How high quality practices weaken their brand by using the word ‘free’

Dental marketing expert, Shaz Memon, shares nine ways to offer complimentary care to your patients.

‘Free’ is a hugely powerful and persuasive concept. The notion of boosting sales with giveaways, bonuses and complimentary gifts and services is a popular marketing strategy for many businesses.

Commonly known as the ‘reciprocity principle’, the idea is that people often feel obliged to return a favour when something is given to them. This makes for a powerful marketing tool, helping to attract new clients, as well as retain existing customers.

The secret to successfully rewarding clients lies in maintaining authenticity, being relevant and appearing altruistic in nature – even if the end game is obviously to boost sales. At the very least, the recipient needs to feel the goodwill gesture is sincere, even if they may also understand that, ultimately, it forms part of a company’s ethical marketing strategy.

So, what place, if any, does this have in dentistry?

Free dentistry

The concept of complimentary care and products to complement your dentistry can seem somewhat of an anomaly within a clinical setting.

The term ‘free’ in itself not only creates a poor image of the practice, it may also jar with those patients seeking high quality care. ‘Free’ can weaken a brand and reduce the overall appeal for a practice that strives to maintain a reputation as a safe and respected environment in which a qualified and trustworthy dental team cares for its patients.

It is also worth remembering that patient loyalty is not something that can be bought and that the patient-clinician dynamic is clearly one that needs to be nurtured over time and, fundamentally, built on trust – not secured with a free goodie bag at a first consultation.

However, what a complimentary approach can do is raise the ‘feel-good factor’ within your practice. If done well, dental practices can turn kind gestures into profit without cheapening their brand.

Even now, some dentists remain uncomfortable with dental marketing as a concept, but adding value to the patient experience with gift-giving is acceptable if it complements your style of dentistry and reflects your brand and practice ethos.

A giveaway and gift strategy can be useful in establishing on-going and purposeful engagement with patients.

Gifting reinforces the message that yours is a giving and generous practice and is a great way of maintaining contact with existing patients, whilst reminding those who have lapsed that you’re still interested in their welfare.

Patient retention is key to sustainable growth and freebies can ‘reward’ those patients who are already committed, whilst enticing others who are simply interested parties.

How to avoid weakening your brand

Below are a few pointers to avoid weakening your band whilst pleasing patients with your generosity:

  1. Choose your words wisely. Whilst everyone loves something for nothing, phrases in your dental marketing should reflect your brand. I suggest using ‘complimentary’ or ‘thank-you gift’ rather than ‘free’ when referring to moments of customer appreciation
  1. Don’t forget, time is money too! A complimentary gift does not necessarily have to be tangible and you may consider time as an asset to gift to patients. A free initial examination for new patients or those referred by family or friends gives them an opportunity to familiarise themselves with your team. A free consultation with your hygiene team is also beneficial. They can use tools, such as an intraoral camera, to really involve them in their own care and offer advice on habits and lifestyle to show them the benefits of regular attendance.Free time may also come in the form of an open evening. Patients are very often interested in seeing how their smile can be transformed, so an evening dedicated to Invisalign, for example, offers interested parties an opportunity for a free initial consultation as well as a digital scan and projection of what their teeth could look like should they go ahead with treatment. If you have an Itero scanner, you could offer to take digital impressions of their smile and share instant possible results
  1. Do consider patient comfort as a gift. Differentiate your practice from the rest by offering complimentary services that add value to their dental experience and make their appointment less stressful. Anxiety control, weighted blankets, noise-cancelling headphones and video glasses are all added bonuses for patients in the chair. Consider creating a calming environment in the waiting room, too, with quiet gentle music to mask the noise of a busy reception desk and a diffuser with essential oils the general smells of a dental practice. You can also make it more appealing with added extras, such as free wifi, complimentary water, healthy snacks and fruit to take away. It’s the little things that patients consider important and value. You could even extend your generosity to local artists and use the waiting room to display their artwork for free, or list local events, organisations and clubs. This not only adds value to the patients’ time spent waiting, but also demonstrates a community spirit
  1. Don’t forget the children. Children are patients, too, and it is important to make their experience a positive one. If your demographic includes families and you have the capacity, consider creating a safe space specifically for your younger patients. During the school holidays, run a competition offering rewards for completing their appointment or create brushing stations, with a DIY photo booth. Let your team’s imagination run wild – it doesn’t have to come with a heavy price tag!
  1. Do make your gifts meaningful. A selection of hygiene products, a dental timer or lip balm and sugar-free mints are all great gifts to have displayed on the reception desk or pop into goodie bags. Dental-related gifts show an ethos of care long after they’ve walked out of the practice door. There is nothing wrong with branded key rings or pens, but oral health is the name of the game and the relevance of gifts is important. Free education, information and resources in the form of downloads, leaflets and signposts are also great ideas
  1. Do make customers feel special. The personalisation of a gift or complimentary service can be tailored – either by their demographic, their specific dental profile or with a self-selection process on a range of opportunities. Alternatively, you can personalise a generic gift by accompanying it with a handwritten note
  1. Don’t leave it until Christmas. We can all get overwhelmed in the run-up to the festive season by the sheer amount of presents and gifts. Birthdays, therefore, are an ideal opportunity to remind patients of their dental needs and a great excuse to make contact with a card or a gift. A birthday remembered can bring a smile to anyone’s face. Use the date as an opportunity to reach out in a constructive way. Alternatively, consider sending a ‘thank you’ card or gift to new patients or any of your patients completing a lengthy dental treatment with you as a sign of your gratitude. Make sure the card is handwritten and by all the team members who meet the patient on their first day or were involved in the journey. It also serves as a good reminder to everyone that another patient has trusted in them and the practice!
  1. Do use social media to promote your generosity. Dental marketing is made easy with social media and, if you choose the right hashtags, you will elicit interest from those who are already engaged in the online search for a dentist. By offering complimentary services and products, you set yourself apart from your competitors
  1. Manners cost nothing! And finally, do ensure your team are on side with your customer care ethos. All the gifts in the world cannot make up for poor communication skills, a patient ignored or a phone unanswered. And, if a patient makes an effort to leave a great five-star Google review, do remember to post a ‘thank you’.

The end goal for most practice owners is threefold:

  • To improve the oral health of their patients and to build upon this satisfied patient base
  • To practise without falling foul of regulators or attracting complaints
  • To make a profit.

Complimentary gifting – done tastefully and if authentic and relevant – can successfully support all three. A good gift doesn’t have to be expensive but it simply has to illustrate that yours is a careful and considered business.

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