An open letter to a young dentist
I received your nice 4 color mailer yesterday advertising a two-for-one deal on restorative dentistry. My first reaction was to laugh out loud, show it to my wife and then take it out to the big blue recycling can where it belongs. And yet, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I even woke up at 4:00 AM today haunted by that ad.
I do wish you some success with the promotion; after all it probably cost you somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000 to buy the mailing list, have the cards printed and then mailed. But I suspect that it won’t do well at all. I’d like to take an opportunity to explain why it won’t be worth the price you’ve paid and in fact might even be damaging. And, as a young dentist who probably has an uncomfortable pile of debt, you can’t really afford a failed marketing campaign.
I don’t know you personally, but I do know you practice in a nice building in a rather high-rent part of town. Although there are some people who view dentistry as a commodity—a crown is a crown is a crown whether done by Dr. A or Dr. XYZ—you should appreciate the fact that the public isn’t stupid. In fact, your potential patients/clients are becoming more and more sophisticated all the time. You might doubt that when you witness the results of elections, but it is true never-the-less.
Most people have some appreciation for the fact that a dental restoration is not a cup of Starbucks coffee (one free cup after you buy 10), or a tire (Buy 3 and get the 4th one free).
Besides, nobody wants a veneer anyway. I certainly don’t and you probably don’t either. So why try to sell one? I also don’t want crowns or root canals; do you?
People want teeth that look good, feel good, and last a long time. Sometimes it takes doing veneers or crowns or root canals or even implant surgery to achieve those things, but it’s not the veneer or crown that anybody is really after. They may, however, want what the crown or veneer will do for them.
That is a distinction that I hope is not lost on you.
Buy one, get one free? Really, Doctor? And just why might that approach be damaging? Because it sends the wrong message to the public: the dental restoration as a widget that they might just as well buy at Ace Hardware, if only they could install it themselves. The intelligent person will avoid your office because he or she knows that it’s not the veneer she’s buying—and seeing your ad will make her wonder whether you know that yourself.
The less informed person who thinks that after all a veneer is a veneer whether the dentist has it made in a deep discount high-volume lab in the Philippines or by a master ceramist who accepts only a very small number of elite dentists as clients, won’t appreciate the vast differences in quality, fit and appearance. If your ad does succeed in attracting new patients, they are likely to be the least appreciative of good dentistry. And high quality dentistry is the standard in your community.
Although, as I said at the beginning, I don’t know you personally I do know some of the men and women who practice in your neighborhood. Whether we like to acknowledge it or not, dentists are in competition with each other. Strange situation isn’t it? We’re colleagues but we compete. And in your neighborhood, you face some tough competition. Even if you decide to compete on price, you’d better to be ready to deliver with a high level of personal care and expertise, because patients in your neighborhood know that those things are available. And if they see you advertising widgets, I think they will steer clear of your practice—I think you’ll lose.
So, if you get it through your head that you’re not selling veneers and crowns, just what are you offering? All dentists have varying levels of care, skill and judgment. That is all you have to offer and all you ever will have.
When I was just a boy in dentistry, I know that while I was skilled enough to graduate from dental school and pass a tough California State Board, my level of skill and judgment made me no more than a safe beginner. Perhaps that describes you at this point in your career. For most of us, care, skill and judgment increase with lots of time and experience. That is where your emphasis needs to be. Not in widgets.
Why is this an open letter, available for anyone to read? Because I see a growing trend of widget advertising in dentistry. And I think it will fail. Dentists who make it known that they have a high level of care, skill and judgment will beat widget advertising every time—whether it be through in-house marketing or out-house marketing as the dental genius Omer Reed used to put it.
Remember, nobody wants to buy a veneer or any other commodity from you. They simply want teeth that look good, feel good and last a long time. Can you give that to them?
I’m not advocating that I write your next ad, but if you emphasize friendly staff, clean office with proper sterilization you might do better. If you promote a gentle touch and an artist’s eye and hand with beautiful results, you would certainly do better. Then make sure you’re ready to deliver.