Dental Business Coach – easter eggs, holidays and how times have changed

chris barrow dental business coach

As we enter a new year, Chris Barrow reflects on the simpler times of dental practice marketing and the reality of consumer confidence in the current climate. 

My first full-time year as a Dental Business Coach was 1997 and, back in the day, dental practice marketing embraced:

  • A brass plaque on the wall outside the practice with the names and qualifications of the clinicians and (maybe) opening hours
  • A standard box in the yellow pages
  • A tri-fold patient information leaflet, repeating the information on the brass plaque and adding key treatment modalities.


Not much call then for a marketing manager or a treatment co-ordinator. No such thing as a website.

There was still another 21 months before the launch of Google, so there was no need for SEO then.

And, of course, no social media or the digital advertising associated with it. Goodness me, no. We are still almost eight years away from the launch of Facebook and 10 years from the first iPhone.

Finally, no sign of a variety of treatments from whitening to all-on-4 that simply hadn’t yet been developed or made available for the ‘ordinary folks’.

Ah – what a simpler life!

In the NHS – drill, fill and bill.

In the private sector, get your patients in to a dental plan and then upsell functional dentistry with ‘a better-quality lab and a better fit’.

And yet, in my first days advising clients, I don’t seem to remember many (if any) complaining about a lack of patients and/or business.

My early clients wanted to know how better to analyse their finances and the essentials of time management.

I was quoting Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey and The Entrepreneurial Time System by Dan Sullivan.

Their patients wanted affordable family care if they were at all bothered about their dental health.

When we look at the list of reasons to be miserable or anxious in dentistry today, none of them existed 25 years ago – that’s progress for you.

Thankfully, there are also many reasons to be cheerful that didn’t exist back in the day.

Is consumer confidence plummeting?

In last month’s column I wrote about the difference between consumer confidence and consumer preference. I wondered whether, in the pre-Christmas media hype on ‘crisis’ this and ‘crisis’ that, consumers would stop spending altogether. Or simply think more carefully about the direction of their spending.

The Guardian reported rather enigmatically on 3 January 2023:

‘Footfall on Britain’s high streets and shopping centres plunged by more than a quarter in the week after Christmas compared with the week before, figures show.

‘Shoppers opted to stay at home, as last week footfall was 27.7% lower than the week before and 19.7% down on the same week in 2019, retail data analysts Springboard said.

‘It was only 7.2% higher than the same week in 2021, when shoppers stayed away from high streets due to the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid.

‘The retail experts said a key reason for this difference was that last week began on Christmas Day, a Sunday, when footfall is typically at its lowest, but the year before it began on Boxing Day.

‘There was a surge in shoppers on Boxing Day 2022, when footfall rose 38.8% higher than in 2021. The gap between the end of 2021 and 2022 was at its narrowest on New Year’s Eve, with footfall 1.9% higher in 2022.’

By the time you have worked your way through that lot, it strikes me that The Guardian are (typically) trying very hard to make a drama out of not very much.

They have measured footfall, not spend (we await those numbers). And overall, it doesn’t seem quite so bad – just preference on which days the shopping took place: +38.80% on Boxing Day and +1.90% on New Year’s Eve.

Make yourself a preference

I suggest that we are still looking at preference and not confidence.

Which swings me nicely back to my original point that, 25 years ago, not only did consumers have much less choice on how and where to spend their money, but also patients.

Today, the choices are bewildering and the noise is deafening.

So, we all begin 2023 in competition with those other choices – white goods, home improvements, electronics, holidays, fashion, entertainment, leisure.

My adult children were the first to alert me to the fact that, on Friday 30 December, Easter Eggs were on sale in a local supermarket. Even they thought it was taking the proverbial.

Do yourself a favour and make sure that your January marketing is sufficiently engaging that it will be preferable to a cheap holiday, a ‘buy now, pay later’ sofa or a chocolate egg.

Marketing is about making yourself a preference.

Catch up on previous Dental Business Coach columns:

Follow on Instagram to keep up with all the latest dental news and trends.

Get the most out of your membership by subscribing to Dentistry CPD
  • Access 600+ hours of verified CPD courses
  • Includes all GDC recommended topics
  • Powerful CPD tracking tools included
Register for webinar
Add to calendar