by Alena Pacheco

Don’t just send out paper—send the right message about your practice

These days, reality television is certainly a hot topic. Shows like “Extreme Makeover” are captivating audiences across the nation by transforming a person’s outer appearance. While I will not admit to watching them on a regular basis, it is evident that shows like these do reinforce a marketing concept that even orthodontic offices should be tuning into: Image really is important.

We see the importance of image every day. From dating, to job hunting, to choosing an orthodontist, external appearance plays a role in how people make choices. Harry Beckwith puts it best in his book, Selling the Invisible: “People cannot see your service … so they will judge your service by what they can see.”

Even in this age of going “paperless,” it is hard to deny that written materials help people “see” your practice. They actually become your professional “face” on paper. If Beckwith is correct, it is these materials that prospective patients will use to evaluate your image.

That being said, what do people see when they look at your written materials? What message are you sending, and is it time for an extreme makeover of your own?

The “Wow Factor”

Thankfully, our profession is filled with excellent practitioners who are nice to their patients. Unfortunately, the consumer is going to base his or her decision for care on things that have absolutely nothing to do with how well you practice orthodontics. In the words of management consultant Rosemary Bray, “Practices that are simply ‘nice’ to patients are no longer doing enough. Almost everyone is ‘nice to their patients.’” Bray goes on to talk about creating an environment where patients get the “wow factor.” Though she makes reference to this in terms of customer service, I find it helpful to make the same connection regarding written materials.

Creating the “wow factor” with written materials involves a little more than just getting a new logo and some stationery. That certainly might be part of what you need to do. Before you get to that point, it is important to decide what it is that sets your office apart from other offices. What makes you unique? Once you decide what that is, the next step is to tell people about it. Some might call it a theme, others a mission statement. In working with clients, we often talk about the “tagline.”

Think of a tagline as a key message that you want people to remember when they consider your office for treatment. In the advertising industry, taglines are everywhere. Here are a few you might recognize: “Don’t Leave Home Without It” (American Express); “Just Do It” (Nike); “Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hands (M & M’s); “The Fabric of Our Lives” (cotton); “In Good Hands” (AllState); and “Like a Good Neighbor …” (State Farm).

Like a good logo, a good tagline is remembered. It becomes part of the company, and it adds perceived value to the service. Don’t think that taglines are just for big companies with large marketing budgets. Orthodontists can benefit from them as well. In fact, with a little brainstorming and creative thinking, a tagline may be the least-expensive thing you do to enhance your visual image.

The Three C’s of Written Materials

Regardless of whether you have a tagline or even a logo, there are many ways to improve the existing appearance of your written materials. The first thing I suggest to my clients is to gather together every single piece of paper that is put into the hands of patients, parents, and referral sources. This includes stationery, appointment cards, practice brochures, health history forms, and appliance instruction sheets. You get the idea—everything. At your next team meeting, designate part of your time to evaluate these materials for what I like to call the Three C’s:

1) Are they coordinated?

Take a look at the font style, paper, and ink color. Do the items coordinate? In other words, do they match? Just as it is when you are putting together an outfit, everything should be complementary. If you have a logo, does it coordinate with the type of paper and the font that you are using? It might be helpful to delegate different team members to review these items and then report on them at the next meeting.

2) Are they consistent?

Consider whether your written materials are consistent with the theme of your practice. Written materials should reflect the practice image, not contradict it. An office with a surfing theme may want to reconsider stationery that is very conservative.

Consistency is also important with regard to grammar and content. Is the content consistent? For instance, if your practice brochure states that you will do records at the new-patient visit, does your consultation packet support that? Are the office guidelines consistent? Delegate different team members to review and read the paperwork you have been handing out. Chances are, you may have changed procedures a bit over the years. In some cases, I’ve discovered inconsistencies in paperwork simply because it had been years since anyone had read the text.

3) Are they contemporary?

This is an issue with many orthodontic offices, especially among those seasoned practitioners who have been in practice for a number of years. Just as we stay current with technology, our written materials should also reflect that we’re keeping up to date. Chances are good that if your office has been using the same stationery for the last 20 years, it’s time for a makeover.

Unfortunately, written materials are not always on the top of your office’s to-do list. Even offices that are ready to make significant changes are often overwhelmed by the cost of custom logos, not to mention the task of writing brochure copy and taking office photos.

The great news is that whether you are new to the profession, or you’ve been in practice for years, there are both custom and semicustom options that will allow you to give your office a makeover within the time frame and budget that best fits your needs.

Custom Design

The best way to create a unique impression is to use custom design. This is an opportunity for you to work with professionals to develop an image that is distinct from any other office. Whatever designer you choose to work with, he or she will help you develop a comprehensive plan that will integrate a custom logo into the design of your entire marketing program.

This can include Web sites, business cards, and everything in between. While custom design usually involves a larger investment, many companies offer payment plans that allow you to spread your payments out over time. They can guide you through the process of deciding what to redesign and how. When you consider that you will probably use your new designs for the next 5–10 years, the investment is certainly worth it.

Semicustom/Personalized Design

Each office is unique, and so are their individual needs when it comes to written materials. Thankfully, there are many options available. For offices that may be in transition, semicustom design or personalized products may be a great alternative. While not as distinct as custom work, these products offer the flexibility of adding your name and address to materials that have already been produced.

Though the investment will certainly be less than what it costs to create a custom design, it is important to keep in mind that competing orthodontists in your area may already be using something similar. Be sure to ask those types of questions when researching the products that will work best for you. Some companies offer semicustom written materials, including embossed or foiled stationery, that also coordinate with promotional items like mugs and recall cards.

Stay on Track

As you begin to evaluate your existing materials for the Three C’s, you will be able to decide on the type of makeover that best suits you. It may involve minor changes with your local printer to coordinate such small things as paper and ink color. Or perhaps you will decide that it really is time to get extreme and start from the ground up with a custom logo.

Keep in mind that the process will not happen overnight. Set realistic goals about what you plan to accomplish. Regardless of whether you choose custom or semicustom design, dedicate time in your schedule to meet as a team and develop short-range and long-range goals for your written materials. Most important, delegate a team member (other than the orthodontist) to keep you on task and moving forward.

Author Harry Beckwith writes, “People will trust their eyes long before they will ever trust your words.” Give prospective patients clues about the quality of service that you provide. Rather than simply telling them that your office is great, show them. Wow them!

Regardless of your opinion about reality television, an “extreme makeover” may be the best thing that has ever happened to your written materials.

Alena Pacheco is the principal owner of Core Communications, Kerman, Calif. She has extensive experience in developing both custom and semicustom marketing materials for orthodontic offices. She can be reached at (888) 321-4744 or [email protected].