Branding a Dental Practice

January 9, 2019

Let’s say a new family moves in down the street, and the neighborhood throws a barbecue so everyone can get acquainted. During the evening, the new neighbor says, “I need to find a really good dentist for my kids. Is there anyone you would recommend?” How many of the assembled throng do you suppose would not only remember your name, but be able to clearly talk about what makes your office so special?

It is an unfortunate fact that most members of the public think all dentists are pretty much the same. This misconception is not the patient’s fault. If you want to stand out in the eyes of the public, you must create something different and communicate that difference clearly and consistently. This is called branding, and it is the primary determinant of your future success.

Point of Departure

To revisit our initial jumping-off point, to the public, most dentists are the same. Their reception areas are all “Early Moderne,” the treatment rooms are all identical, the staff all seem to dress the same. Not much to brag about. Yet any dentist, when asked, can say how he or she is different from someone else; how they are, in fact, unique. In most cases, however – and this is where the process often fails – the dentist does not convey this message in a way the public can understand. Therefore, in the public’s mind, all dentists do end up being “the same.”

From Brand X to … Defining Yourself

Why put in the supposed “extra effort” of marketing a professional enterprise that already carries its “brand” for excellence in that “D.D.S.” behind the owner’s name? Because for starters, right now the sign on your door says only that you and your practice are an unknown quantity. What is needed to bring it forward – to bring it into the public/patient consciousness – is going to require some fairly deep thinking into not only the process, but the purpose, of branding.

You Are Here, and Why

Americans are brought up in a culture that values brands. They are willing to pay more for a brand name than for a generic brand. We pay less for generic cola, beer, laundry detergent, and drugs. Usually Americans feel better about buying a brand they can identify with. Why? Because the brand name is assumed to be of a higher quality, or at least a consistent quality. It’s simply more reliable. People do not want to spend hard-earned money on something that may disappoint. Buying a brand name reduces the risk of a poor experience. The national chain hotel or motel option will offer a consistent quality room, whereas the “mom and pop” singleton may not. Once the public finds a brand they like, they will be for the most part quite loyal to it. Hence the Pepsi and Coke taste tests on TV.

Some brands confer status to the owner. This typically means the product or service is more expensive. Think Nordstrom, Lexus, and so on. Granted, most dentists/dental practices do not qualify as status symbols. Few can say he or she is a dentist to actors at the Guthrie or for the Vikings, but such claims are not proven practice builders. In some cases, however, there are genuine levels of passion. People will identify with that brand. Harley Davidson is not just a motorcycle, it’s a personal statement of who you are. Polo clothing items, Rolls Royce, and Rolex watches all fall into this category, acknowledging that the excellence of a product supports its brand’s image.

Bringing It Home: Value-Centered Branding

What do you have to do to get patients to be this loyal to you? The answer is branding … correctly. In the great state of Minnesota, many dentists are uncomfortable speaking highly about themselves, even though a dentist’s professional reputation is his or her most valuable asset. Would you — or do you — let others determine that? Reputations are created over time, but in these days of accelerated communication, you can take charge of building your reputation through “value-centered branding” in less time.

Dentists who are good marketers know they cannot attract everyone to their practice. Successful dentists focus on the patients they want, whether they are soccer moms,  retirees, young families, teachers, or business owners. Branding will help make the appeal to whatever target patient population is desired easier and quicker. Done properly,  branding yourself and your practice will give you a leg up in the marketplace. Hard fact: In that marketplace, you are being compared to others, so you must stand out in a positive and very distinctive way. Your brand should do this for you.

What is a Brand?

Branding is a complex process that should, when completed, appear seamless. For example, a logo is often equated with a brand. A logo is a critical part of a brand, but it is only one of a number of ways to communicate impressions, feelings, expectations, and emotions involved in your brand identity. Branding is about everything that is done to fulfill the promise of a superior patient experience. A strong brand helps to cement relationships with both current and prospective patients. The brand experience must occur with every contact, consistently and without exception. The good news is that most dentists do not use branding to establish or reinforce a great reputation in their  market. Hence, a practice that successfully brands itself will lead the competition. The idea is to positively differentiate your practice when patients look to compare it with

Job one, then, is this: Cut through the communications clutter and leave a memorable impression. Simplify the messages. Clinicians often “don’t get this” because many feel the need to explain in detail everything about a procedure, their credentials, expertise, and so on. The goal here is to focus on a single benefit that no one will dispute. Examples include “Ouchless” for Curad, “Safety” for Volvo, “Love” for a Subaru, and “Fewer Cavities” for Crest. One of the keys to successful branding is “memorable  simplicity.” “Good, friendly, clean, safe, caring, comfortable,” or any combination thereof will work. No dentist can be all things to all people, nor should he or she try to be. Dentistry is a personal service business, and its branding is all about the patient experience and the relationship patients have with the doctor and the team. When the doctor and the team communicate what makes them different or special, they set expectations for the patient’s experience. That expectation must be met or exceeded during every visit.

How Do You Build a Great Brand?

The foundation of a great brand within the professional realm of a dental practice should be the creation of a Unique Value Proposition, or UVP. This is the position that your practice occupies in the mind of the patient. It is the One Big Thing that you want your patients to remember about you. This must be very highly focused, because patients  are exposed to thousands of commercial messages a day. That focus on being very special to somebody, as opposed to “everything to everyone,” has to be created in a way that “hits home” with your target patient population. To be only slightly flip, being “vanilla” does not work. The position you create here should give you the unique  competitive advantage that influences your market to see you as their best choice. Take the time to really think it through and do it right. Ground rules for positioning at this critical point include:

1. The message must be true. Ethically, if you say you are experienced, you must be.

2. The message must be differentiating. You cannot say the same thing everyone else is saying, such as “We cater to cowards” or “We are gentle, caring, and quality.” If you recognize the verbiage, then it has already been done.

3. The message must be memorable. Remember, patients see thousands of messages a day.

4. The message must be compelling to your target market. If you hope to welcome a variety of segments of our population, make sure each of them feels comfortable.

The Positioning Statement

So where do you start? To create your positioning statement, determine what you would say to a stranger you met in an elevator who asks you, “What do you do?” “Dentist”
is not the right answer. How do you present yourself as different from other dentists? In effect, “Why you?” In the brainstorming sessions you will have, please know that advanced Continuing Education, 3D X-rays, lasers, and so on are not important to this endeavor. Patients are much more interested in your “why.” Why are you a dentist? Why are you here? Are you warm, caring, friendly, and affordable? The technical items will offer their own importance later. Here, then, is your template for starting at Square One: Your positioning statement is a logical argument for your practice; your brand is the larger emotional response and the image you want to establish.

Form Follows Function, AKA “Know Thyself”

The hard part of all this is that it must all work together, from the first phone call to how long patients wait, your choice between uniforms or street clothes, technology, your manners, location, signage, furniture, colors on the walls, which services you provide, and so on. Think it through. (This is where being detail-oriented comes in handy.) If you decide you want to be the technology master in town, orange shag carpet won’t get you there.

Brass tacks time:

  1. Start with the value system of the dentist and the patients. Dentists usually think in terms of gadgets, hardware, and technology. The patient is likely to focus on values such as access, parking, amenities, ease of scheduling, “they remembered my name,” they know my kids, etc. Good branding focuses on the patient’s values first. The wants and needs of the patient are focused on results: anything from a whiter smile and improved self esteem to reduced anxiety and optimal convenience. These are the benefits of good dentistry, not just features.
  2. What is your point of differentiation? What is it about your practice that makes it stand out? It must be seen as valuable to the patient. What you choose must be the one thing that stands for the experience at your office – e.g., “We Change Lives, One Smile at a Time.” “Change Your Smile, Change Your Life,” or “Comfort Is Our Most Important Product.” Again, think it through. Test it from every angle.
  3. Keep reminding yourself that this is not about you but about the patients you want in your chair. You may have the impulse to want to be “all things to all people,” but it is not possible. Let it go, and get down to business.
  4. The doctor and team must be consistent all the time. Patients don’t like surprises. Think of those hotel and motel chains in the U.S. we mentioned earlier. You can count on a swimming pool, and your kids love it — and look forward to it.
  5. When you are ready with your brand, it will be time to deliver consistent messages over multiple venues. The brand must show up everywhere: on the team uniforms, the team name tags, the website, the Facebook page header, the sign out front, and so on.
  6. An added benefit to “doing it right” is that a branded practice will have greater value at sale time.

These impressions, over time, will build identification with patients’ perceptions of your dental practice. Your dental brand will generate interest, retention, and positive expectations. The patient’s experience must reinforce these expectations so that seeing the brand reminds the patient of the positive experience. The quality and consistency of the dental service will determine the strength of the brand and how trusted it becomes in delivering what is expected. Introduce that to the public with a strong, focused image of what is available to patients from that first step inside the door, and you will complete the plan for a healthy practice for all concerned. Without a branding strategy, the practice will remain a well-kept secret.