Internal Marketing or Direct to Consumer?

Peter Drucker, one of the greatest business minds of the last 100 years once said,  “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”  No greater truism has been stated for growing our practices.

Yesterday there was a discussion in our private OrthopreneursRD group related to marketing. I can’t get into the details but the general concern was related to return on investment concerning different marketing options. It brings up an age old question: What’s the best way to market your practice?

For decades, the conventional wisdom has been that internal marketing is the least expensive way to grow your practice; It costs far less for your existing patients to get you patients than it is for you to go out and recruit those who have never heard of your practice. But is this really true? Sometimes yes and sometimes no.

I can get my existing patients to give me reviews online and that’s great.

I can ask them to refer me friends and I can have them post great comments on my social media footprint and theirs as well.

However, unless their friends are listening and need an orthodontist at that time, it doesn’t do much for me right then.

Over time, having 20, 40, or even 100 positive online reviews can only help, but what about right now? You have bills to pay and need to get new patients this month.

You can hold contests to use your existing base to refer you patients, but in states such as Texas (where I practice) the rules are very strict on referrals; I cannot give anything to existing patients to refer me a patient. Zero, nada, gornischt, and I’ve been warned by friends to stay as far off the state board’s radar as possible, so I don’t mess with that law in any way or look for fancy ways around it. It ain’t worth it.

So, with no ability to reward patients for referring me patients, what are my other options?

There’s direct to consumer marketing with things like billboards, postcards, mailers, coupons, etc. but are they really worth it? Ordinarily, most marketing experts would tell you that external marketing is your least efficient way to market, but in orthodontics, we’re not selling $10 widgets. If you spend $2500 on a marketing approach and get one patient who starts treatment, it paid for itself. So, yes, it’s worth trying as long as you have an expert guide you through it and don’t just give it a shot on your own.

Social media has changed everything. We can now find our potential patients through targeted social media campaigns aimed at specific markets in ways we could never do that before. Both older and emerging apps provide opportunity to for us to spend a fraction of what we used to spend on recruitment of new patients and again, what we are selling is “high ticket” enough that we can try a variety of methods without getting burned. Newer apps also allow you more bang for your buck, though there are less people on them.

So which is better: Internal or external marketing? The answer is “yes” because you need to do both, but the operative point is that you need to do something.

We live in a competitive environment and while you might be the best clinician in your neighborhood, unfortunately that simply isn’t enough to have a successful practice in today’s advertising world where many consumers care about price and he who screams loudest in the advertising world gets heard.

Do you talk a lot about growing your practice or do you actually go out and do something about it? The most expensive mistake you can make is to do nothing.

Do exceptionally good work, care about the details, take good care of your patients, spend a fair amount on your advertising and marketing and most importantly, ask your peers what’s worked for them.

Yes, I know, a lot of our colleagues are reticent about sharing their successes publicly for fear that their competitors will find out. The only way around that is to join “geographically restricted” groups where secrets are openly shared, but that’s a topic for another post.

In the meantime, remember Peter Drucker’s words and go out there and do something. Your practice life depends on it.

All the best,

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