by Betty Zuelke

How to plan, budget, and tell the difference between marketing and advertising

The first step in any marketing plan is to establish a marketing budget in advance and to make a commitment to spend the entire budget. Every marketing program will fail if the budget is inadequate or nonexistent.

I often see practices cut back on their marketing budgets when times are tough or when income is down. This cannot be allowed to happen. If anything, when times are tough and when new patient flow is down, the marketing budget should be increased! A typical marketing budget should be a minimum of 2% of your practice’s annual gross production.

Next, there must be a “master plan.” A number of marketing-related items should be a part of each and every patient day so they become a natural part of your day-to-day practice life. These daily items become the basis for your marketing master plan. Many other activities, such as patient parties and various contests, should be instituted on a rotating basis. Also incorporate seasonally related items into your master plan as each season arrives. Some of these items may not be considered under the heading of “marketing,” but their presence or absence quite often will be the difference that sets your practice above the rest.

When a practice gets busy or is short-staffed, and during other routine periods of stress, oftentimes the staff does not seem to have the time available to continue the marketing techniques that make patients feel special and allow your practice to stay on the leading edge. All too often—in fact, from my experience, most often—day-to-day marketing is the first casualty of a stressed-out practice. In a vicious cycle, this reduced marketing results in fewer new-patient exams and further stress. It is, therefore, critically important that the extraordinary things you do for your patients and your referral sources do not go by the wayside as you grow busier or find yourself dealing with the everyday stress of operating a busy practice.

I suggest that you create a list of the marketing tasks you are currently doing and a separate list of new ideas you might like to implement. The goal would be to implement several new items each month without dropping what you are currently doing.

Since all offices and all positions are filled with different personality types, there will be marketing tasks that become favorites of each person on your staff. Each staff member can choose from the list what will be the easiest task for her to incorporate into her daily routine. All staff members can help with idea enhancement, contest promotion, seasonal decoration, and adding to the customer-service theme.

The great majority of the initial organization of your marketing plan will need to be accomplished by the administrative staff. The Treatment Coordinator will always have more marketing-related tasks on her basic job description list, since internal, community, and professional-source marketing are key parts of her job. For that reason, one person should be directing the marketing master plan. However, every person on staff, including the orthodontist, must view marketing the practice as an essential part of his or her daily job.

The Difference Between Marketing and Advertising

Betty Zuelke

It is very important that you fully understand the differences between marketing and advertising. Although there are many differences, the most basic one is simple: Advertising is impersonal, general communication to a large group of unknowns. Marketing is much more focused. For instance, whereas a direct-mail piece on the benefits of orthodontic care sent to all people in a certain area is advertising, a lecture to a high school health class on the benefits of orthodontic care is community marketing.

Community (external) marketing is the work done by your practice team to your market area as a whole to enhance your practice’s reputation, educate potential patients about the quality of your practice, and let people know that your practice welcomes new patients.

Internal marketing is the work someone in your practice (the orthodontist or a staff member) does to make patients feel great about their experience within your practice and to encourage them to refer their friends and to speak about your practice to other people in the community. Internal marketing is also the work your practice team does to make your patient’s experience within your practice positive, rewarding, and exciting.

The third, equally important, type of marketing is marketing to your professional referral sources.

Quality marketing takes many forms, but the best lessons to learn are to know the difference between marketing and advertising, focus on marketing, and never cross the line into advertising.

Betty Zuelke is an orthodontic consultant specializing in the area of case acceptance and marketing with special emphasis on treatment coordinator training. She co-authored the book Quality Marketing for Quality Patients, which is available at She can be reached at