Dental Marketing’s Blind Side

I coached college basketball for 7 years, spending four years as an assistant and three as head coach at Division III Centenary College. As head coach, we unfortunately never had much talent or even a nice gym. But ask any of our opponents, coaches, and players about playing us, and each and every one of them would tell you they hated to play us, including the Division I teams on our schedule.

Why? Because, no matter the score, my teams were consistent at doing one thing really well: being aware of each and every situation, whether offense or defense and adjusting on the fly. This gave us a remarkable edge, gave our players confidence to compete hard and smart against superior foes, which was my first goal for our teams.

Fast forward to my marketing career, where situational intelligence is key to our success as a company and for our clients. My team and I use situational awareness to help our clients be as efficient as possible to get the most out of every marketing dollar, and to help advance their brands. Yet, when we observe how dentists approach marketing, it seems like they truly believe that there’s a marketing faucet: turn it on, and here come the patients. Obviously, there is nothing further from the truth. Even more shocking, is that most dentists remain situationally unaware of marketing’s empirical shifts, costing them time, money and opportunity.

Here are 4 key situations that are important to the success of dentists from a marketing perspective:

  1. Dental Marketing is Not a Thing– Can you imagine the CMO of Coke trying to hire “soft-drink” marketers? Or could you image American Express putting out an RFP for “credit card” marketers? It sounds absurd, right? And, some of you may be thinking, well ‘dental is different.’ That is simply not the case.Smart marketers and business people hire people with great ideas. That is why there’s no such thing as dental practice marketing. Marketing is a discipline that can be applied to any field. This is the equivalent to me asking my dentist, “what experience do you have working on male patients from New Jersey, and if you’ve only worked on a couple from Bayonne, I’m going to doubt your skills because I’m from Baton Rouge, LA.” It does not make any sense whatsoever.Now, would it be nice if someone had experience in dental? Absolutely. Would it be great if an agency had many dentists? Yes. Is it critical? Certainly not. It is still fair to ask dental marketers what good ideas they have. Imagine the good ideas dentists turn away because of their own biases about “dental practice marketing.” Worse, imagine the sunk investments and wasted opportunities derived from same old tactics that may be adopted because of these very biases.
  2. Marketing Delivers Patients– If it is done right, it can. The expectation, or better yet, the embedded belief that there’s a strong correlation between marketing and new patient acquisition is another amazing phenomenon seemingly unique to dental. We work across the board in healthcare, including with plastics, which relies highly on retail marketing, much more than dental. Yet, in plastics, there’s more of an integrated approach to marketing and fewer tactics (though it exists) because plastic surgeons have been there, and done that, and are now more situationally aware of the nature of marketing and how to deploy it to grow their practice.Marketing can deliver more patients, depending on its quality and consistency. Like the laws of physics, empirical formulas of frequency + reach + creative make successful marketing tick. If dentists are finding success otherwise, they are either lucky or fibbing about results. Yet, if we think about it, marketing shouldn’t only be about new patients. It ought to be tied to business planning and revenue cycle. It is important to know that marketing can increase revenue from existing patients, to whom it costs less to sell. Marketing can deliver brand dominance if implemented correctly, making dental practices more valuable when it comes time to sell, or even bring on a new associate. Marketing is not an answer to poor practice management. In fact, excellent practice management can do wonders for a practice’s word of mouth marketing.
  3. The Internet is the Answer– It certainly was 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago. Today, that is not the case. Why? Smartphones have fundamentally changed the way we search. Google has kicked Yelp from its platform pushing for Google My Business as the place for reviews, maps, and more. Social search has really taken off, making a dentist’s brand even more important. People’s attention spans have reduced down to #140. These are dramatic shifts in how patients find and choose dental services; yet, many practices continue to believe, despite the evidence, the internet will deliver new patients.

By the measure of most experts, anywhere from 20% to 30% of organic web traffic is fake. We all know about the bots on social media, yet again, despite overwhelming data, there’s a perception that the internet is marketing’s golden goose. It may be for some, though we need to understand how to use this tool to our advantage.

  1. Data vs. Perception– Let’s face it who doesn’t think they’re a marketing genius? Everyone has an opinion on marketing. Dentists, as do other business owners, including seasoned marketers, inherently have a bias towards their own opinions as marketing facts. As well meaning as it may be, this approach is usually wrong.

Here’s a tidbit of hard data from a study from last month. The study surveyed 48 advertising agencies and 68 marketers working in companies. It sought to show if there was a difference in perception of marketing strategies and tactics vs. actual data:

Question: What Overall Media Attributes Define Marketing Success 

What advertisers and agencies said:

  1. TV
  2. Online Video
  3. Social Media
  4. Out of Home
  5. Cinema
  6. Radio
  7. Newspapers

What the evidence says:

  1. TV
  2. Radio
  3. Newspapers
  4. Magazines
  5. Out of Home (billboards, bus boards, etc.)
  6. Direct Mail
  7. Social Media

The evidence tells us to be situationally aware right now; our perceptions and biases continue to lead us astray.

For dentists (as for furriers, IBM, jewelers, Apple, Bank of America, Heartland Dental, the guy selling tacos in town, and so on…), I continue of the opinion that there is no single medium that will work or not work. Marketing is unique to every market. Budget and advice have a lot to do with whether dentists are successful marketers.

The role of marketing firms in dentistry is to help advise dentists, muti-practice owners, and DSOs on their way to success and provide them with meaningful tools to do so, and help them adjust, responsibly. Situational awareness is just as important for their business as it was for me as a basketball coach. As you can see I’m still in coaching, but now it’s even more important because our clients’ businesses depend on it.


Abe Kasbo is Founder of Dentourage, an integrated marketing and public relations advisory, consultancy and agency located in Fairfield, NJ focusing on dental practices. He is a sought-after speaker nationally and internationally. He has spoken at the Swedish American Life Sciences Summit in Stockholm, Sweden and the #140 Conference Montreal in Montreal, Canada. Mr. Kasbo has been featured in The New York Times, Institutional Investor, PBS/Chicago, The National, The Record, The Star-Ledger, FOX, WOR, New Jersey Monthly, AM970 The Answer, and NJBiz, Journal of Hospital Contracting, Becker’s Hospital Review, as well as international media outlets in Europe and the Middle East.

He is the founder of OnlyOneToothBrush.com – a philanthropic effort aimed to bring 200,000 toothbrushes to support the oral health of Syrian refugees in Germany, Canada and the United States.

He holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration with a concentration in Healthcare Policy and Management, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and International Relations from Seton Hall University. Follow on Twitter @akasbo.