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Topics are internal marketing and external marketing.

1. What are your most successful internal marketing methods?

Being friendly and professional, as well as emphasizing excellent patient communications, were the principal methods mentioned by respondents. Making "comfort calls" to patients after long or difficult appointments and having video games and compact discs in the office for children were also listed frequently. Several practices also sent portfolios of before-and-after photographs to patients' general dentists. Few offices gave out prizes, certificates, or T-shirts.

Specific ideas included:

  • "Providing an outstanding, upbeat environment with excellent communications from warm, smiling faces with outstanding personalities who love their jobs!"
  • "Providing no-cost initial consults along with creative financing, evening and Saturday hours, and listing my home phone number."
  • "It's the total package that determines success. Showing we truly care, adapting to our patients' needs, staying flexible and always available, creating an experience that exceeds expectations."
  • "We have a frequent referrer program--giving gifts with an acknowledgment letter. We also give, at debonding, some goodies to eat in a tote bag with our logo on it. We provide CD-I video games in the office for the patients and parents; they are very popular and encourage children to refer their friends."
  • "We try to schedule effectively, appreciating the patient's or parent's time. We also provide a free post-treatment professional portrait-sitting and special celebrations at the debond appointment."
  • What is the approximate annual cost of your internal marketing?

    The mean annual cost for those who reported figures was $2,316. The most common expenditure was $2,000, and the highest reported was $12,000. However, 20% of the respondents said they spent no money on internal marketing, and another 20% didn't know what they spent.

    What problems do you find in marketing internally to both children and adults?

    The majority of orthodontists reported no major problems. The time and effort required to promote the practice and keep coming up with new ideas were mentioned as factors leading to a lack of enthusiasm and continuity in internal marketing.

    How effective do you find marketing to children?

    Responses were mixed, with one-third of the practices very enthusiastic, one-third moderately enthusiastic, and one-third undecided or having no experience in marketing to children.

    Answers included:

  • "Very--they are usually the decider; if we make their experience as positive as possible, they tell their friends."
  • "Not very--we don't get many specific referrals from kids because of 'colored braces' or that sort of thing."
  • "We all too often forget to ask."
  • How do you market to parents?

    More than 50% of the respondents had no specific internal marketing efforts aimed at parents. Those who did emphasized being friendly and professional, communicating frequently about children's progress, showing parents that the orthodontist was involved in hands-on care of the patient, and making every effort to run on time.

    Some strategies mentioned:

  • "A personal chat about progress, what was done today, and what is planned at the next visit, at each appointment."
  • "Taking doctor time to talk with them. Their child is the most prized possession."
  • How do you measure the effectiveness of your internal marketing procedures?

    The vast majority of offices made no effort to measure the effectiveness of internal marketing--often because they didn't know how. The two most common measurements given were the conversion rate of exams into starts and the number of patients and parents referring family and friends.

    Do you try to measure patient satisfaction?

    A slight majority--57%--said they measured patient satisfaction, usually with surveys given before, during, and after treatment. One respondent said, "I ask the patient and parent if they are satisfied before I deband and immediately thereafter."

    Do you ask patients or parents for referrals?

    Three-quarters of the practices asked for referrals. When and how varied widely, with some offices having specific times to ask for referrals (such as just after appliance placement, at six months, and at debonding), while others did so when patients expressed satisfaction.

    How do you involve your staff in internal marketing?

    Nearly all the respondents said they used their staff in internal marketing. Many encouraged staff members to be positive and cheerful and to constantly communicate the practice philosophy to patients and parents. Another common strategy was to involve the staff in making phone calls and writing letters to patients and parents.

    Specific ideas included:

  • "I encourage my staff to tactfully bring up the subject of orthodontic treatment when a parent or sibling would obviously benefit from it."
  • "I have them reinforce my availability for emergency care, my credentials, and my availability to discuss any aspect of care or finances."
  • "We encourage the staff to be involved with the patients as people, not as the '1 p.m. new patient' or the '3:30 deband'."
  • "We ask staff to be responsible for specific projects, such as skating parties."

  • 2. What are your most successful external marketing methods to general dentists?

    Taking dentists to lunch regularly (but not too often) was by far the most frequently mentioned marketing technique. Many of the orthodontists used these lunches to review the progress of common patients. Sending letters and reports--often personalized--was another routine technique for keeping orthodontists' names in the minds of general dental referrers.

    Responses included:

  • "Consistently happy patients--creating the office that everyone wants to go to."
  • "I constantly keep my name in front of them via telephone communication, treatment progress, and post-treatment letters. I also attend interdisciplinary seminars with referring general dentists."
  • What are your most successful external marketing methods to other referrers?

    More than half of the respondents had no particular plans for marketing to other referral sources. Those who did used personalized notes and letters, as well as occasional gifts and flowers.

    What are your most successful external marketing methods to former patients and their families?

    There was no marketing to former patients by more than half of the offices, but the remainder sent handwritten personal notes from time to time.

    What are your most successful external marketing methods to prospective patients and their families?

    Only about half of the practices marketed to prospective patients. The most commonly mentioned methods were welcoming letters, information booklets, and visits to elementary schools and health fairs, particularly during Dental Health Month. One orthodontist said, "We distribute our office booklet to all day-care and preschool programs. We also have a weekly advertisement in the 'Health Pages' of the local newspaper."

    What are your most successful external marketing methods to the community?

    Sixty-five percent of the respondents were involved in marketing to the community, usually through financial support of community and civic projects, including health fairs and church events. Many also sponsored boys' and girls' athletic teams, while several reported giving classroom talks.

    Some specific ideas:

  • "A long-term reputation throughout the community of high-quality results supported by consistently happy patients and staff."
  • "I participate in career days at local schools and give a presentation to local grammar schools during Dental Health Month."
  • What is the approximate annual cost of your external marketing?

    More than 85% of the practices reported external marketing expenses, with a mean of $3,720. The most common figure was $3,000, and the highest was $11,000.

    Do you seek adult patient referrals in your external marketing?

    Adult patients were actively sought by 70% of the respondents. The majority used informational materials that specifically mentioned both adults and children. One reported, "Our logo was designed to appeal to the adult female psyche--total image enhancement."

    How do you measure the effectiveness of your external marketing?

    Only 20% of the offices said they measured the effectiveness of external marketing efforts. Many were not sure how to do so, and others simply monitored referrals and felt that a full schedule of new starts was sufficient evidence of success. One response: "By our success ratios for conversion from new exams to starts and by the numbers of referrals, along with increases or decreases in the pattern of referrals from GPs."

    JCO would like to thank the following contributors to this month's column:

    Dr. Stephen K. Bailie, Indianapolis, IN

    Dr. Fabio Beltran, Bel Air, MD

    Dr. Jackie Berkowitz, Columbus, OH

    Dr. Alan D. Bobkin, Thornhill, Ontario

    Dr. James A. Bond, Southampton, PA

    Dr. Jeffrey S. Cooper, Ramsey, NJ

    Dr. Daniel J. DiBagno, Greensburg, PA

    Dr. Gregory W. Dietmeier, Denver, CO

    Dr. Michael R. Fey, Bothell, WA

    Drs. Robert F. and Ronald S. Good, Washington, PA

    Dr. Michael D. Hanson, Panama City, FL

    Dr. Stephen E. Hershey, Birmingham, MI

    Dr. James F. Hickman, Ottawa, Ontario

    Dr. Jon G. Hullings, Wichita, KS

    Dr. David A. Jones, Lawrence, KS

    Dr. John P. Klump, Alamogordo, NM

    Dr. John S. Konegni, Lakewood, CO

    Drs. Gene R. Lamberth and Karen J. Gaines, Dallas, TX

    Drs. Randolph C. Myerson and M.K. Conley, Kingston, NY

    Dr. E. Stephens Reed, Jr., College Park, GA

    Dr. Paul H. Rigali, Wallingford, CT

    Dr. Larry D. Roberts, Elkhart, IN

    Dr. Goodwin G. Thomas, Jr., Rock Hill, SC


    Dr. Sinclair is an Associate Editor of the Journal of Clinical Orthodontics and Professor and Chairman, Department of Orthodontics, University of Southern California School of Dentistry, Los Angeles, CA90089.

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