As the prevalence of dental laboratory newsletters grows, the challenge is to stand out in the crowd. To keep their newsletters fresh and innovative, some laboratory owners are reevaluating the effectiveness of their publications and changing their strategy. By redefining goals, evaluating dentists' needs and acknowledging busy work schedules, laboratories are adapting new formats, revising content and even switching mediums to help their newsletters continue to work as successful marketing tools.
When Lawrence Forbes and his three partners bought Hub Dental Lab in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, in 1986, they thought their laboratory was well known in the Canadian market—until they started asking around. "We found dentists who had never heard of us though the lab had been around since 1947," says Forbes, co-owner and general manager of the 17-employee lab. To get the word out, the partners launched a laboratory newsletter, Word of Mouth, in 1988. Their goal? "To get our laboratory to be a household name in the Atlantic Canada dental industry," says Forbes.
Now, ten years later and their name recognition greatly increased, Forbes has reevaluated the publication and set new objectives to better meet the laboratory's current marketing needs. "Now we use Word of Mouth more for announcements and to inform and update clients," Forbes says.
Since demanding work schedules mean most dentists won't read every newsletter that comes through their doors—especially lengthy ones—some laboratories like CQC Prosthodontics, Inc. in Rochester, New York, are cutting back on the amount of information they include. "Dentists should be able to read your newsletter cover to cover in just ten minutes," says Bob Ingrassio, president of the 40-employee lab whose philosophy on newsletters has changed since he first published Contour Chairside Assistance five years ago.
Contour, 18 pages of articles for dentists by dentists, was sent out four times a year and took up to 50 hours a quarter to complete. "Contour wasn't getting enough feedback for the amount of work we put into it," says Ingrassio. "We've done a complete 360." CQC now publishes Stuff You Should Know, a four-page piece that dentists are more likely to read—and that saves the lab more than 150 hours in newsletter production time a year.
As lab owners compete for the dentist's attention, they are shifting the focus of their newsletters from a sales or public relations slant to technical and product information—articles that are useful and valuable to the dentist-reader. "A newsletter is not a direct mail piece. It's important to keep a non-sales tone to establish and cultivate relationships," says Becky Vansant, marketing director of Oral Arts Dental Laboratories headquartered in Huntsville, Alabama with additional facilities in Mobile, Alabama and Maryville, Tennessse.
Scott Clark of Dental Arts Laboratories, Inc. in Peoria, Illinois, agrees. When Clark, vice president of marketing and sales at the 285-person group of laboratories, wanted to assess the effectiveness of his laboratory's existing newsletter, The Dental Mirror, he met with dentists in a local forum group. The result? "We discovered two points. First, dentists looked upon us as a resource for technical information and direction when evaluating new dental technologies. Secondly, they preferred information in a quick, comprehensive piece," says Clark, who replaced his sales piece with a service piece—a four-page Technical Bulletin with technical and product information. "The bottom line is to listen, understand and then try to satisfy what your customers require from your publications," says Clark.
To maximize communication between laboratory and client and to save on printing costs, laboratories are also taking advantage of technology to change how their newsletters are actually delivered.
When Oral Arts Dental Laboratories in Huntsville's quarterly newsletter, Update, didn't seem to be meeting its original goal—to keep in contact with existing accounts in other states—the 120-person laboratory replaced the piece with a company web page. "For us, the web page provides an easier way for clients to communicate with the lab," says Vansant who has a large out-of-state client base and knew that several of them were on the Internet, either at the office or at home.
Vansant notes a more direct and consistent response through e-mail than they ever received from Update: the web page receives about 500 hits a month. However, Vansant acknowledges that a web page is not ideal for every lab, especially smaller laboratories with a local client base or one with very few clients on-line.
If your laboratory has published a newsletter for several years or it has become just something to push out the door at every deadline, step back and take a moment to assess it. Is your newsletter meeting its original goals, informing clients or even being read? Simple changes in presentation and content may help your newsletter become a sought-after information resource for your dentist-readers and a fully maximized marketing tool for your laboratory.