It feels like dental practices are moving into the second phase of lockdown. The time of extreme budget cuts is over. If owners applied for funding they are now starting to see it approved. Some owners have seen their outgoings reduced so much that they are in a manageable situation and have a nice income coming in from private plan patients. That revenue stream will suffer as lockdown continues, but not yet. Similarly, there will be issues when the furlough scheme is phased out, but not yet.
If this is the new normal, how do you plan your relaunch? Two things should be factored in: there will be pent up demand for routine dentistry, so you’re not going to need to generate a high volume of enquiries from new routine patients; but you do need to recoup lost revenue by getting high value treatments in, because once you turn your business back on the costs shoot straight back up. You need to be resilient against that spike in costs.
It’s going to be difficult to plan for marketing because we don’t know specifically how or when lockdown will be phased out (although there is light at the end of the tunnel). You don’t want to invest in new patients who aren’t even available. Having said that, there will be some demand because many practices won’t be investing in marketing at all, and there is that pent up demand. So it’s a confusing picture.
We need an approach to marketing that strikes a balance, hedging both ends: enough marketing to cover yourself, not too much so as to be wasteful at a critical cashflow time for your business. My suggestion is to zero base your marketing spend. This means strip everything back and start again. Which in a way you already have. Whatever you had planned has gone. No doubt you’ve rolled back all (or nearly all) of your commitments for traditional, digital and internal marketing. Now is the time to figure out how to build it back up in an intelligent way. So how do we do that?
1. Build a foundation for measurable marketing. You need a framework of KPIs that allows you to see the acquisition cost for each treatment modality. This reporting machine is still remarkably rare in private dental practices. You won’t survive without it now. If you already have this in place, great. If you need help setting it up, get in touch.
2. Look at digital marketing with fresh eyes. Digital was already essential but it’s gained strategic significance because lockdown means more people are working from home or languishing at home on furlough with time on their hands, and possibly unexpected disposable income (sole traders now know if they can expect government payouts, and many people already received a £10k grant on premises that attracted the Small Business Rate Relief — I know anecdotally that many won’t use the money for rent). So there’s more online browsing for big purchases people need time to research and think about. Possibly as a result we’re starting to see clients with good digital presence get quality enquiries for high value treatments. Some are now getting these enquiries every day. The practices getting them are the ones that communicate a high level of care and trust to online visitors.
3. There is a window of opportunity here to buy the dip. The cost of digital advertising has decreased due to less advertising spend, yet there’s a larger online audience that’s more inclined to consume information about big ticket dental treatments. This is an opportunity for brave traders to test different messages and channels and come out of lockdown ahead. You can get in front of your audience immediately with paid content on Google and by posting on your digital platforms.
4. Digitise your user experience. Again, this should have already happened but dentistry has been slow to catch up with the rest of the retail sector. There’s no choice any more. Patients need to be able to book appointments without human interaction. They will probably want to book digital consultations. If not digital consultations then at least relevant digital content must be made available to them. This could be empathic video interviews with your clinicians talking about their treatments, or your TCO talking about how they are going to support the patient. Any chance you get to engage with your audience right now is extra valuable.
I know I’ve said before that “now is the time to analyse your marketing”, and I get that many practice owners avoid it because they never have, and so it’s uncomfortable and overwhelming. Yes it’s time consuming, but it doesn’t have to cost the Earth. Market dynamics are playing into your hands and you can also use home made video and written content. The audience is there, so if you take this chance you can protect your relaunch with a diary of high value treatments. We can support you if you need us.