Create Your Marketing Plan: The Basics

Guidelines for Practice Success | Managing Marketing | Creating Your Marketing Plan

Once you’ve identified the message(s) to use in your marketing campaign, it’s time to create the plan. You have three basic options for deciding how to proceed: you can do it on your own; outsource the entire project to one or more external consultants; or opt for a mix where you handle some components of the campaign and delegate the rest to one or more marketing consultants. There is no single “right” answer for how to create, implement and manage a marketing approach so what works best for a colleague may not be the best approach for you. The goal of a marketing plan is to create a customized list of solutions and an action plan for the business. The one-size-fits-all approach to marketing, even in a single industry like dentistry, rarely achieves the desired results. Customizing your marketing plan increases the likelihood that you’ll achieve the desired results. It’s a good idea to have the following available so you can create the marketing plan:

  • results from the patient survey
  • information on community demographics
  • short- and long-term goals
  • possible strategies and tactics
  • plans for evaluating the success of each tactic and the overall plan
  • a timeline, often one year with regular assessments every three months

Dentists who manage their marketing internally should expect that one team member, typically the office manager, will devote about 25% of his or her time (about 10 hours per week) to marketing activities. Plan on other staff members devoting about five hours per week to assist, typically in everyday activities like asking for referrals and having chair-side conversations to promote cosmetic dentistry.

If your staff doesn’t have the time or expertise to manage your marketing, consider hiring a college student or intern with marketing skills to manage these activities for you on a part-time basis. This approach provides your practice with the outreach it needs, keeps staff focused on their primary duties, and offers the student the opportunity to gain valuable work experience. Make sure that any employee tasked with helping to market the practice understands your practice and how it operates so he/she can accurately and effectively represent you and your practice to prospective patients.

Allow four to eight weeks to explore what marketing options are available and which you’d like to use. This research may require some telephone calls or online research so you can gather data about advertising rates, schedules, art requirements, etc., from the outlets you’re considering. Refine your plan as needed so it fits your budget and your goals.

The most important goal is to define how much new business you want. Make certain your practice can handle the anticipated new patients and that everyone is aware of the campaign.

Don’t Forget! Keep in mind that even the best marketing campaign can fail if your practice’s internal systems can’t support it. Take a close and objective review of all of the systems in place in your practice – including your financial plans, office business systems, staffing and staff training, your own expertise – to ensure that they’re effective and able to support the additional phone calls and patients your campaign will bring into the office.

Consult the articles on Inquiries from Prospective Patients and Internal Marketing in this module for information on making sure your staff is trained on how to handle additional calls and patients.

Finally, talk with your staff about the campaign; let them know its goals, when and how it will launch, and what their role is. Knowing this information early on in the process will increase their enthusiasm and commitment to making the plan a success.

Consider these questions when planning your campaign:

  • How will I measure its success?
  • What will I change if the results are less than expected?
  • How will I manage this on top of all of my other responsibilities?
  • What can – and should – the staff do?
    • How much time are different team members available to help?
    • Do they have knowledge or experience that relates to marketing?
    • How much time can they dedicate to marketing activities?
    • How much am I willing to invest in marketing the practice?
      • How do I determine my return on investment (ROI)?
      • What strategy and type of marketing will give me the best results in the shortest amount of time?
      • How long will it take to see results?
      • What are the risks?
      • Do any of the dental benefit plans I participate in have rules about how I market the practice?

Once you have these answers, you’re ready to create a 12-month marketing plan that includes activities like regular maintenance, deleting and/or updating information and regularly assessing the plan’s success. 

Plan to review the data monthly, quarterly and at year-end so you can compare the campaign’s performance to your initial goals. It’s a good idea to revisit the questions above at the end of the campaign’s first year so you can adjust your plans and expectations for the coming year.

Use web analytics or phone numbers to track the number of patient inquiries. Have the front office track number of actual new patients. When marketing is working well, there is very little gap between these two totals. Consider fine-tuning the marketing plan if the campaign is generating low-quality patient inquiries.

Marketing plans vary significantly from one practice to the next. The plan itself needs to fit the dentist's personality. For instance, some risk-adverse dentists may want a diversified plan. Those more interested in maximizing ROI may put more marketing dollars into slightly riskier marketing initiatives. The plan should reflect the practice’s needs and wants, which should be similar to the needs and wants of prospective patients. It should also be tailored to meet the doctor's specific and quantifiable goals.

A solid marketing plan typically blends internal and online marketing, traditional advertising (print, radio, etc.), and some type of community presence, such as participation in or sponsorship of charitable events or local groups, such as youth sports groups.

It’s possible to have anywhere from 1-10 tactics for a single strategy, or concept of how a goal can be achieved. Tactics are actions you take to execute the strategy. So while you may maintain an overall strategy of how you want to market your practice, it’s important to activate tactics that will help you achieve your goals.