If you had to choose one, and you had a monthly budget of just $1,000, which would you pick: marketing for new patients or marketing to existing patients?
If your practice is under a year old, you’d most likely pick marketing for new patents. But if you have a base of patients – say 500 to 1,000 or more – your best bet with a limited budget is investing in the relationship you have with your existing patients. (Most dentists, keep in mind, over-estimate the number of active patients, which in my world, are only those with a “next” appointment.”)
The easiest way I’ve found from over two decades in business, to increase referrals, decrease attrition (a silent practice killer), grow and improve your patient relationships, is to communicate with them, via the written word, pictures and stories, all printed and mailed to them every single month, just like clockwork. In effect, yes, a patient newsletter. (But, not one chock full of dental information.)Here’s why: After sending tens of millions of direct mail pieces, including millions of patient newsletters, having ownership in multiple dental practices, a dental assisting school and numerous other businesses, I’ve learned that ongoing consistent investment in communications to your existing customer, client or patient base is the smartest marketing move you can make. Period.
Investing in your patient relationships is where you play what’s called the “long game.” What’s more, this kind of investment provides the highest ROI for the least amount of risk and effort. Yet it fuels both types of income in your practice – the “now” money from procedures you do today (and generates patient referrals when properly executed), and, most importantly, builds the equity of your practice, which heavily influences your eventual selling price, by keeping your patients coming back and referring.
This is such an important and hugely successful concept, that in every business I’ve ever owned, one of the very first marketing strategies I implement is a newsletter. It absolutely crushed it for my DA school. We simply featured students and their stories and promoted the next class. Most importantly, we asked for referrals and got them. The students were over the top about being featured in the publication. This same technique, by the way, works for dental patients! What’s more, I’ve used this exact strategy to create and sell subscriptions to a real estate investing newsletter, a direct marketing newsletter, a direct mail newsletter, and multiple dental practice management and marketing newsletters (including one with my friend, Dan Kennedy).
I’ve witnessed the power of a simple newsletter first-hand. It was my #1 marketing choice for my Wellness Springs Dental® practice and, in fact, I’d go so far to say that it’s the substance that keeps my dentist Members “glued” and connected to me and my company.
Nothing can come close to the power of a newsletter. Not social media. Not regular postcard mailings to the masses or even targeted lists around your practice. Not anything done via email or other digital platform.
In fact, the only thing that comes remotely close is ensuring the personal attention (aka “the experience”) patients get when they visit your practice is the absolute best possible. For which, there is no comparison to a human:human interaction, live, and in-person. But, a patient newsletter sent to your best patients who pay, stay, refer and keep their appointments, is the next best thing to being there physically in your patients’ homes each and every month to remind them of you, your practice and your team!
I’m often asked by seminar attendees and during webinars, how to make a patient newsletter even more effective. You might imagine that after such broad application and experience, we’ve had a few breakthroughs here. Let me share a few:
How to kick your newsletter marketing into high-gear – you know…OVERDRIVE!
My suggestion would be to adapt one new strategy each month and after 10 months, you’ll have your patient newsletter working in 10 different ways – maximizing your return-on-investment and efforts. Here they are:
1. Add other business owners to your “patient list” even if they are not current patients. If your relationship is even remotely solid, I’m willing to bet they’ll refer, even if you are not their dentist. Relationships are funny that way. One never knows. Ask yourself: “Is it worth adding 10 people I do business with, investing $15 to $20 per year in each, to further our relationship, let them know they are important to me and potentially get a referral?” Unequivocally, yes!
2. Give away copies to your new patients immediately following their first appointment. All of my newsletter clients have us send extras so they can distribute even more in this fashion.
3. Do you have potential patients that have called and never appointed? SEND your newsletter to them with a short little note, thanking them for their call and interest. It’s EASY and highly effective because no one else will do this and it’s completely unexpected. Plus, add a little note offering a free consultation. I guarantee you’ll be the only dentist office to do that. And, isn’t that call worth investing in? Worth chasing a bit? Of course!
You likely spent upwards of $250 to $300 or more just to generate the call/lead! Why not invest a few dollars to convert them?
4. Email it. While email open rates are plummeting and Facebook is facing an uncertain future (even Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak is urging people to protect their privacy and delete their account) along with other social media platforms’ privacy issues, there might still be some value left in sending your newsletter by email to those who request it. Sending it via an email service like MailChimp, may be the easiest, lowest-cost solution. CAUTION: Email is first about deliverability and second, about the relationship you have with the “list.” If it’s a solid relationship, and those folks want to hear from you, you’ll have higher open and engagement rates. But, do not bet the farm on email. It’s just too fragile and nothing can replace the tactile advantage of an actual physical piece showing up in your patients’ homes.
5. FARM IT. No, don’t worry, you don’t have to herd any cows or pigs (personally, I’ve always wanted a big ranch!), but you can send your newsletter out to the closest 100, 200 or 500+ families that are not yet your patients with a nice offer welcoming them to the practice. It’s easy to do and frankly, it works, when the approach is just right.
6. If you want to do #5 at no cost, add a sponsor to your newsletter and get it done for ZERO dollars. A sponsor or “advertiser” might be your insurance agent, an orthodontist you always refer to, or, some other professional or patient-owned business in your community.
7. Got a new patient waiting (I hope not too long) in the reception area? Give ‘em a copy of your newsletter and ease their wait!
8. Public Placement. Take those extra copies and distribute them with other public relations-type efforts you are doing. Ask patients that have client-based businesses if you can leave multiple copies in their reception areas. This includes Chiropractors, MDs, etc. There’s NO place off limits when you think about it! We have even created special, “evergreen” editions that are without a date, and include new patient offers, too. That’s a great, under-the-radar way of attracting patients!
9. Want an easy way to get into the local newspaper? How about using your patient newsletter as a pre-printed INSERT into the local paper or local community or HOA paper? Just add a few new patient offers and you’re ready to go! People will more likely read the “news” than an ad, so again, it’s a stealthy way to get into homes you might not otherwise reach!
10. Inactive patients? Here’s an EASY, very profitable solution: Export your inactive patients and send them a copy of your patient newsletter with a special “reactivation offer” just for these patients for several months in a row.
You’ll be surprised, elated even, at the number of patients that come back.
Most that are not active just don’t think they have problems, so by your being in front of them regularly, it simply reminds them you are there when things really start to go bad again.
11. BONUS: Incorporate “lead generation” in your newsletter. Earlier this year, we debuted a brand-new service here at JJD called the Consumer Guides System™. It allows your existing patients (or non-patients) to respond to a lead generation ad in your patient newsletter (or other marketing) and request more information on a particular topic out of 10 different core dental topics. Seeing this in action is quite impressive. Imagine having an automated workforce getting information into your patients’ hands that educates them on sleep, ortho, sedation, implants, endo and so on. And, not only get it into their hands, but have automated follow-up to encourage the prospect or patient to make an appointment with you.
I’ve built multiple, successful and very profitable businesses on the backbone of a newsletter. Your dental practice isn’t any different. In fact, for my dental practices, it was the single most valuable marketing we did. Just the increase in referrals (when executed properly with the right content to the right list of patients) and decrease in attrition is well worth it.
Layering on these additional 11 strategies only adds to the success of deploying a strategic patient newsletter.