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If My Dentist Understands Email Marketing, So Can You!

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The top three things people fear most are public speaking, death, and the dentist's office.

OK, I admit that I made up the last one. I know that people definitely fear speaking in front of an audience and that the thought of death keeps some awake at night; however, I'm not as certain about the dentist's office.

Though it's true that not everyone hates the dentist, I'd bet that if you polled 100 people, going to the dentist would not be on anyone's top 1,000 list of favorite activities.

So if most people don't like going to the dentist, how can dentists at least make the visits less intimidating? First, they could make the mundane remarkable, as Amber Naslund shows us. Or maybe they could ensure people that they'll meet their future spouse there (Watch 30 Rock's "Future Husband" clip.)

Although both options—the serious (Naslund's post) and the silly (the 30 Rock clip)—would certainly make your dentist visit more entertaining, I'd like to focus on email marketing.

According to the Direct Marketing Association, email marketing returned $43.62 for every dollar spent on it in 2009 and is expected to return $42.08 for every dollar spent on it in 2010. (Also, I work at Blue Sky Factory, an email-service provider, and that's where my expertise lies.)

Foothill Dental Understands Email Marketing

My dentist is Dr. Matt Stohl of Foothill Dental. As an email-marketing nut, instead of critiquing how he administers Novocain or how the hygienist flosses my teeth... I think about how the staff communicates with customers.

My dentist gets it. He understands the power of communication. He's not "doing social media" in the way we think of it. Foothill Dental does not have a Twitter account or Facebook fan page. (Could you see yourself being a fan of your dentist?) Foothill Dental doesn't blog or answer questions on LinkedIn. It doesn't use Gowalla or Foursquare. Foothill Dental leverages the awesome power of email marketing.

Here's how Foothill does it.

  • Ask. It's simple yet often forgotten. When I made my initial appointment, Foothill asked for my email address.
  • What's in it for me? Some people (like my mom) are still hesitant to give out their email address. If you are going to take the time to ask customers for their personal information, tell them what's in it for them. The receptionist at Stohl's office told me that the staff would use my email address to remind me of appointments. Simple, yet powerful.
  • Follow-through. Too often, marketers set expectations yet either don't follow through or stray from the promise. Sure enough, though, two days before my scheduled appointment, the below email landed in my inbox. The from name—Foothill Dental—was appropriate. I may have ignored the message had it come from Dr. Matt Stohl. Although the subject line could have been a bit more personalized, overall it worked. I opened the email.

  • Simple, clean design. Look at the email from Foothill Dental again. Really stare at it. It's easy on the eyes: a picture of two adorable children (both with great teeth, of course) and a very straightforward design, message, and call to action. Remember, it's an appointment reminder. With a quick glance, I knew exactly when my appointment was.
  • Clear, actionable call to action. It's obvious what they want me to do: confirm my appointment. They put those words in bold and green, and even included a Confirm Now button. I like that it's green (for consistency). The button is visible as a text link with images off. They even call that out in the copy.
  • Personalization. I'm not a huge fan of personalization, as I've written and spoken about in the past. I think it's fake and contrived looking. However, in the above example, I like the signature from Stohl. He's doesn't overdo it, and it still feels natural; that is, I know that Stohl didn't really sign the email, but...
  • Integration. I wish all emails were as usable and well integrated as this one. I can easily add the appointment to my calendar, map the location with Google, view my account online, and even refer a friend. Finally (I know this from asking the receptionist), when I confirm my appointment it updates Foothill's system. If I do not confirm via email, a staffer will call me the day before. Cool, right?

    What Else Foothill Dental Does Well

    I am critical of all emails I read. So the fact that I give Foothill Dental rave reviews says a lot—about Foothill. Are there areas where the staff can improve? Of course. Would it be worth their time? I'm not sure. A few thoughts...

    • Facebook, blog, Twitter: It's no secret social media is hot. Moreover, email plus social media is really where it's at. Foothill could start a blog, create a Facebook page, and even manage a Twitter account. However, I'm not sold on whether this would move the needle for Foothill. It may be worth exploring, but I don't see people getting fired up about the dentist (the way I do).
    • Additional emails: Besides my appointment-reminder emails, Foothill has also sent me a brief survey (which I completed) and a Happy Birthday email. Foothill should expand on those emails. What about a monthly newsletter with "Tips and Tricks" or periodic reminders about good dental hygiene? I realize the latter suggestions often depend on resources, but I think they would be a nice addition.

    A Few Other Reasons Foothill Dental Rocks

    First, and maybe most important, the entire staff at Foothill Dental is kind, thoughtful, and helpful, and they make me feel like I'm the most-important patient—every time I interact with them.

    Second, they give control back to me, the patient. On my last visit, one of the dental hygienists asked me how I would like to be alerted about upcoming appointments. I mentioned to her that I loved the email reminder. She told me that they could also call (old school) or text (new school)—whichever medium was most convenient for me.

    Yes, for me. They are doing their best to minimize the chance that I will miss my appointment.

    * * *

    If I could give out stars to Stohl and his staff, they would receive 4.5 out of 5. What else would you suggest for Stohl and his crew to make up those extra .5 points? Let me know in the comments below, and I'll be sure to share them during my next dental cleaning.

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    DJ Waldow is an email marketing consultant, writer, blogger, speaker, founder and CEO of Waldow Social, and co-author of The Rebel's Guide to Email Marketing.

    Twitter: @djwaldow

    LinkedIn: DJ Waldow

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    • by Mariana Ferrari Tue Apr 20, 2010 via web

      Hi DJ,

      I agree: it's simple, yet very powerful. I always say: to do good marketing you don't need money, you just need a good strategy.

    • by Marina Tue Apr 20, 2010 via web

      The newsletter is a great idea and I have a very good topic- financing your dental work. As we all know, most dental procedures (other than cleaning and cavities) can get very expensive and dental insurance usually covers very little. My dentist told me about care credit, which is sort of like a credit card, but for medical use only with a limited line of credit and no APR (at least for a while). So, learning about financing options would probably bring more people to the dentist.

    • by Becky Tue Apr 20, 2010 via web

      Great article! Looks like your dentist is using SmileReminder for those email messages. I work at a dental office and we use it and have had good patient feedback. One thing that I would love to be able to offer but haven't found the technology is emailing my patients thier statements with a link to pay them online. We can do it but it is far from automated. As a dental office that blogs, has a Facebook, page and a Twitter account I find the blogging is by far the best thing I have implemented because when you go to send out the e-newsletter, you can link to articles that you have posted to your blog. In addition if I am having a special event, like an Invisalign Day, it's easy for me or my staff to update the blog and not have to get a web designer involved.

    • by Don Don Tue Apr 20, 2010 via web

      Great article, thanks. Here's my observation:
      The email provides VALUE to you and that's why you like it. Now, the question is, if Foothill Dental is your potential dentist what should they do with an email they send you? As you alluded to, that dental visit is painful, probably getting a message across on reducing that might be helpful?

    • by TPMM Tue Apr 20, 2010 via web

      Another dentist that's found a unique way to promote their business is Village Dental. A painted VW bus parked near his office makes a great rolling billboard. Check it out at:

    • by Laurel Cavalluzzo Tue Apr 20, 2010 via web

      I am very impressed by all that this dentist is doing. One thing he can add to his mix is actively asking for referrals, and perhaps rewarding clients who provide new referrals to this dentist.

    • by Lisa Stockwell Tue Apr 20, 2010 via web

      If the dentist has a website, I think it can be invaluable to have a Q&A or FAQ to provide patients with quick answers to non-emergency concerns they have. While they may get this info from other sites, it helps build customer loyalty and trust when the answers come directly from the person's own (or prospective) healthcare provider.

    • by HireHeather Tue Apr 20, 2010 via web

      Great article, DJ.

      So glad to see the little guy getting praised for great marketing. Far too often, people focus on the negative with small businesses and forget they don't always need all the bells and whistles. As a copywriter who's main focus is small to medium businesses and nonprofits, I can tell you from experience, a lot of them really are doing it right.

      I would also suggest they link to their patient forms so I can fill them out in advance (if necessary). Also, getting into the hotter social media trends like Twitter isn't a bad idea given the price. How cool would it be if you followed your dentist and you got DM reminders of your appointment? As attached as some people are to their Twitter feed, that might be the only way to reach them!

      A blog is always good, but I think an email newsletter with the articles archived blog-style would be great - especially if it came with fun extras like dental hygiene-friendly recipes or quick tips for getting rid of bad breath when you can't brush (or even coloring or activity sheets for the kiddos if they cater to them).

    • by Briana Wed Apr 21, 2010 via web

      Very good point. Sometimes the simplest things are the most effective strategies.

    • by DJ Waldow Wed Apr 21, 2010 via web

      Yikes! I step away for a few hours and I see there are some killer comments here. Thank you ALL for adding your thoughts. This is what it's all about. Let's continue the conversation! I'll do my best to address them all...

      @Mariana - I would add, good strategy with some common sense (and a dash of luck).

      @Marina (add an "a" and you have the same name as Mariana above!) - Great idea about a newsletter that include financing. I've actually used CareCredit before. A no-brainer! Love it.

      @Becky - Why thank you. You've got it. They are using SmileReminder. My father is actually a dentist too (in Rochester, NY). I'm working on him checking his OWN email. Ha ha. LOVE the idea of sending patients their statements via email. I'm sure the technology exists, but many people would be skeptical I'd think, right? People still freak out a bit about paying bills online. Also agree about including links back to the blog in your email campaigns - a great way to cross pollinate/repurpose. Thanks again for your great ideas.

      @Don Don - We meet again! Thanks for your thoughts. You are correct. At the end of the day, email marketing (or any marketing for that matter) works if it is VALUABLE. Bingo! Great observation.

      @TPMM - Yikes! Now that - billboard van - is very cool. Love it.

      @Laurel - Great point about referrals. I'm not sure if he gives a kick-back to those who refer, but look at the icon/button on the bottom right of the email. Refer-a-friend!

      @Lisa - Agree about the website. A wonderful "home base" but the key is maintaining it. Info has to be up-to-date. I think that's a big challenge for small businesses. Agreed?

      @HireHeather - Heck yeah! Hail to the little guy (and girl). Great idea about linking the patient forms. As far as getting DM reminders from my dentist...way cool. They are starting to send text message reminders. I like that idea too. At the end of the day, whatever medium works best for the client/customer/patient, right?

      @Briana - True. True. True.

      Thanks again to all who have commented. Great extension of the conversation!

      DJ Waldow
      Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory

    • by Lisa Stockwell Wed Apr 21, 2010 via web

      @DJ - Maintenance of a site is an issue as it requires a shift in mindset about how the medical provider or staff spends their time. I managed a Q&A for a natural pharma company for 6 months and once I got on top of their backlog (about 300 unanswered questions), it took me less than 10 minutes a day to maintain. Customers loved it and it provided great fodder for other content. I just discovered that lets anyone build their own Q&A site without needing a webmaster to set it up for you. May not be the answer for small biz, but it responds to a demand for this kind of app.

    • by Someshwar Mehra Thu Apr 22, 2010 via web

      Hi. Great article. Full of good ol 'uncommon' common sense. I see the temptation of overdoing the e-mail bit with regular newletters and other e-mails sent to the patients. One would have to be careful in case all the e-mails land up in the junk folder (along with the useful appointment reminder). As for twitter and blogging, i am a little skeptical about how many people would like to hear the thoughts of a dentist and his work (i personally dont find molars, cavities and root canals exciting).

      A great initiative by a small business all the same. Very effectively used and has so far resisted the tempation to go all out with it.

    • by Philip Wicks Thu Apr 22, 2010 via web

      Greetings from across the pond. Great article.

      As manager of a UK orthodontic practice, I would love to know which appointment system Foothill are using for this kind of integration. Thanks.

    • by DJ Waldow Thu Apr 22, 2010 via web

      @Lisa - Agreed. I like that. A shift in mindset. You make an excellent point about "10-minutes per day." The issue is getting over that initial hurdle (backlog of 300+ in your case). I may have to share this with my dentist! Thanks again.

      @Someshwar - You are correct about email frequency. That is always an issue and a fine line/balance. As far as messages landing in the spam folder, working with a reputable email service provider can help alleviate some of those concerns. Re: Twitter. Remember that the dentist's tweets don't have to be all about dentistry. She can weave in personal information too, right? It could make the next dental visit a bit less scary!

      @Philip - Hello there from across the pond. Thanks for stopping by! I think Foothill is using Smile Reminder ( Are you using email marketing at all today for your UK practice?

      DJ Waldow
      Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory

    • by Philip Wicks Thu Apr 22, 2010 via web

      @DJ - we are not using email marketing at the moment, but looking at the possibilities. I now need to understand what appointment systems will interface with Smile Reminder. Thanks for the feedback.

    • by Tanya Mon Apr 26, 2010 via web

      Great article and comments. Asking for patient referral, reviews on social media sites, custom appointment confirmation are all pluses to accommodate a dental patient. Smile Reminder is a great tool for appointments, however you will need to get an different platform for email marketing. SR doesn't have the tracking features like an icontact or constant contact. I work with lots of dentists in a marketing/communication capacity. They all need assistance to convey and overcome the fear factor to the general public. The biggest challenge I see when it comes to marketing dental is the dentist/team IS NOT the target audience, yet they can have a heavy hand in how things are conveyed.

    • by DJ Waldow Tue Apr 27, 2010 via web

      Excellent point, Tanya. It would be remiss if I didn't mention Blue Sky Factory as another option to iContact or Constant Contact. After all, I work there! Ha ha.

      Thanks for your comment.

      DJ Waldow
      Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory

    • by Susan Fri Apr 30, 2010 via web

      I'd be curious to know how many primary care doctors use email marketing. Do we think very many people in this field are internet savvy?

    • by Josh Fri May 14, 2010 via web

      My dentist, Dr. Shvartsman, has made great use of online marketing. Like this example, his staff sends e-mails for appointment confirmations (or the tradtional phone call).

      He's taken it a step further for new and potential patients too. On his website, he features a YouTube office video tour. While he calmly discusses his unique brand of comfort dentistry, you're viewing images of the warm, zen-like office decor. It truly showcases his relaxing approach to a normally "scary" visit to the dentist.

      The website highlights each of the services they offer, and provides FAQs, driving directions, contact info and dentist bios. Dr. Shvartsman also features a blog about office news, the latest dentistry technologies, and helpful tips.

      You can view the website here:

    • by DJ Waldow Fri May 14, 2010 via web

      Josh: Yikes! Very cool. LOVE the use of video. Thanks so much for sharing.

      DJ Waldow
      Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory

    • by Scott Spirio Wed Jun 2, 2010 via web

      DJ, are their any advantages to using Blue Sky over iContact, Constant Contact etc? Also, does anyone have any recommendations for how to keep track of birthdays? I've always wanted to do this but haven't dedicated the time to finding out our customer birthdays actually- and was afraid to send out a contrived birthday message. But ultimately, it might be kind of cool to send out something, and perhaps even include a discount for our IT Services to the lucky birthday person!


    • by Josh Wed Jun 2, 2010 via web

      E-mail list managers like MailChimp and AWeber both allow custom fields, like a person's birthday. You can setup auto emails to be sent on these days, or even select a number of days (or time) to send the message before/after, etc.

    • by DJ Waldow Wed Jun 2, 2010 via web

      @Scott - I'd be silly to say no, right? Ha ha. This is likely not the best forum to lay out the advantages/differences of Blue Sky Factory vs. our competitors, but I'd be happy to chat over email (djwaldow AT blueskyfactory dot com). Let me know! As far as how to keep track of birthdays, add that to your sign up form and build automated segmentations & campaigns based on that field. Alternatively, why not set up an email campaign that is dedicated to asking people for their birthdays? Give them an incentive to provide you that information!

      @Josh - In fact, nearly every email service provider (Mailchimp, Aweber, Blue Sky Factory, etc) allow custom fields and auto-responders.

      DJ Waldow
      Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory

    • by Duffy Sun May 13, 2012 via web

      My brother in-law used SmileReminder with mixed results. Be careful with their contract which locks you in for to 2 years at high monthly.

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