to print ads in local newspapers or smaller community publications like student yearbooks. Those venues are still viable, but advertising opportunities have proliferated on the Internet. Google built its empire through online advertising and allows advertisers to target their messages based on users’ search terms and geography. On Facebook, advertisers can reach an even more targeted audience, such as mothers of eighth-graders in a particular school district. Also, the Internet is home to countless blogs and online publications that charge much lower advertising prices than a traditional newspaper does. Essentially, the Web has expanded advertising opportunities while making campaigns more targeted, more trackable and less expensive.

Word of Mouth
When moms chat on the phone or run into each other at the store, they often talk about their children, and these conversations can lead to a referral to an orthodontist. Kids themselves might talk about their braces with their friends at school. Everyone still loves talking about their lives and stuff they love, but now they’re doing it online as well as in person. It’s happening on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and on the up-and-comers Google+ and Pinterest. Review sites like Yelp are devoted to consumer opinions, and a whole subculture of “mommy blogs” offers a forum for sharing parenting tips.

In many ways, digital word of mouth is better for orthodontists. In the offline world, doctors don’t really know what people are saying about them and can do little to influence referrals. Now practices can encourage “likes” on Facebook and can spur conversations with their own status updates. They can Google themselves to find out the word on the street about them, and participation in online discussions gives a chance to convey expertise.

New digital tools and their associated cultural changes do not invalidate older, traditional marketing techniques. Direct mail campaigns can still bring in patients, and parents still chat about their kids’ health-care providers to other parents at the grocery store. If you’re ever feeling overwhelmed by all the marketing choices, it’s helpful to recognize the parallels between the old and the new techniques and to see where they overlap.

For one, understanding the overlap will help you focus your marketing and make sure it’s not top-heavy in any one area and weak in another. It can also help you think of ways to use the traditional and the digital in concert and allow them to complement each other. For example, print brochures and newspaper ads can drive traffic to your Web site, and an e-mail campaign can follow behind a direct mail campaign to boost its effectiveness. The marketing landscape might be changing, but ultimately it’s still familiar territory.

Author's Bio
Angela Weber is the marketing director for OrthoSynetics (OSI), a business services firm that assists orthodontic and dental practices utilizing a full-service, turnkey management approach to address all non-clinical practice functions to gain better efficiencies and profitability. Services are also offered on an a la carte basis. For more information, visit www.orthosynetics.com or e-mail aweber@orthosynetics.com.
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