Do patients buy into your brand?

Customer loyalty is key to success, says Kevin Coyle

Welcome to the first in a series of articles looking at practical and helpful ways to improve the marketing of your practice. In this first article, I want to look more closely at the backdrop of trading conditions in which you are currently operating.

As I split my time between Ireland and the UK, I have an acute awareness of the different factors, which practices focus on and one of the most obvious is what constitutes competition. In Ireland, I have noticed more of a focus on other dental practices (or geographic regions) and what they are doing, while in the UK, in many of the practices I have worked with there is a tendency to focus on what the patient is doing.

I think the most beneficial use of time is focusing on the patient – attracting and retaining them is key to having a successful and profitable business.

I appreciate that we may be in the middle of the toughest economic period in living memory, as many of the financial experts on Vincent Browne are only too eager to tell us; however, one fact is inescapable – people are still spending money. Admittedly there is less of it to spend, but this means we have to work much harder to ensure a share.

Over the last few years, I have visited dental practices in most areas of the country, quite frequently having overnight stays in towns I hadn’t visited in a very long time. It’s true that they appear quieter, with pubs and restaurants less busy than in the halcyon days of the Celtic Tiger. However, there are still venues in which you have to book well in advance to ensure a table. What makes these businesses succeed where many are failing? I believe it’s by offering a good service, a product people like and at a fair price.

Perhaps the strongest evidence I have seen of people spending money was at Dublin Airport a few weeks ago. While waiting for a delayed flight, I had time to wander and have a coffee and frankly couldn’t believe the patriotic sea of green in front of my eyes. To put the numbers into context, 4,000 English football fans flew out to support their national team during the Euro 2012 campaign. Thirty thousand of our Irish fans flew out. Not bad for a country in which I’ve frequently heard it said “nobody has any money to spend”.

If that were truly the case, would electrical stores still be selling 40“ LCD screens, would there still be new cars on the road and would Dublin Airport be as busy as it is in this holiday period?

My point, to reiterate, is that although there is dramatically less money, there is still money and there are still people spending it. So the marketing challenge isn’t competing with other dental practices, it’s competing with other businesses. It’s making the health benefits of regular attendance at a dental practice loud and clear. It’s fighting for business.

This may be something that dentists are traditionally not experienced at, comfortable with or, indeed, even trained to do. The cold hard fact, however, is that it’s where we are and possibly for a long time to come. It’s a straightforward choice, fight for business or potentially fail.

The clinical standards I have seen throughout Ireland are exceptional, and the fabric of many practices outstanding, yet they are very rarely talked about. One of the things I most frequently hear is it’s cheaper up north or abroad, how can we compete?” Having a clear, positive brand and message that patients can buy into and remain loyal to will be one of the areas I will focus on in the coming months.

Remember, you’re not competing with another practice or another geographic area, you’re competing for spend in general. The way to do this isn’t through reducing your prices, it’s by regularly communicating with patients, offering a good service, having an oral health message and focusing on the best interest of the patient. Again, these topics will be looked at in detail in future articles.

If there are any specific areas of marketing you would like covered, please feel free to email me and I will address them.


About the author

Kevin Coyle is managing director of Practice Workshop, a healthcare marketing agency. He has worked with hundreds of dental practices across Ireland and the UK. To contact Kevin, call 086 227 3536 or email kevin@practiceworkshop.com