What would you say is the best restaurant in the world? Spagos? Capische? Andre’s? Well, I guess it all depends on your definition of the word best. So, let’s redefine the question: What would you say is the most financially successful restaurant in the world? With the question rephrased, you should have answered “McDonald’s.” Of course, few people (over age twelve) would say that McDonald’s is the “best” restaurant in the world, so why is it the most successful? The answer is that McDonald’s success is a measure of their marketing proficiency. So, what exactly allows McDonald’s to sell billions of dollars of food each year? It really comes down to one key marketing strategy: frequency. Frequency simply means that McDonald’s has a high level of consistent exposure in the marketplace. McDonald’s many locations and consistent advertising make it the most recognizable brand in their industry. Marketers call this establishing “top-of-mind awareness.” By effectively using this strategy, McDonald’s is able to outsell the best restaurants in the world despite the fact that McDonald’s product would seldom be considered as the best. Of course, you are not McDonald’s. In fact, your marketing budget pales in comparison to the mega-corporation. However, frequency, the primary marketing strategy used by McDonald’s, works for every product or service, whether it’s movies, iPods, dry cleaning, or dentistry. Frequency of exposure is the key to growing your practice. It’s just a matter of applying the strategy effectively to your particular situation.
WHAT’S THE FREQUENCY?
So, let’s talk about frequency by comparing the marketing strategies of two doctors: Dr. Blue and Dr. Green. Both doctors have great clinical skills, facilities, and patient care. They both have superb teams, and they both rely on referrals to bring in new patients. In fact, their practices are really quite similar in many ways, except for the fact that Dr. Green consistently attracts many more new patients than Dr. Blue. Let’s look at how the two practices market themselves using frequency, starting with Dr. Blue. His primary marketing tactics consist of running a yellow pages ad and a weekly newspaper ad, asking for referrals when appropriate, and trying to provide great customer service so patients will refer their friends. These aren’t bad strategies, but they don’t provide very high frequency of exposure to prospective patients. The yellow pages ad is great, but only works when people are specifically looking for a dentist. It’s also very expensive since every other dentist in town has a full-page ad too. The newspaper ad, on the other hand, is pretty inexpensive, but it’s small and, since many people don’t read the whole paper consistently, prospects often don’t even notice the ad. Asking for referrals should be effective, but the team is unenthused about “begging” for new patients, and Dr. Blue gets tired of carrying the load. Finally, great customer service does pay off, but most patients are seen only once every six months, which means the practice only has a chance to implement this tactic twice each year. These common marketing tactics do work. But, as you can see, the total frequency of exposure for Dr. Blue’s practice is really quite low, and it could take forever to get top-of-mind awareness with just these tactics. Now, let’s look at Dr. Green’s marketing strategy. Remember, these practices are practically the same-except for one thing-Dr. Green understands the power of frequency.
Like most successful business leaders, Dr. Green knows that advertising is a key to establishing top-of-mind awareness. Consistent advertising won’t hypnotize prospects, but it will increase awareness over time by increasing frequency of contact with prospects and current patients. This increased awareness leads to more referrals and awareness in the community. Dr. Green is also careful to invest her money wisely. She tried a big yellow pages ad once but found that it became more expensive every year and seemed to draw fewer quality new patients. She also tends to avoid television, radio, and newspaper ads. Although these tactics can sometimes be a good investment, the advertising rates for these mediums are usually based on a very large distribution area-the entire city. Dr. Green’s practice statistics report, however, shows that 80 percent of her patients come from three zip codes. Taking her strategy from major companies that only advertise on television programs or in publications that target their core demographic (you don’t see ads for toys on Law and Order), Dr. Green targets her marketing efforts to focus only on her core demographic. She does this by mailing professional, full-color brochures to key households in her core market at regular intervals. And, although she doesn’t expect the mailer to hypnotize prospects into calling, she finds that prospects do begin to recognize her name after several mailings. Also, since prospects can keep a brochure if they aren’t ready to call, the mailers last a lot longer than most other advertising would. Of course, Dr. Green knows there is no “magic pill.” So, advertising is just a piece of her marketing program.
Remember, higher frequency of contact leads to more referrals and case acceptance. In fact, sales trainers will tell you that most sales are made after the third contact. This is because multiple exposures help to establish trust. But frequent contact is difficult in dentistry, because most healthy patients are seen only once every six months. So Dr. Green combats this problem by making two after-care calls every day, effectively increasing her frequency of contact with good patients. Dr. Green also calls every new patient prior to their first visit. She finds that this helps establish rapport with the patient and makes them more comfortable during the appointment. It’s as if she’s already briefly met everyone who comes in for an exam. Don’t be fooled into thinking these calls are a simplistic strategy. In the course of a year, by investing just several minutes each day, Dr. Green has 600 more one-on-one contacts with good patients than her competitor, Dr. Blue. Dr. Green knows that these 600 contacts combined with consistent advertising give her a substantial edge.
Although advertising is foundational to Dr. Green’s strategy, she gains most of her new patients from referrals. So she and her team acknowledge every referral with a $10 gift certificate to Starbucks. This, of course, increases frequency of contact with the referral source-not just when they receive the card, but also each time they use it.
Dr. Green looks for easy ways to increase her frequency of contact beyond Dr. Blue’s average of two contacts per year. So she and her team send three handwritten notes to patients every day. The notes-whether for an anniversary, a birthday, a simple hello, or to send stickers to a child-all help increase frequency of contact with her best patients.
The Local-Wide Web
Dr. Green also makes use of the power of the web. But it’s not what you think. Instead of trying to attract patients from the Internet like it’s some glorified yellow pages directory, she has her staff direct new patients to the website to fill out their health histories before their first visit. This not only increases her contact with the patient, but also improves the odds of patients showing up for their first visit. Current patients are also sent to the site for additional information on needed treatment, enabling spouses (who were not present during the case presentation) to learn more. Of course, this also leads to more referrals when patients occasionally tell friends that they can also visit Dr. Green’s site for treatment information. Finally, the site helps “close” prospects who receive Dr. Green’s mailers by increasing frequency. That’s because prospects often prefer to visit a website to gather more information before calling to schedule an appointment. For many of today’s consumers, a good website is a predictor of quality service. (And I’m sure that, if you’ll admit it, you’ve based some purchase decisions partly on the quality of a website too.)
The Power of Frequency
Of course, Dr. Green does a few more simple things to increase her frequency of exposure-but I think you get the point. Each and every tactic is designed to slightly increase contact with patients and prospects. In the end, Dr. Green has many thousands of contacts each year-both directly and through advertising-with her key prospects and patients. Dr. Blue, however, has only a fraction of that exposure. This gives Dr. Green a significant edge over her competitor.
CONSISTENCY: THE BEST INVESTMENT
Consider this… Marketing is not a direct-results science. In other words, marketing is not about doing something and always getting an immediate result. Instead, marketing is like gambling-it’s about odds over time. In other words, Dr. Green doesn’t always get referrals because of a higher frequency of contact than Dr. Blue. Nor does Doctor Blue never get a referral because the frequency of contact is lower. However, the odds over time are that Dr. Green will get more referrals because the higher frequency of contact creates “top-of-mind awareness.” This means that each contact increases the odds that her name will come up at the right time-the time when potential patients are thinking about going to a dentist.
WHAT’S IT ALL WORTH?
By now, you are probably thinking that this “frequency” strategy just might work. It sure seems logical. If you get thousands of additional contacts over time, you’re bound to get more new patients. But you’re still wondering if it’s really worth it. What about “return on investment”? Well, let’s take a look at Dr. Green’s practice once again and use it as a prototype. First, let’s estimate the value of a patient by assuming that Dr. Green currently averages about $500 per year in production per active patient. Let’s also assume that her average patient stays in the practice for seven years. That means that her average new patient is worth about $3,500. (Of course, some patients invest $350 and are never seen again and some invest $15,000 or more over a lifetime-but $3,500 is a realistic average for a good clinician attracting decent quality new patients.) Now, let’s assume that Dr. Green’s thousands of additional impressions increase her average new patient flow from twelve to eighteen patients per month-an increase of just six patients per month. Let’s also say that she plans to practice for twenty more years before retiring. In this case, consistent marketing will increase Dr. Green’s production over the course of her career by about $5 million. (You can do the math if you want.) In contrast, her total marketing investment over the twenty years would be about $250,000 and fifteen minutes per day. If $5 million in production doesn’t jazz you, then take a look at Dr. Green’s net profit. Because fixed overhead (rent, equipment, facility costs, staff salaries, etc.) is paid on the first dollars of production each month, any increase in production is about 70 percent profit. (The other 30 percent goes to supplies, lab fees, and some increased salaries.) This means that, after marketing costs, Dr. Green could net an additional $3.25 million! Of course, I’m oversimplifying, but you get the idea. Even a slight increase in quality new patient flow could easily earn millions.
THE COLOR OF MONEY
The key, of course, is to think like Dr. Green, who markets her practice consistently to the right prospects. Unlike Dr. Blue, she doesn’t rely on random chance and coincidence to drive patients into her practice. Rather than waiting for someone who wants an extraction to stumble onto a yellow pages ad, she and her team take consistent action 192 days per year, every single year, to increase their frequency of exposure in the marketplace. And this is the power of marketing: frequent exposure applied consistently over time generating big results. So, start increasing your frequency now, and maybe your practice will begin to look just a little bit like Dr. Green’s. After all, it is the color of money.