Orthodontic Market Forces by Casey Bull

Categories: Marketing;
Orthotown Magazine 

Marketing your practice in 2021 means jettisoning some old standbys and developing new strategies. In this issue: Making a strategy for referrals from patients and dentists


by Casey Bull

At the start of 2020, a key component of any successfully orthodontic marketing calendar was in-person events like open houses and community networking. But when those opportunities became limited, practices were forced to innovate.

Over the past year, we observed, tried and tested various marketing tactics to come up with best practices for 2021. In the first installment of this series, we’ll discuss strategies for boosting patient referrals and dental referrals; in the second, we’ll touch on strategies on how to develop digital marketing and community referrals.

We know that healthy practices don’t rely too heavily on any single referral source. Keeping the new patient funnel open and balanced from a variety of places is the best way to ensure consistent, long-term growth.

Marketing calendar concepts

Your marketing calendar is a valuable tool for ensuring that marketing efforts are both strategic and consistent.

Strategic: Setting a strategic plan provides you a bird’s-eye view to give cohesion and balance to your marketing. Do you have strategies aimed at each core target audience? Do you have brand-awareness tactics as well as lead-generating tactics, and are you tracking their metrics of success appropriately? If you have your marketing efforts working together as opposed to in silos, your results will multiply. Chart 1 illustrates a well-rounded marketing strategy.

Consistent: How many times have you moved forward with a marketing tactic, but somewhere along the way it just stopped? When practices are inundated with patients, insurance, phone calls, ClinCheck “homework” and the like, the first thing that typically is dropped is marketing. A marketing calendar should be designed in a way where all of the thought and decisions have already been made, making it that much simpler to just “get it done.” This increases your chances of having consistent marketing efforts with consistent results. Chart 2 shows part of a sample calendar.

With this in mind, consider the following marketing tactics and how you could incorporate them with your overall marketing strategy.

 Orthodontic Marketing Chart
Chart 1

 Orthodontic Marketing Calendar
Chart 2

Patient referral strategies

Patient-generated content

In 2020 marketing, one thing was certain: Content is king. People spent more time at home—which meant more time online and more time consuming (and creating) content. But with practices closed and leaned-down staffing structures, it was harder to generate meaningful content ourselves, which meant many practices focused on developing patient-generated content they could use across their social channels and marketing. A few examples:

  • Following their patients. If your new-patient forms are not collecting social media profile information, they should be. Don’t be afraid to DM a patient for consent to repost their photos of their smile or treatment. It will help identify potential influencers and microinfluencers too.
  • Creating selfie competitions. Offer monthly prizes for entries, promoting the competitions through practice marketing channels.

Remember, social media is an engagement channel. The more patients you have tagging or posting about you, the more you’re being seen in your community! It’s about social proof and networking.

Leveraging family discounts

Most orthodontic offices offer family discounts but don’t promote or leverage them. In 2021, consider rolling out a formal program, along with a promotional strategy. Many patients coming into your practice have immediate family members who would benefit from orthodontic treatment, so instead of simply offering the discount when that additional family member comes in for a consultation, actively promote it as a standard program in your office. To prepare for a promotional family discount program:

  • Define the value of the discount (percentage or flat amount).
  • Identify who’s eligible for this discount.
  • Determine how you’ll communicate and promote the value.

It’s common to have a sibling discount different from an adult treatment discount. For example, a sibling discount may be 5% off for each child, while a parent who starts aligner treatment while a child is still in active treatment earns a flat $1,000 off.

Once you have the above defined, you’ll need to plan how you’ll educate prospective patients and current patients, how you’ll promote the program and how you’ll ask for family referrals. Some ideas:

  • Add a “Family Care Program” section to your website.
  • When you’re onboarding a new patient, discuss it on the new-patient call, in initial paperwork and during the consult.
  • Social media: Run a sibling-photos promotion program.
  • Other material: Don’t forget about print, radio, school newsletters, etc.
  • Send a practicewide email blast to announce and promote the formal program.
  • Send automated emails to parents two weeks after their child starts with an offer for sibling or adult treatment.
  • At debanding, raise awareness with parents about what’s available for other siblings.
  • Involve siblings in in-office or social media competitions and fun events.

Use virtual treatment as a marketing tactic

Virtual consultations are now common practice among orthodontic clinics, but virtual appointments and their value go far beyond the consultation room. What it looks and feels like to walk into an orthodontic practice today looks very different than it did in January 2020: We’re covered in PPE, experience limited patient interaction and in many cases had to discontinue hosted beverages, iPad stations and other engaging opportunities. So when you think of the overall patient experience in your practice as a marketing tactic, you need to find ways to innovate to ensure patients still feel moved by their experience in the practice.

One way to do this is by offering virtual appointments. This won’t work for all appointments, because many require physical adjustments or inserts, but others could be conducted through a virtual appointment and give you the opportunity to connect with the patient without the barrier of PPE. Think of your observation checks, Phase 2 pending and retainer checks: As long as updated X-rays aren’t required, these could be done effectively through a virtual appointment.

The components of a virtual appointment include:

  • Photo submission.
  • Video call.
  • Scheduling a follow-up appointment.

Photo submissions can be done through a virtual consultation widget such as SmileSnap or SmileMate. You could also simply ask the patient to send their photos to your practice, but be sure to consider HIPAA compliance when determining the way these photos are sent and received.

The photo submission is meant to give you an opportunity to see the status of the patient ahead of the video call, but this also gives you the chance to identify if the patient would be better suited for an in-office appointment. Patients appreciate when the practice values their time! Eliminating unnecessary appointments or steps is beneficial not only for the practice but also the patient.

After the photos are reviewed and it has been determined that a virtual appointment is appropriate, it’s time for the video call. The most important purpose of this call is to connect with the patient. You may use the time to update them on your observations from the photos, but your goal is to ensure they and/or their parents feel well informed and taken care of. Think of the video call as your opportunity to deliver your five-star customer service in a virtual setting.

Finally, be sure to schedule a follow-up appointment. Whether that appointment is another virtual visit or an in-office visit, get it in the books.

This particular patient referral strategy isn’t about directly asking for referrals. It’s about enhancing the patient experience, because delivering a five-star patient experience, whether in person or virtually, always translates to more new patient inquiries. Many practices we work with have had such success with video calls and virtual appointments that they’ve decided to do them ahead of most of their appointments, to ensure they have the opportunity to deliver the enhanced experience with all of their patients.

For those who want to go big, many practices we work with now use virtualization as a practice differentiator and a true competitive advantage for their marketing. Sort of like how being an aligner specialist 10 years ago was a differentiator to generate growth, so is being a virtual clinic these days. If direct-to-consumer orthodontics has shown anything, it’s that patients truly value convenience. They want to see us less—even more so during the pandemic. A number of clinics now:

  • Offer only virtual consultations. Removing the in-clinic consult has resulted in a 100% doctor conversion rate, more efficiency and more starts with fewer patients coming in the door each day.
  • Do fully remote monitoring. They see patients only if they need physical procedures, not just to check how things are going. Many practices that were first adopters of dental monitoring were well into their integration journey even before COVID, and a few average only four appointments per patient during aligner treatments. Now, that’s something you can sell!

Dental referral strategies

With the pandemic forcing many businesses to make difficult financial decisions, the best approach for obtaining more dental referrals is to build general awareness of you and your practice, then nurture that into trusting relationships.

Digital newsletters: Support your local dental community

While The Invisible Orthodontist does offer digital marketing and consulting services, at its core is a collaborative network of orthodontists. And Orthotown’s message boards offer members a forum for support, information and community. Instead of trying to navigate the changing landscape and constant decision-making alone, having a community to turn to means you’re able to adapt to this new world faster and more efficiently, with less pain and more opportunity, than if you tried to do it by yourself.

Now, take this same concept and support your local dental community. A great way to do this is to start off small with a digital newsletter—either quarterly or monthly, according to what you’ll be able to do consistently. For example, if you began 2021 with a quarterly dental community newsletter, with each issue having only two sections, it’s an attainable goal for your practice to achieve and also more likely that the doctors in your area will have time to read it.

One section of the newsletter should focus on industry or clinical topics. You could showcase the technology you’ve adopted in your practice, industry updates or changes, or even some advanced treatment techniques. This gives you the opportunity to showcase your expertise and experience. It will help instill trust in your ability to be the best fit to treat their patients orthodontically.

Another section of the newsletter should focus on marketing tips. Remember: Like you, your referring dentists are business owners, too, and face many of the same challenges with marketing and growth, so share what you know! This could be in the form of an article or even a short prerecorded webinar linked to in your digital newsletter.

When you provide free “no-strings attached” support to your dental community, you’re tapping into a strong form of influence: the reciprocity rule. While it may not be a conscious decision, practices that have received value from you—whether a patient referral or marketing support—will feel compelled to return the favor in some way.

Author Bio
Casey Bull
Casey Bull, the global director of content and community at The Invisble Orthodontist (TIO), drives TIO’s efforts to provide member practices with marketing and business management expertise. Bull began her career in the orthodontic industry working for Dr. Alexander Waldman in Beverly Hills in 2014. While working for the practice, she developed a range of practice management processes encompassing tracking and reporting, management systems and templates, treatment plans, marketing programs and more.

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