It fascinates me how dental practices are perceived by professionals and patients. This perception derives to a very great extent from the efforts that owners make to create ‘a brand’.

I’ve been working in the dental software market for two years now, coming as I do from a background of digital imaging technology PR. During this time I’ve had the privilege to study many dental businesses and practices across the country.

It is true that all the clever marketing in the world won’t create a great ‘brand’ that has no substance, but you can at least set the direction.

This article offers some ideas on how you might shape your practice brand.

The supermarket test

A simple example of how people think of your dental brand might be to consider which supermarket chain it is most like.

For example;

  • {my}dentist = Aldi. Low cost, high volume, limited range, no-nonsense and highly efficient
  • BUPA = Sainsbury’s. A little confused. A reputation for being expensive and luxurious while stacking it high and selling it cheap in places to compete with Aldi
  • Portman = Waitrose. No compromise, personal, classy and with the flexibility to meet the needs of the local market – so long as they are rich enough to go private
  • JDRM = Booths. Family owned and run, with great staff involvement and customer loyalty, but very definitely regional.

Unfortunately, there are also a lot of ‘Arkwrights’ out there. Open all hours, but providing a great experience for neither patients nor for poor little Granville.

So which one are you? And if you’re an Arkwright, will you plod on in the same weary way until Granville grows a pair and sets up his own corner shop down the road?

Analysing the players in detail

{my}dentist

Even though their huge practice portfolio is made up of some very diverse properties, and even though practice sizes vary greatly, {my}dentist has done a fantastic job of creating a unified brand.

Their practices are visually crisp. They have a well organised corporate back office and a rational practice/area management structure to take the admin load off clinical and nursing staff. They are efficient and friendly and effective. I will state now that I attend a {my}dentist practice, and I drive an hour each way to do so.

BUPA

Having built THE pre-eminent private healthcare brand in the UK, BUPA decided to go into dentistry by buying and extending the Oasis dental business. But I don’t think they realised how different dentistry is to their normal areas of operations.

There is a real conflict between BUPA’s carefully crafted private health image the mix of dental services they offer.

On the plus side, they have done a good job on the visual elements of the brand and updated many practices with new imagery, decorations and furniture. And they do have that very well know private healthcare reputation to fall back on.

Portman

They are growing organically, and take on new practices after a very careful evaluation process. It’s not about acquisition price; it’s about potential and fit. As such, Portman’s brand is all about consistent high quality.

Portman has also eliminated the conflict that plagues BUPA – they don’t offer NHS treatments. That means they can be 100% focused on offering quality private treatments. And that focus results in happier staff and happier patients.

JDRM

JDRM recently won an NHS emergency treatment contract in Leicester. So again, they have a real focus on their services. However, because this focus is around a single service in a single area, they have been able to use it as a central point around which they can offer other services: it’s a concentric model, not tangential or confused.

JDRM has also invested sensibly in creating a strong visual image for their seven practices and implemented up-to-date software to help create a single, integrated business. By implementing the latest software they can make savings through shared back office services.

And JDRM has created an impact by keeping it local and concentrated. They also take the trouble to exploit PR opportunities (such as a case study by Pearl Dental Software) to tell professionals about what they do, and so make recruitment easier.

So Arkwright, what about a new till?

In Arkwright’s case, a new till and a small van would have made Granville much happier. And in today’s competitive market for dental associates and nurses, having better equipment and systems might well give you an edge. But what can you do about patients?

What (for example) do you do to advertise your presence in the area? If patients and potential patients don’t know about you they won’t book appointments.

Visuals

And when they do come in, what is their first impression? What does your signage look like? Is it reflected in the way your practice decorations or do you have random colours and mismatched chairs in the waiting room? Do you have a practice logo, and if you do, is it used consistently?

Do your documents look like they’ve been printed professionally or at least on a professional office printer, or do they look like they’ve been churned out on one of those Gestetner devices they used to make school teachers suffer?

And talking of logos, does yours look like everyone else’s anthropomorphic molar, or is it a bit ‘different’?

Does your business name suggest ‘dentist’ or could it be equally applied to a greengrocer or funeral director?

Online

What does your online presence say about you? Have you created social media channels and then forgotten about them? And when was the last time your website was updated?

Patient interaction

How do your reception team deal with patients? Do they have the right tools to manage your book (and training in how to use those tools)? How do they sound on the ‘phone? How long do patients have to stand at the reception desk before someone deals with them? How do the reception team deal with the pre-treatment paperwork? And how well do they handle the tricky and uncomfortable process of taking payment?

Every single one of these things make a difference to how your brand is perceived, and every single one is in your direct control.

So let me ask you again? Which supermarket chain is most like your dental business?

Note: Opinions are solely those of the author and based on observation, reflecting the emotional reaction left by exposure to the examples.