Dental Marketing Through the Pandemic
Dental Marketing Through the Pandemic
Jennifer Mabee, Marketing Director
One day everything changed
Just a few short months ago, the COVID Pandemic pulled the rug out from underneath the dental industry. Like so many others, we watched in dismay as what started as rumblings about a new virus grew into a roar that culminated in a complete shutdown of our practices. It was a shocking and unsettling time for all of us, on a personal and a professional level. It was one of the most challenging situations I have ever encountered in my career as a marketer.
Our company had to adjust – sometimes multiple times per day – to continually evolving guidance and regulation about how to safely operate during the pandemic. Strategizing in those early weeks was like roller skating on banana peels. The constant pivoting sometimes meant no sooner was a plan executed but it had already become obsolete. It was stressful. The pandemic and what it might mean was scary on many levels.
Staying positive amidst fear and uncertainty
Marketing people are supposed to be confident, optimistic, and ready with new ideas for whatever challenge comes along. Part of our job is to be the company’s most enthusiastic cheerleader. I am sure I am not the only marketing type who struggled at times to maintain a positive attitude and keep the creativity flowing. There is nothing quite like worrying about losing your house, or your elderly mother, to stifle one’s creativity. Thankfully, those moments were rare and fleeting. To this I credit being part of a company that has an energetic, optimistic, forward-thinking, and team-oriented culture.
One of the things I found personally disheartening was having to put the brakes on as much advertising expenditure as possible for the foreseeable future. For me, that drove the uncertainty of the situation home. I was also concerned about having to pay cancellation fees when we were already going to be losing revenue. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, without exception, every advertising source with whom we do business was quick to waive any fees and let me know that we were all in this together.
Some may believe that corporate America has no heart, but the empathy and generosity I experienced was a welcome glimmer of kindness during a dark time. Those companies that we do business with month after month, year after year, showed us that they are truly partners, not just vendors.
Our communication strategy at a time of intense information overload
After we had our outgoing expenditure under control, we had to develop a marketing strategy for the shutdown period. The Blue Sea Dental group is made up of community practices. By this I mean that each practice has its own unique personality based on their teams and the communities they serve. Each practice has a well-established reputation as a caring, patient-centered practice that delivers great service. We saw the shutdown as a great opportunity to build upon this foundation by showing our patients and communities that we genuinely care about them. With all paid marketing channels suspended, we concentrated on connecting through email, newsletters, and social media.
We knew that people were being bombarded with information about COVID across all media channels. We knew people were tired of hearing ‘unprecedented’ and ‘uncertain.’ We understood that there was a great deal of fear and anxiety around the COVID-19 pandemic on many different levels.
For these reasons we focused our efforts on sharing positive, hopeful content. We shared resources to fend off boredom, help with home schooling, and keep the kids amused during shelter at home. We shared pictures of cute animals. We let our communities know that we were right there with them toughing it out and hoping everything was going to be OK.
Because we are dental professionals, not the WHO or the CDC, we kept COVID-specific messaging to a minimum. We shared only information that we believed would be relevant and useful. For example, our dentists from each practice created videos demonstrating the proper use of masks and gloves to prevent contamination. When we re-opened, patients commented on how nice it was to see their dentist during the lockdown.
The hopeful caution of preparing to re-open
As we prepared to re-open, we were a bit nervous about whether our patients would come back to us. There were so many factors at work. We wondered will fear of COVID be a significant barrier to seeking dental treatment? Our available paid advertising channels were limited to those that could be deployed on very short notice. Would we be able to generate enough new patients? There was the uncertainty of what was going to happen in those first weeks after we re-opened. Will there be a spike? Will we be shut down again?
We knew it was critical to address patient fears and reassure them it was safe to visit our office. Like many other dental practices, we capitalized on the fact that infection control has always been a top concern and priority for dentistry. Thanks to the work of our leadership and thoughtful input from our teams, our practices re-opened with a comprehensive safety protocol which included appropriate PPE and new equipment to minimize aerosol contamination. We aggressively pushed our safety messaging out over every available channel.
A comeback that pleasantly surprised us
Despite the uncertainty, I was confident we could come back strong. I believe that we have a solid marketing effort that works. But that is only one part of the puzzle. What I believe makes the difference for our Blue Sea family of practices is that we have a not-so-secret weapon. That weapon is our incredible teams who show new patients that everything we say in our marketing is true. Thanks to our teams, prospective patients who are considering us find no shortage of glowing testimonials that give proof to what we say in our advertising.
Our “comeback” month exceeded our highest expectations and we continue to welcome new patients to each of our practices every day. We are optimistic about the future. However, as we move forward in the COVID-19 era, we continue to adapt and adjust as the needs and priorities of our patients and communities change. There is no doubt that the pandemic has altered the way dental practices must approach marketing. We must be mindful of patient concerns about contracting COVID-19. We must be aware that for many people the pandemic has created financial hardship. Above all we must continue to listen to our patients, our teams, and our communities.
What has not changed is the way our practices approach their patients. Even within the context of this changed dental practice landscape, I expect our patient-centered, caring, and professional teams to continue to flourish. They make it easy to be their biggest cheerleader.