Tips for developing your messaging and getting that message out

COVID-19 rocked the orthodontic industry. Unprecedented practice closures upended 2020 revenue projections and significantly reshaped how the practice went about the day-to-day once offices reopened. But with 2020 quickly coming to a close, it’s time to plan for 2021.

As the pandemic continues, a lot remains uncertain. But there are steps you can take to make sure your practice’s marketing message is on strong footing. Orthodontic Products spoke to Andrea De La Cerda, director of vertical marketing at the digital marketing company Scorpion, to find out what message orthodontic practices should be sharing with potential and current patients, and how to get that message out.

Orthodontic Products: Scorpion has been looking at search trends for orthodontics to monitor the impact of the pandemic on orthodontic practices. What does the data tell you and what should orthodontists take away from these numbers?

Andrea De La Cerda: By monitoring orthodontic-related search traffic, conversion and client acquisition statistics, and data from companies like Google and Microsoft, we’re able to see the difference between the expected baseline for orthodontics practices and the numbers we’re currently observing.

We’ve been able to document a natural decline, plateau, and re-growth in the industry. While most industries, including orthodontists, had cause for concern during the initial shutdowns of the pandemic, today is a completely different story. While some businesses continue to struggle to adapt to this new normal, interest in orthodontic and similar services has actually rebounded to their pre-pandemic level.

With that in mind, we’ve found that the best thing for orthodontists to do right now is simply reach out to their customers (new and existing) to let them know that they’ve re-opened, are following designated safety guidelines, and are accepting appointments.

OP: How should orthodontists prepare for future growth?

De La Cerda: It’s important not to focus on what could have or should have been in 2020. Instead, look forward to the future and focus on how to innovate and pivot toward full recovery.

Practice owners must honestly evaluate their original plans for 2020. Where do you predict you’ll fall at the end of 2020 in relation to your original goal? What’s the gap? What have you done or can continue to do to close that gap? New revenue streams? New services?

OP: When it comes to messaging and branding their practices for the year ahead, what should orthodontists be doing right now?

De La Cerda: There are three messages they should be communicating to their patients right now.

  1. Orthodontic health is related to overall health.
  2. Your commitment to infection prevention measures has always been important to your practice.
  3. Any other ways you’re innovating to make their experience safer, more convenient, and more affordable.

Focusing your communication around these three messages will increase patients’ confidence in your practice during a time when many are letting safety concerns take priority over their oral health.

OP: You mentioned that orthodontic practices should be emphasizing to their patients the infection prevention measures they’ve put in place. How should they frame this message?

De La Cerda: There are two things related to this topic that they should be communicating now.

First, make sure to communicate that infection prevention measures have always been a priority for your office. Infection prevention is a critical component to all oral healthcare, so this is not a new topic or area of focus.

However, you should also make it clear that you’ve increased the level of attention you’re giving to infection prevention and explicitly describe the procedures you’ve put in place. Letting patients know what to expect before they come to your office, as well as what you’re doing that they may not see or be aware of, is important to build trust.

The best place to get this message out is front and center on your website. Banners with a link to a FAQ/COVID information page have been very effective for our clients. Video is another great way to explain what you’re doing, as it lets patients see the precautions you’re taking for themselves, along with giving you an opportunity to connect with them in a more human way. Some of our clients have also framed this message in a more lighthearted way by using social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram.

OP: When making the connection between oral health and overall health, what are the points orthodontists should be making to patients?

De La Cerda: We know that proper alignment helps ensure proper cleaning of the teeth and can prevent the need for complicated, invasive dental treatment down the road, but the general public doesn’t necessarily think of it this way. Many consumers still fail to consider orthodontics as anything other than cosmetic, so there is an opportunity to educate your audience about other benefits of early care: preventing crowding, maintaining space when baby teeth fall out early, damage from bad oral habits, and more.

OP: Many practices have been implementing new innovations to maintain continuity of care during the pandemic. For those practices that haven’t been thinking about innovation, what should they know? And how does innovation play into their messaging for 2021?

De La Cerda: The pandemic has caused a dramatic shift in consumer behavior and expectations. The way practices respond to their desires will determine whether those patients come back or choose a new provider. When new patients are shopping around, they may now evaluate orthodontists more strictly on things like convenience, price, payor options, home delivery, etc. The way an orthodontist is communicating about how they have responded with more options is important to stand out among their local competitors. Are teledentistry consultations an option? If I choose aligners, can they be delivered to my house? Are there affordable payment options available, particularly for those patients who may have lost their job or no longer have insurance, but still need care?

OP: Once an orthodontist has their message ready, how do they reach the right audience? 

De La Cerda: We tell our clients that a multi-channel (or omnichannel) approach is extremely important when you begin executing your marketing plan. A carefully crafted blog post on one of the topics I mentioned above could very thoroughly explain your practice’s point of view and the benefits you are bringing to patients, but if no one visits your website and clicks on the link, it won’t have an impact.

Given the sheer number of digital channels that are available, being right where your audience is at any given time is a complex problem to solve. But at a minimum, in addition to your website, your content should be easily found on your social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Display ads and PPC campaigns are another great way to drive traffic and push your message out to a much larger, more targeted audience.

OP: With regard to a practice’s online presence, what type of housekeeping should practices be doing to ensure their messaging has impact? 

De La Cerda: Your marketing content cannot be “one-and-done” or “set-and-forget.” Keeping content current and refreshed on a regular basis is important to stay relevant.

Also, choose your channels carefully, and make sure your content resonates with the questions and considerations your different patients have.

Young people are especially wary of stale, generic sales messages. If you’re an orthodontist that targets a younger audience, pay attention to the channels they use and the types of content that they want to engage with. If you’re targeting an older demographic, you may want to make sure that your messages lead with the things they’re thinking about most like payor options and alternative product offerings, such as clear aligners.

OP: Some practices remain skeptical about the utility of social media as part of their marketing strategy. Why should they engage with social media?

De La Cerda: We recommend that our clients think about social media primarily as a brand builder, rather than a lead generator. Leads can of course come from social media, but more often, it is best used as an opportunity to show your personality, gain credibility, build trust, and engage with your community. Make it fun!

OP: Can you give some examples of how orthodontists should use social media?

De La Cerda: Social media can be used in many creative ways. Featuring patient testimonials/reviews, before/after photos, “behind the scenes” stories, and videos that help educate your audience about important topics are all content ideas that we’ve seen patients respond positively to. We’ve also seen orthodontists get creative with their young patients by participating in TikTok challenges or interactive contests with the younger members of their audience. Getting involved in the community and highlighting the ways your office gives back are also always well-received on social media.

OP: As practices deal with the financial impact of the pandemic, why should advertising remain a key line item for the future?

De La Cerda: When we look back at economic downturns throughout recent history, it’s immediately clear that the businesses that kept their marketing campaigns going—or even increased their budgets—were the ones that were able to make it through crises more successfully than those who didn’t.

And from a practical standpoint, it makes sense. When fewer companies are advertising and demand is low, the cost of digital ads goes down, and the opportunity for leads goes way up. So, competitors who are able to stay in the game benefit from more leads at a lower cost.

Furthermore, the added expenses associated with adhering to new guidelines for treating patients during COVID-19 are likely to drive up the cost of care. As a result, you need a marketing plan that will help you bring in more revenue and fill any gaps you expect to see at the end of the year. OP