The Four Phases of Practice Marketing - Phase 1

Ideally, each of your patients should go through four distinct phases as they move through their patient experience with you. As they move through each phase, their understanding and perception of your practice changes, so they need to be communicated to differently in each phase. In this newsletter, we will be talking about phase 1, Creating Awareness. You could be the best dentist in the world but if no one knows you exist, it wouldn't matter. If a patient isn't aware of you, they will never use your services no matter how great you are. So what are the most effective ways to create awareness, and what is the best message to convey in this phase?

Let's start with the best ways to create awareness. Far and away the best way for you to create awareness is through patient referrals. Because of the unique effectiveness of patient referrals however, it has been designated a phase all its own, and we will cover referrals extensively in phase 4. So phase 1 looks at other methods of creating awareness, while not forgetting that ultimately everything you do in each phase should ultimately point to referrals. Right now you may be asking, well, if referrals work so much better than other methods to generate awareness, why use anything else? For some practices, you shouldn't, but for many practices there are factors at work either within their control or beyond their control that require other methods of generating awareness outside of patient referrals. Some of these include a naturally high attrition rate, a new startup practice or a practice that isn't currently generating the kind of growth they desire through their current patient referral efforts.

So, beyond patient referrals, what is the best way? Well, that depends on your particular situation. A practice in a big city might see the best results by focusing on web marketing while a small town dentist or a dentist with a very specific audience might do best with a targeted direct mail campaign. There are four questions that will help you determine the solution that is best for you.

  1. What tools are awareness tools? Some of these tools include direct mail, yellow pages ads, newspaper ads, search engine optimization, billboards, radio, etc. Any tool that acts as the first introduction for your office to a potential patient is an awareness tool. One thing to keep in mind is that if the tool is not the initial contact, it will have a different role and will be covered in phase 2.
  2. Who should you target? That depends on a several factors. Where are you located? Do you have multiple practices? What is your specialty? Are there specific types of patients you want to target? It is important you have a clear understanding of whom your target audience is to communicate effectively with them.
  3. How often should I market awareness tools? Again, this depends on several factors, such as: what fits your budget, who is your audience, how much growth do you want, and what other marketing efforts do you have going? The simple answer for this however, is that the more often you can market a specific tool the more effective it will be. An example of this is with direct mail. A single mailing might bring in a few patients, but a consistent, well-messaged direct mail campaign will generally get more effective with each mailing. The more you can stay top of mind, the better the chance of the potential patient thinking of you when the actual need for dentistry arises.
  4. What should you say? We all make choices based on the differences we see in things, and as we become aware of anything it is the differences we perceive in that thing that dictates our actions. Without a discernable difference, a potential patient will most likely not want to learn more or be interested enough to move to the next phase. Awareness therefore, should be all about exploiting your differences. It should be all about what you do best, or better than anyone else. Take a look at what your competitors are saying and make sure that your message will resonate because it is different than theirs. It may be the same difference that you both highlight, but just make sure you say it differently than they do.

Next time I will discuss phase two and how you build the trust necessary to turn a prospect into a patient.

If you can't wait for the next installment in this series, contact one of our consultants to find out how best to market your practice at 1-866-375-5511, or visit us on line at

Author: Doug Sligting, Dental Branding, a Partner of HSPS
Published: 09/04/2009
Contact Us