Is it possible to have a website that will sell high-ticket dental procedures on the strength of the website alone? I believe it is and allow me to show you how.
A marketing fundamental
The first and most basic principle you need to understand about marketing is that emotional appeals are more effective than rational appeals. Roger Dooley, a lecturer, author, consultant, and digital marketing expert, writes in his book, Brainfluence, “The idea that ads that engage us emotionally work better than those that don’t should not be a big shock to anyone who’s spent time in advertising.”1
He then cites a study from the leading trade organization in the United Kingdom, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA). In an analysis of 1,400 case studies, it was learned that purely rational appeals were successful only 16% of the time while emotional appeals resulted in large profit gains 31% of the time, which is almost twice as often.1
Dentistry is not exempt from this principle. Whether or not people make appointments with you has a lot to do with whether or not they like you and feel safe with you. Emotional appeals, however, take more expertise and creative energy. That’s part of the reason marketers do not use them as often as they should.
The emotional appeals that work in dentistry
Here is where traditional marketers often have trouble. Schooled in basic marketing strategy, some marketers will pepper a dental website with calls to action such as “Call now!” What they don’t understand is that trust is the key motivator in dental marketing and trust is undermined by an eager message.
Dental marketing consultant Suzanne Boswell wrote The Mystery Patient’s Guide to Gaining & Retaining Patients. In it she emphasizes the importance of conveying a message of trust in your marketing. “A common focus group comment is, ‘I want to go to someone who cares more about me than the money,’” Boswell said.2 An eagerness to get people to make an appointment creates the feeling that you do, in fact, care more about the money.
According to Boswell’s focus group studies, patients are also looking for dentists who are caring, friendly, professional, and up to date.3 Notice that these are emotional messages.
Marketing high-ticket dental procedures requires a different approach than marketing family dental services. This also holds true for consumer goods. For example, marketing a Louis Vuitton handbag needs a very different approach than marketing a Kenneth Cole handbag, and Lexus ads have a different tone than Chevrolet ads.
In 2009, Sesame Communications commissioned two research projects that studied how patients choose dentists online. They recruited study subjects from across the United States who were currently searching for dentists. The subjects were provided with lists of websites of nearby dental practices and then monitored as they reviewed those websites to decide which dental office to choose. Their computers were monitored, and they were asked to think out loud as a research facilitator listened. Participants were instructed to proceed as normally as possible while searching for a dentist.
The study focused first on people searching for general dental care followed by a project zeroing in on patients searching for a cosmetic dentist.
“Perhaps the most surprising result of the [second] study is how different cosmetic dentistry shoppers are from general dentistry shoppers.”4 The study found that patients searching for a cosmetic dentist were much more sensitive to cues that a practice is eager for new patients. Pop-ups were perceived as desperate. One participant who was confronted with a pop-up commented, “Pop-ups are kind of like, ‘Hey, don’t leave. Give me your money.’”5
Those searching for cosmetic dentists were very interested in substantial information about the procedures they were contemplating. They were not impressed with sites that seemed shallow or full of fluff. They also wanted to see before-and-after photos showing the doctor’s cosmetic work.
Our company’s experience and research validate these conclusions. Patients attracted to high-fee dentists tend to spend more time looking at a website. These patients also reveal that they have visited more websites. Instead of one or two websites, those attracted to higher-fee dentists look at an average of three additional sites, and sometimes as many as six or seven.
They are more likely to check reviews. For a practice that is marketing bread-and-butter dentistry, about 56% of new patients check reviews. For practices marketing high-fee dentistry, that number is around 75%.⁶
These patients are also willing to travel farther. The average practice attracts patients within a five- to seven-mile radius.6 Patients visiting high-fee practices will come from an average of twice that, with some traveling more than 50 miles.
How to attract quality-oriented patients
First, your website needs to brand you as a quality-oriented dentist, and it needs to do that within the first couple of seconds to create that valuable first impression. It should do this with quality images and plenty of space. A crowded website sends the subconscious message of concern about the budget. When people have money, they buy large houses with lots of space. When they are budget conscious, they cram as much as they can into small spaces.
As you think about your website’s appeal, consider a marketing experiment created by Brian Wansink, former professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University. One group in his experiment was given a meal that they were told was fish, scalloped potatoes, and green beans. It was served on paper plates with plastic tableware under standard fluorescent lighting. The diners scored it an average 3.4 on a 10-point scale. The exact same meal was then given to another group of diners, but they were told it was Panko-crusted Mediterranean sea bass. It was served on fine china on a table set with fine linens, a floral centerpiece, candles, nice glassware, and flatware. This group rated the meal an average of 8.0.7 So, the emotional associations created with the setting of the meal nearly tripled its value. Similarly, new patients are strongly influenced by your website’s first impression. Don’t try to serve up expensive dentistry on a cheap “paper plate” website.
Second, you need to set a strong professional tone for your website. Don’t use gimmicks to get people to call. Forget new-patient offers and coupons. Don’t use language that suggests you are anxious for new patients. You want to set a welcoming tone without appearing desperate.
Third, you need credentials that demonstrate you have the skills necessary to deliver quality care. Present these in a matter-of-fact tone, not as if you are a proud parent. Let people know how much continuing education you pursue and mention extensive courses or residencies. Accreditations, fellowships, and awards should be included. Testimonials are another effective way to display your expertise.
Fourth, you need quality information about the procedures people are contemplating. When my dental marketing agency surveys new patients about what led them to make their appointments, they frequently cite the quality of the information presented on the website.
Smile makeover dentistry
There are some additional points if you are marketing smile makeovers. Don’t think that people who are spending a lot of money are less emotional and more rational. Our experience establishes that the opposite is true. The first impression of the website needs to convey the feeling, “This dentist can make me beautiful.” If it doesn’t, they’re very unlikely to schedule.
In this emotional appeal, you need to leverage people’s powerful associations. One is that people associate “beautiful” with “expensive.” To be the most effective, our experience shows that your cosmetic dentistry website needs to look expensive. You should also display a smile gallery of impeccable work. Full-face photographs are preferable, with enough detail to allow close examination of the case.8
Do all of this and I believe you can “sell” high-ticket dental procedures on the strength of your website alone.
1 Dooley R. Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons; 2011:241.
2. Boswell S. The Mystery Patient’s Guide to Gaining & Retaining Patients. Tulsa, OK: PennWell Books; 1997:123.
3. Boswell S. The Mystery Patient’s Guide to Gaining & Retaining Patients. Tulsa, OK: PennWell Books; 1997:129.
4. How consumers choose cosmetic dentists online. Sesame Communications Whitepaper 2.3. Seattle, WA: Sesame Communications; 2009:3.
5. How consumers choose cosmetic dentists online. Sesame Communications Whitepaper 2.3. Seattle, WA: Sesame Communications; 2009:5.
6. Winans X. How to recoup your dental technology investment with marketing. Dent Econ. 2019 Aug; 22.
7. Danziger P. Marketing to the affluent. The Robin Report. October 19, 2015. Accessed February 17, 2020. https://www.therobinreport.com/marketing-to-the-affluent/
8. Hall DA. Building an effective smile gallery. Infinity Dental Web. July 30, 2018. Accessed February 20, 2020. https://www.infinitydentalweb.com/blog/building-an-effective-smile-gallery/
DAVID A. HALL, DDS, AAACD, graduated with honors from the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry and ran a private practice in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for many years. In 1995, he launched a website promoting his dental practice. After requests from other dentists for help with their websites, in 2009 he founded Infinity Dental Web, a marketing agency that does digital marketing for dentists. Contact Dr. Hall at (480) 273-8888.