You're eagerly flipping through the latest issue of your favorite dental journal and there it is—a display ad showcasing your logo and itemizing the reasons why dentist-readers should be sending their crowns to your laboratory. If this scenario seems inconceivable to you because you assume display advertising is not within your means, read on.
Laboratories of all sizes are recognizing dental journal advertising's ability to deliver their marketing message to hundreds, if not thousands, of potential clients. They've launched small and large advertising campaigns to increase sales, generate new business and enhance their image. "We're a new business, so we're advertising in order to establish our reputation in the industry," says Becky Vasquez, co-owner of 29-employee Becden Dental Laboratory in Draper, Utah.
Vasquez started small, with two 1/8 page ads, costing a total of $2,000. Encouraged by the results, she followed up with two full page ads, which cost $5,000 each. As a result, her 1997 advertising campaign brought in three new clients who each do $2,000 to $4,000 of business a month.
For established laboratories, print advertising can support a long-term presence in the industry and let people know you're keeping clients satisfied. "Our ads convey our laboratory's image and therefore help us maintain a certain level of business," says John Kirdahy, vice president and co-owner of 100-person Aim Dental Laboratory in Brooklyn, New York.
Despite its obvious benefits, the costs associated with print advertising make some laboratory owners hesitant about adding it to their marketing mix. And the truth is, print advertising won't generate new business overnight. "Experts say it takes three or four months before you experience a notable outcome from ads," say Marilyn and Tom Ross in their book, Big Marketing Ideas for Small Service Businesses. But with research, planning and patience, you can use print advertising to tap into your target market and identify numerous qualified leads at once.
Choosing the right publication in which to place your ad is vital to its success. Doing so requires that you know what type of dentist you are targeting, including type and size of practice and the number of years in business. There are also geographic considerations—are you targeting local, regional or national clients? For example, Kirdahy only places ads in his state's dental journal because he is primarily focused on attracting clients within New York.
Request media kits from several of the dental journals you're considering; these will give you each publication's advertising rates and deadlines, as well as acquaint you with its readership and editorial focus. "To find the best match for our ads, we compare who we're targeting to who's reading each publication," says Jim Kunkemoeller, vice president of sales and marketing at Great Lakes Orthodontics in Tonawanda, New York.
With regard to ad placement, there are a number of factors that will influence your costs. Of course, the size of your ad is the first factor; using two-color or four-color incurs additional expense. Requesting a "preferred" position—a highly visible spot like the inside or back covers—also comes at a premium. Also, as a general rule, the higher a publication's circulation, the higher the cost to advertise. Therefore, expect advertising rates in a national journal to exceed those of a regional one.
When considering your advertising budget, remember that frequency is key. In fact, a study by the Advertising Research Foundation and the Association of Business Publishers found that frequent reinforcement of your marketing message can boost your bottom line by up to 600%. This is the reason that some laboratories prefer to run several smaller ads rather than one large one. Many publications also offer frequency discounts, saving you on the cost per insertion.
The second area of expense to consider is the design and implementation of your advertisements. You have a variety of options, depending on how much outside help you feel you need: working with an advertising agency, hiring a graphic designer or producing them in house.
Advertising agencies are ideal for those who want professional copy writers and designers, plan to create complex, four-color graphic ads or have no internal marketing staff. For example, Kunkemoeller hires an advertising agency for the laboratory's larger color advertising. "We discuss the benefits of the product or service from the customer's point of view, and the agency develops headlines, copy and a graphic concept and even handles placement," he says.
But Kunkemoeller points out that doing as much as possible in-house will keep your costs down. "Paying for an agency's expertise on small ads that primarily use text is overkill," he says. Exactly how much of the writing and design you take on in-house depends on your comfort level and skills as well as those of your staff.
For example, Becky Vasquez and her marketing assistant draw on their combined 30 years of experience in the dental industry to write all copy for their advertisements and decide what image they want to portray. They then rely on a freelance graphic designer to put the ad together. The designer usually takes about four hours to design a typical ad, including revisions, and charges $60 an hour. (Keep in mind that agency and freelance fees will vary depending on their professional experience, the type of project and your geographical area.)
Judi O'Keefe, marketing manager of 17-employee Annalan Labs in Union Beach, New Jersey takes in-house production a step further. After writing the text, she selects an image from a photo disk and arranges the text in a rough layout, leaving space for her photo. She then brings her layout, the disk and the ad dimensions to a graphic service that inserts the photo and produces her ad film. For a black and white 1/3-page ad, the service charges about $200, says O'Keefe, who initially took a marketing course at a local, community college to learn marketing and advertising basics.
Although in-house production will save you money, keep in mind that even basic black-and-white ads need to follow basic design rules in order to get read. You or a staff member have to invest time to learn these design fundamentals; if you choose to do your own layout and design, consider investing in desktop publishing software such as Adobe PageMaker or Quark Express, or even Microsoft Power Point for more basic ads.
Tracking and evaluating
For the most cost-effective advertising campaign, you need to evaluate the leads generated from each ad you place, and adjust accordingly. For example, if you placed ads in three separate dental journals in November, December and January, which ad generated the greatest response? Tracking the effectiveness of a print advertisement can take months, so be prepared to log all lead sources and information from day one of your campaign.
Some publications include reply cards with a number that corresponds to your ad; readers can simply circle your number, mail in the card, and the publication then sends you a list of leads. But keep in mind that this list may not reflect all of the interest your ad generates—many people will prefer to pick up the phone and call you directly—especially when you include a toll-free number. In these cases, simply ask the caller how he heard of you.
Another tracking method is to include a promotional offer or other incentive in the ad. Statements like, "mention this ad and get a free information packet" or "respond by March 1 and your name will be entered into our drawing" all fall into this category. When dentists respond and refer to the offer, you have your source.
But don't stop at tracking the initial response alone; find out how many dentists actually send in a case and turn into repeat clients. "You can put in one ad and get 400 responses, but only two people buy," says Kunkemoeller. "Then you may have an ad that gets 200 responses, and 100 buy. Which would you run again?"
As with all marketing strategies, advertising will only be as effective as your follow up. Plan on having a laboratory brochure or information packet to send to the leads generated by your ad. You can follow up further with a telephone call or, for local clients, an in-person sales call.
Billy Drake, owner of Drake Precision Dental Laboratory in Charlotte, North Carolina, may follow up with his leads up to six times. "If you don't get them after six times you can forget it. The lead is pretty much dead," Drake says, who relies on his internal marketing staff and sales reps to follow-up leads.
Whatever your print ad campaign may be, remember that print ads alone will not bring business to your doorstep. "It takes more than just print ads," says O'Keefe. "It's a combination of tools that gets you business, like follow up, mailings and exhibiting at trade shows. Print ads are just another way to open the door."