by Charlene Gale

In marketing, creativity and teamwork beat a big budget every time

Most orthodontic practices view marketing as a part-time endeavor; but for our practice, it’s a full-time job. As chief marketing officer at Snow Orthodontics, I am responsible for developing and coordinating the annual marketing plan for our practice. In my opinion, I have the best position in the practice.

A successful marketing plan doesn’t have to include an athletic superstar or an enormous budget. Being creative, resourceful, and smart can be just as effective. When developing a marketing plan, first do some research. Make sure that you determine specific goals and the time frame in which you want to achieve them. Communicate these goals to your team members. It is important to remember that marketing is a long-term process that crosses each and every departmental boundary in the orthodontic practice. It requires the orchestration of everyone who plays a part in the common goal of pleasing the customer or patient. To put it simply, everyone in the office is in marketing.

Marketing is the most effective (but often the most misunderstood) discipline there is. Don’t make it more complicated than it really is. There are three basic areas of marketing: external marketing, internal marketing, and referral-based marketing.

External Marketing

Advertising is the most common form of external marketing. It basically involves the placement of an ad in such media as newspapers, yellow pages, direct mail, billboards, television, radio, and, of course, the Internet. Advertising is also the largest marketing expense.

Community involvement and support put your name and reputation in clear view. Membership in your local Chamber of Commerce, school screenings, participation in community health fairs, and patient sponsorships play a small but important role in creating the name-recognition and reputation that you are seeking.

Internal Marketing

This is everything done inside the practice—it’s what makes your office and staff special. Other than basics like customer service and giving patients straight teeth when the braces come off, what you should focus on in this area are the benefits that your practice offers.

Our office prides itself on providing an environment that is not only professional but fun as well. The staff is friendly and outgoing; they make a sincere effort to make the patient’s experience enjoyable at every visit. They acknowledge patient accomplishments, never forget birthdays, and sing a mean “deband song,” so that the patients whose treatment is over leave our practice as raving ambassadors. There is always some kind of game or contest going on. Our Share-A-Smile Program Contest is our most popular. Cards are given to every patient asking them to please share their smile with a friend. Those who do become eligible to win prizes that include Disneyland tickets, back-to-school shopping sprees, and a video game system.

Technology can work as a marketing tool for every orthodontic office. We offer our patients the convenience of an online patient-communication system. This system allows our patients to receive email appointment reminders and obtain appointment and account information directly from our Web site,

Referral-Based Marketing

This segment of marketing deals primarily with the referrals that your practice receives from general dentists. These referrals are extremely valuable, so make sure that your referring dental offices are respected, perhaps even pampered. Physician-to-physician lunches are important, but what about the general dentist’s staff? Believe it or not, that’s where your referrals begin. Remember, everyone is in marketing, so why not have your staff form a relationship with the referring dentist’s staff? Have your staff take them to lunch, become their friends, and—most important—educate them. Make sure that they know everything your practice has to offer their patients.

Marketing Budgets

Once a marketing plan and goals have been developed, you need a budget. Remember to make sure that your marketing budget reflects the marketing goals that you’ve set. Most practices allocate 4%–5% of the previous year’s total collection to marketing. For example, if a practice collected $500,000 one year, then the marketing budget for the next year would be somewhere between $20,000 and $25,000.

When you spend money on marketing, don’t forget to create a way to track those marketing efforts. It is absolutely vital that every new patient is asked how and where he or she heard about you. Tracking is essential because it enables you to notice when a marketing tactic isn’t working. You can then quickly replace it with a better method.

Every orthodontic practice is in marketing, just at different levels. The key is to find the level that works. Remember that marketing doesn’t have to be complicated. All it requires to be successful is a plan, goals, and teamwork.

Charlene Gale is the chief marketing officer at Snow Orthodontics in Palmdale, Calif. She can be reached at (661) 273-1750.