Oral Health Group

Hunting Where the Ducks Live

June 1, 2004
by Dental Practice Management

When I ask dentists what they believe marketing to be, they usually respond with one word, advertising. Advertising is certainly a component of marketing but it is not marketing.

Advertising, says The Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario, is “any material related to your practice which is published, displayed, distributed, or used, whether by you directly or by someone on your behalf. This includes advertisements, announcements, or other information regardless of the form or the manner of distribution.” Marketing, on the other hand, goes far beyond this denotation of advertising. Professional advertising is the end product that comes out of marketing.


The basic principle of all marketing is that if you move out into the community or marketplace, the community will inflow into your practice. David Cottle, one of the most prolific writers on marketing for professionals once said of marketing, “You don’t hunt ducks in the desert, and you don’t hunt for new business in your own office. So, if you want roast duck, you have to hunt where the ducks live.” Set up an office and try to build a client base without marketing and I can assure you that your practice will fail.

Marketing is the process of creating something unique that is intensely sought after in a specific marketplace and then taking it to that marketplace in such a manner that you create demand. Dental practitioners, therefore, must think beyond advertising and develop a way to help create the impression in the minds of their prospects and patients that there is nothing quite like them in the marketplace.


Al and Laura Ries, in one of the most popular books on marketing, The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, say that marketing is not so much about selling or distribution but building a brand in the mind of a target audience. “Conventional marketing is based on selling when it should be based on branding. Marketing is not selling. Marketing is building a brand in the mind of the prospect,” say the Ries’. “If you can build a powerful brand, you will have a powerful marketing program. If you can’t, then all the advertising, fancy packaging, sales promotion, web designs, and public relations in the world won’t help you achieve your objective.”

Marketing gurus around the world have defined brands in all sorts of complicated ways. I like the definition that a brand is nothing but a word in the mind, albeit a special kind of word, a proper noun. In fact, any proper noun is a brand. From Mercedes to Tide, Rolls Royce to Coke. What you may not realize is that you too are a brand. And, if you want to be truly successful in life, you should consider yourself a brand and think about how your brand makes people feel and how to take your brand to the community at large.

The power of a brand lies in its ability to influence purchasing power through an emotional connection with people. Imagine if your patients, when they think of you, felt cheerful or calm. Each and every one of your patients feels something for you which help them brand you in their mind. If you don’t help them create the right impression, they will develop one on their own–and it may not be favourable.

The Ries’ concept of marketing or branding addresses what they call a “seismic shift” in the marketplace from selling to buying. People do not want to be sold on your services. Rather, they would be more likely to “buy” your services if you addressed their needs rather than spouting on about your credentials.

The most important thing you must understand when it comes to marketing is that you are secondary to the desires of your patients. To be truly effective, you must understand their needs, buying behaviours and demographics and then develop a plan that surrounds those needs.

Strategic Planning

When marketing, you first and foremost have to think about where your clients will come from, who else in your profession can serve them, how much time and money do you have to dedicate to finding and keeping clients, and how involved do you want to be in the entire process.

It’s been said that every business is run according to some strategy — even trusting luck is a strategy. So, the question isn’t whether or not your practice will pursue a strategy but whether the strategy you select will be the most useful for you at this time, given your resources, interests, markets and competition.

A resource or tool to help you define your strategy and pinpoint action steps is a marketing plan.

Dr. Jordan Soll, a Toronto-based cosmetic dentist (and member of Oral Health’s editorial board) recently decided to develop a marketing plan for his 15-person practice, “We employ both a practice management firm and a marketing firm. The PM firm helps us deal with the patients we have while the marketing firm helps us find new ones.”

Every marketing plan has to fit the needs and situation. Even so, there are standard components you just can’t do without. A marketing plan should always have a situation analysis, marketing strategy, sales forecast, and expense budget.

Situation Analysis: Normally this will include a market analysis, a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats), and a competitive analysis. The market analysis will include market forecast, segmentation, customer information, and market needs analysis.

Marketing Strategy: This should include at least a mission statement, objectives, and focused strategy including market segment focus and positioning. Your marketing strategy points towards your brand’s elements, towards you and the way you hope to be perceived in the marketplace.

Sales Forecast: This would include enough detail to track sales month by month and follow up on plan-vs.-actual analysis. You may wish to separate your sales forecast by dentist and hygienists or professional fees versus product sales. Either way, you need to understand your profitable and less profitable periods.

Expense Budget: This ought to include enough detail to track expenses month by month and follow up on plan-vs.-actual analysis. Normally a plan will also include specific sales tactics, programs, management responsibilities, promotion, and other elements. The expense budget is a bare minimum.

These minimum requirements are not the ideal, just the minimum concepts you need to consider to get started. In most cases you’ll begin a marketing plan with an Executive Summary, and you’ll also follow those essentials just described with a review of organizational impact, risks and contingencies, and pending issues.

You should also remember that planning is about the results, not the plan itself. A marketing plan must be measured by the results it produces. The implementation of your plan is much more important than its brilliant ideas or market research. You can influence implementation by building a plan full of specific, measurable and concrete plans that can be tracked and followed up. Plan-vs.-actual analysis is critical to the eventual results, and you should build it into your plan.

Any business will thrive only as long as it can come up with a steady stream of new customers. Even if you start with a steady base of loyal customers, roughly 30 percent of that base will erode each year due to fluctuations in the economy, people moving out of your area, encroachment of new and indirect competitors, changes in tastes and habits, and a host of other threats.

Finally, don’t wait to write your plan. “The busier you are, the more you need to plan,” said Dr. Soll.” If you are always putting out fires, you should build firebreaks or a sprinkler system. You can lose the whole forest for paying too much attention to the individual burning trees.”

Andr Mazerolle is the principal at Arrive By Design, a Toronto-based marketing management firm for professionals.

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