Orthodontic marketing – how has it been changed by the pandemic?
The orthodontic industry has always been highly competitive and probably more so now. Neil Hillyard looks at how to market effectively in COVID-19 times.
Neil Hillyard is a co-director of Hillyard MacDonald, a patient engagement and practice development company specialising in orthodontics.
He is the author of one of the UK’s most popular patient-focused orthodontic blogs. He was also one of the founding members of the British Orthodontic Society Patient Panel.
In the last few weeks, we have seen practices starting to slowly migrate towards ‘normal’ operations. What the new normal looks like is still a work in progress. The priority is to implement new operating procedures and get used to delivering a service with enhanced PPE.
It’s easy to overlook some of the important patient focussed tasks you still need to undertake. One of these tasks is marketing. In this article, we will look at what may have changed since the significant disruption to dental services that took place in March.
Did this really happen?
Prior to COVID-19 becoming part of our everyday vocabulary, most practices focused on marketing their practice through both traditional and digital promotion.
Those slightly further advanced on their marketing journey were leveraging the benefits afforded by an established group of enthusiastic patients to further increase their reach.
Then in March, every dental practice found themselves in the same situation of having to quickly close. This brought disruption, and in a number of cases, significant hardship.
One of the first areas of expenditure to review when income is unpredictable is promotion. This is often mistakenly seen as an unnecessary overhead. Many orthodontic practices cut back on their spending with just a small percentage maintaining or appearing to increase their spend and efforts in this area.
Steep learning curve
In the early days of lockdown this would’ve had little impact on their ability to promote themselves in the future. However, as time wore on, many practices quickly realised that patients keen to start treatment still existed and needed nurturing.
With practices closed, it was not possible to follow the traditional sales route. Some implemented remote consultations using video to ensure a healthy supply of patients once they were able to resume operations.
As practices adopted their approach to promoting the treatments they provide without the familiarity of having the patient at the practice, there would’ve been a steep learning curve.
We’ve had a good response from patients, from the feedback we have received and remote consultations have work well. Patients liked the opportunity to directly engage with someone from the practice and to get their questions answered. Team members were pleasantly surprised that remote consultations were far easier than they expected.
Where do we go from here?
Now that the majority of practices are open, should you resume what you have always done? The answer is probably not. What worked for you before, may not work for you in the same way in the future. It’s not a bad thing that the market place that you operate in has changed.
Orthodontics has always been highly competitive. This is probably the case more so now that there has been a period of inactivity to catch up on.
Let’s start with looking at the market place. Are there fewer people looking for orthodontic treatment? Probably not and maybe just a few more as we have all had time to reflect on personal care and our longer-term wellbeing.
Has the number of options for providers of treatment increased in this time? Surprisingly, the answer is yes.
This is because a number of the direct to consumer aligner companies continued promoting themselves heavily throughout this period and at a time when others were quiet. People wanting to get their teeth straightened become increasingly aware of practice services as they could not get served elsewhere during this time.
If you review their marketing, they subtly turned some of the negatives of lockdown into benefits. While there will always be those who prefer seeing an orthodontist, there are an increasing number of people who are discussing their ‘lower-cost’ and ‘more convenient’ treatment on social media.
This is something you will need to address as you resume your marketing and attempt to reach out to those who are now potentially more aware of other ways to straighten their teeth.
In recent weeks, patients have become keen to catch up on lost time and to find out more about starting treatment. Many people become motivated when provided with the finish date of treatment.
With so many trips and events postponed until next year, the demand for treatment from those keen to get their new straight white smile is likely to only increase.
Restarting your marketing
When restarting your marketing, give some thought to what messages your patients may want to hear. Life has not yet returned to normal and patients will have an awareness of this. Some will need additional reassurance that now is a good time to start treatment.
Some may expect that catching up with those already in treatment should be priority. If you are taking on new patients, make this clear. Otherwise, out of courtesy, you may find patients going elsewhere.
COVID-19 is likely to be with us for some time and your marketing needs to reflect this. The popularity of aligners is likely to further increase as patients realise this option allows them to continue treatment – especially if practices find they need to close again in the future.
No one wants to wear a fixed appliance for longer than necessary. One should think about how the challenges faced during the last few months can transform into positives in your marketing messages.
Your practice marketing should be constantly evolving. This is not the time to stand still and do what you have always done. If practices look after their patients through times of closure, goodwill builds up significantly.
If practices take the opportunity to showcase their wonderful patients, it could prove advantageous. Think about who a prospective patient is more likely to listen to, you or another satisfied patient?
If remote consultations have worked for others, why not give it a try as part of your new approach to marketing to patients. It allows you to see patients at different times and in a way that is more convenient for them.
This helps to make your clinic time more valuable and acts as a useful filter to screen those not yet decided upon starting treatment.
Engage on a human level
The influence of TikTok highlights a significant shift in patient marketing. So many practices are now posting much more engaging and fun content. Teams making light of their new PPE and preparing welcoming content has become the new public face of dentistry.
If you are yet to embrace this, give it a go – you might be pleasantly surprised with the response you get.
COVID-19 has caused much disruption to dentistry but has also provided an opportunity to rethink how you engage with patients. There is an opportunity to use technology such as remote consultations to streamline your sales process.
Also, to engage on a much more human level with others who have been caught up in this shared experience. There are many lessons to learn from COVID-19 from an orthodontic marketing perspective.
You can’t afford to not adapt and engage otherwise those with a keener eye for new patients will find themselves very busy indeed.
This article first appeared in Private Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here.