What Every Executive Needs to Understand About the New Digital Marketing Landscape

A chief marketing officer, who has led two of the country’s largest DSOs’ marketing departments, shares some insights about marketing in the modern digital age.

When I talk with CEOs or executives in dental groups, they usually express they want to get more out of their marketing.  Somewhere in the discussion they tell me what they have historically been doing, how they feel that they were burned on digital marketing and are looking for a new vendor, or they need to retain more patients and grow new patients.  And they almost always reference a friend or business they know who sold 10K units of XYZ with one TikTok video or one social media Influencer post.  Then they say, “We tried TikTok or Influencer marketing and we only got a handful of likes or views.  I’m not sure our marketing team knows what they are doing.”

So, what’s wrong with marketing?

Perhaps your marketing team is ineffective, or you don’t understand what marketing can impact and how the landscape has shifted.

Most people’s definition of a “smart marketing” decision is disproportionately predicated on sales.  I love sales, but my marketing framework is grounded in actually growing the practice.  Over the last two years, I have realized how many C-Level and Practice Owners don’t see marketing as I see it and how many don’t understand marketing in today’s environment.

The conversation I had ten years ago in dental was that print, radio, and TV are declining in value, but you can still use them.  You also needed to run email marketing and Google Ad Words to grow your practice.  This was one transition marketing went through.  In 2022, people’s attention has shifted to smartphones and social media.  Consumer attention is no longer on primetime TV like in the 1990s when ‘Friends’ dominated their attention.  There is a reason Elon Musk just bought Twitter, and part of that reason is that people’s attention is on social media.  We are going through a 2nd marketing transition thanks to a “new digital landscape.”

The one thing that connects every dental group or practice to marketing is their attempt to get attention, tell a potential patient what they want or service they offer, and hope an appointment is booked.  It’s how the marketing world works.  Attention has gone from mainstream media to digital and social media with new dynamics.

The new digital landscape today is incredibly vast, with a lot of ups and downs and you can waste a ridiculous amount of money and get no return, or you can spend a conservative amount and get a high upside.  Here are some things every person evaluating marketing should know to be successful in this new digital landscape.

Supply and Demand is Undefeated

As old as time, this is the concept we all learned in high school.  Go back to 2005  when Facebook first came on the scene.  The first businesses to post content on Facebook in 2005 got the majority of the traffic as there was no one else to compete with.  For the first couple of years, big companies were afraid of doing it.  They didn’t understand it, they had to have Legal sign off, etc, but by year four the big companies saw the value and started throwing real money at Facebook in 2009.  Once this occurred, there was less organic audience to get for free and the ads cost too much compared to what a company use to spend.

The same thing happened for Instagram, Snapchat, and this is now occurring for LinkedIn and TikTok.  As each platform becomes more popular you will get less audience organically and ads will cost you more.

This is why when dental groups post today, with no spend, you only get a handful of likes.  And, if you were running ads on a social media platform in 2018, you got a lot more audience for a $500 spend.  Spend the same amount today on the same platform, and you’ll get less of an audience.  Want to gain more audience, spend more on ads for each platform!

Content, Content and More Content

You need to run 3-4 original creative ads per day for each social media platform you are on.  All different kinds – videos, pictures or words.  Do not just post one ad on your company LinkedIn page or Instagram account.  You must pay to run ads on whatever social platform you are on.  Do this for each of your target audiences.  For example, you offer orthodontics and general dentistry, create four ads for each and post on Instagram.

Create Content that Resonates with Your Community

Many dental practices struggle with social media because they put out content that is in their best interest, instead of thinking about the patient’s interest.  Practices should put out content that resonates and builds community instead of content that sells.

Instead of talking about only dental topics on your social platforms and digital ads, start talking about things your audience cares about.  If you are targeting mom, mix in mom-friendly content that has nothing to do with dental.  Show your audience you understand them and are part of their community.  In today’s environment, that could be as simple as posting, “Buying same food every week but grocery bill is getting bigger.  Mom, how are you handling it at your home?”.  You will grow your audience and engagement faster with this type of content, and as the audience grows, their trust in your brand grows and then you can sprinkle in dental content and sell to them.

If you are more ambitious, think about creating a podcast or YouTube show where you interview patients and potential patients about general things in life.  Sending an email about Periodontal disease and the importance of Arestin will likely lead to a low response rate or not even opened.  Ask that same person to come on your podcast to talk about how they have raised amazing kids who are thriving at school, and they will jump over hurdles to partake.   Share that with your audience and promote (ask your guest to share with their audience too), and it will capture more potential patients.  Sprinkle in dental as you produce the podcast.  For example, if you are a dentist that sees kids, you can mention (and build a kids club) how brighter smiles for brighter futures means helping parents by reinforcing the parents’ values when they come into your office.

Hire the Right Talent and Learn What to Judge

You cannot hire your 21-year-old niece or co-worker’s twenty-something son to run your social media.  If you want success, hire the right person or agency to do it with a track record of success.  Let them prove it to you with metrics from prior business they worked with, and then let them run a “test” showing you how they submitted a fake record online and you can see it in your system as an appointment request or appointment scheduled online.  Better to spend a small amount of money on a test to make sure vendor can deliver what they say vs spending a lot of marketing dollars in hopes vendor can deliver.

Measure what truly impacts your practice and brand.  Those metrics should be audience and engagement growth, consultations booked, and appointments from social media or digital marketing.  If you are measuring impressions and clicks, you are wasting your time and budget and setting yourself up to get burned by the vendor.  If the vendor says they can’t track business metrics like appointments and consultations booked, you should find a new vendor.

Social Media Advertising is Not the Same as Google

Social media marketing and Google (i.e., digital) marketing are often interchanged when creating a marketing strategy or discussing.  While digital and social media marketing are sometimes referred to as the same thing, they are two different aspects of a marketing plan and should be thought of as different.  The main reason for this is you will want to assign each one their own bucket of marketing spend and evaluate their results separately.

Dental groups who have been burned by digital marketing partners are usually upset because they spent a sum of money and the partners provided a report with impressions and clicks.  By having a separate budget for Google marketing, you can track the Google ad to your website that shows the appointment, allowing you to follow the exact spending from Google ads (digital) and a better read on the impact of your business.  This makes it much easier to hold digital marketing partners accountable and stop any confusion of what social media did vs Google.  Also, give your 60-90 days to show they can move the needle.

Spend Time on Your Brand

Most dental groups or practices run sales ads.  They do not run ads focused on value add to the consumer.  Figure out what separates you from the competition and build your brand, which is your reputation.  A strong reputation wins in the long run.  Your brand is about how someone feels when interacting with your dental practice.  The best companies in the world play the long game.  For example, Apple never tries to make you buy an iPhone.  Instead, they paint a picture of the iPhone experience.

If your differentiator is you get patients in and out on time and dad can get the kids to their little league game on time, make that part of your brand.

Most practices try and do sales ads (featuring the doctor and their team members, same as every dentist in town) instead of true marketing with branding that shows value add.  Invest in your brand as you want to play the long game.  It is not always the easiest thing to do or to allocate money to or track direct results, but it makes a more significant impact than you realize.

Great Advertising Cannot Overcome Poor Service

COVID ushered in a whole lot of options for people.  Everything from food delivery to your home to an explosion in telehealth to prescriptions sent to your front door.  Your patients have gotten used to things being catered to them.  If you cannot get patients in for an appointment the same week, have online appointment scheduling, aligner delivery to patients’ homes, telehealth consultations, or simply get patients seen on time, you are quickly falling behind.

Here’s a way to think about it, marketing is the wind beneath operations (sales) wings.  Marketing should work in tandem with operations to build your elite service into your group’s branding.  It’s your brand promise.  If you deliver on the brand promise, people will talk about it, share online and on social media.  If you do it poorly, people will talk about it on social media and online.

Stop falling in love with next great marketing idea

I’ve seen many practices waste a ton of money on what a team member thinks is a great marketing idea.  It usually goes like this…..Sally at the front desk says our competitor has a billboard on highway 9 and they get tons of patients.  Sally had lunch with their office manager and she knows a billboard will work and she found a vendor that can do it for $8K a month.  The reality is Sally has no clue if billboards work because her friend at the other office has never tracked marketing or billboards a day in her life and the vendor wants to make a sale.

I always encourage people to present their ideas, anyone can truly have a great idea.  But at same time I also ask them to address how the idea will be executed and how they can track the results.  I don’t expect them to be marketing experts but if you want to have us spend time and resources it should be thought out to warrant marketing looking into it.  You are going to do you have to ask:

1) how and who will be executing it

2) how will it be measured

3) how will it be deemed a success

4) is the opportunity cost too high

If you (or the person/vendor presenting you the idea) cannot answer those 4 questions, then you have a high chance of being burned and wasting marketing dollars.  And at the end of the month, you’ll be left asking why did we not get more new patients and why did we spend so much on marketing.

Digital landscape is always evolving

The pandemic ushered in the “new digital landscape.”  As we all know, the world is changing.  Marketing needs to keep up with the changes, so you and your group don’t fall behind.  When the internet first came out, people claimed they would never shop on it.  Now, the majority of the world shops online.  Blackberry users used to swear they would never get an iPhone cause they like the feel of buttons, I doubt you see many people use a Blackberry anymore.  And dental groups are not advertising on TikTok because they “don’t get it,” well, 700 million people on TikTok do get it, and that is what matters.

NFTs and blockchains are already here, all contracts will be on blockchain in next 10 years.  You may not know what an NFT or blockchain is today but your marketing team should be learning about it so they can get first mover advantage before other businesses.  The new digital landscape is shifting quickly and will continue to evolve daily.

Lastly, all of the marketing advice above is based on my past experiences and based on my marketing insight, skills and know-how.  It does me no good to tell you theory.  If you want your marketing to be successful or want to know if your current marketing is successful you have to know how to judge it, go to where your audience is, create content that resonates and provide value to patients.  If you have everyday marketing, content, social media related or digital marketing questions you can reach out to me at ryantorresan@gmail.com.  Here is how it works:  you ask the questions, and I answer them.

Written by: Ryan Torresan, Chief Marketing Officer, DSOs and Healthcare
Ryan is considered one of the leading marketing minds in dental and healthcare on what’s next in marketing, relevance, marketing that actually impacts DSOs and can be measured.  With more than 10 years of DSO experience, Ryan is a marketing executive who steered a very successful career to reach the executive level at two of the largest dental support organizations (DSOs) in the US.  During his tenures, he earned promotions and awards after tremendous success in the digital marketing and social media space.  He is also known to have transformed event, CRM and content marketing into lead generation.  Repositioned brands, navigated crisis public relations and drive incremental sales through office designs.  He played a crucial role on executive teams that sold the DSOs to private equity firms.  Ryan aligns marketing to overall business success – he impacts ROI. His email address is ryantorresan@gmail.com.

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