Editor’s intro: To create a memorable practice, create differentiators that help you stand out from the competition! Rich Carnahan provides guidance strategies that pique new patients’ interest.
Rich Carnahan discusses ideas to set a practice apart from the competition
What makes your orthodontic practice different? If “We really care about our patients” flashed through your mind, you have officially joined the ranks of thousands of other orthodontists, including some in your market, who think the same thing about their practice. Unfortunately, with so many doctors making this claim, caring is no longer a differentiator. The good news is there are many types of differentiators you can use to set yourself apart from your competitors.
Why you need differentiators as an orthodontist
As the desire for healthier, more attractive smiles grows in the United States, so does the number of orthodontists. In 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that practicing orthodontists would increase by 18% by 2024.1 Dentists, some of whom also offer orthodontic services, were also expected to grow at the same rate. With approximately 8,600 orthodontists actively practicing as of October 2018, it’s no surprise that the competition for patients, especially in more populated areas, is fierce.2
Having differentiators will help you stand out from the competition and attract more patients who will then become ambassadors of your practice and refer more patients.
Types of differentiators
There are five different differentiation strategies:
- Price differentiation
- Product differentiation
- Service differentiation
- Relationship differentiation
- Reputation differentiation
While price is probably the most well-known differentiator, the other four can also be applied to your practice. We’ll talk about each one separately, share ways to incorporate them into your practice, and give examples of how you may already be using some of them.
- Price differentiation
Differentiating yourself by offering extremely low prices is fairly easy to do, but it can be hard on your bottom line, especially if your competitors decide to match your offers, which means you have to lower your prices even more. Fortunately, there are other ways to use price to set your practice apart.
If your competitors don’t accept many insurance plans, offering this option to patients can make treatment less expensive for them without reducing your profit. Offering permanent discounts to select groups of people (teachers, healthcare workers, firefighters, etc.) is a nice way to give back and encourages members of these groups to come to you for treatment, while offering monthly promotions with deeper discounts can temporarily differentiate your practice and encourage new patients to try your services.
- Product differentiation
Product differentiation is exactly what it sounds like: You can set yourself apart by offering a different product than your competitors. It’s reasonable to assume they are offering braces and some form of clear aligner, just like you and every other orthodontist in the U.S.
But there are different products you can offer to potential patients. If tweens and teens make up the majority of your patients, or if you want to increase the number of patients in this age group, WildSmiles® are braces with different bracket shapes that appeal to younger patients and are as effective as braces with square brackets.3 If you have a popular college sports team in your area, you can look into becoming the exclusive provider of Mascot Braces® for that team.4
Other product differentiator options include gold braces, lingual braces, and self-ligating braces. None of these products are particularly new to the market or hard to find. In fact, you may already be offering some or all of them. But if your main competitors don’t have one of these products and you do, that may be reason enough for a patient to come to your office instead.
- Service differentiation
You can differentiate your practice both with the services you offer and how you service your patients.
Orthodontic surgery, TMD treatment, early orthodontics, sleep apnea correction, and orthognathic surgery are services not all orthodontists offer. Having these services available at the same place where they will get their braces or clear aligners can be enticing to potential patients, so it’s important to promote them.
How you serve your patients can also be a differentiator. For busy families with a single parent or two working parents, an orthodontist who has evening or weekend hours can be more attractive than one who is only open 8:00 a.m to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, making extended hours a strong differentiator. If your competitors use an answering service or rely on voicemail for calls received after hours, having an on-call phone that is answered by you or a member of your team can set you apart, especially in the eyes of a parent whose child has an orthodontic emergency outside of business hours.
- Relationship differentiation
While this may sound similar to the “We care about our patients” mentioned in the first paragraph, it is possible to differentiate your practice based on the relationships you have with your patients.
Believe it or not, having a smaller practice and only one location can be seen as a positive by some patients. If you are competing with an orthodontist with multiple offices and dozens of staff, emphasize the personal relationships your patients will have with your team because they see the same people at every appointment instead of whoever is available or working in a certain office that day.
Or make a point to see every patient at every appointment, even if it’s just for a quick greeting or to answer any questions about his/her treatment. It may seem like a small gesture to you, but it matters to your patients and their families.
- Reputation or image differentiation
This differentiator is similar to relationship differentiation because it is based on your patients’ perception of you rather than something concrete like a product or hours of operation.
Before you try to differentiate your practice this way, you should decide what reputation or image you want to have. If you want to appeal to kids, having a reputation of being fun or silly (while still providing quality treatment) can make you different from your competitors and appealing to parents who don’t have to drag their kids to their orthodontic appointments. If adults looking for Invisalign® make up your target market, having a more serious, grown-up image can attract the patients you are looking for.
One of the best ways to project a reputation or image differentiator is through your website and on social media. Posting pictures of you and your staff wearing flannel PJs on National Pajama Day or having a silly string fight in your office on your Facebook and Instagram pages shows you are a fun place kids will want to visit. Having informative, well-written blogs and page content on your website helps solidify your reputation as an expert in your field, and someone patients can trust with their care. Sharing stories about your team’s involvement in local service projects portrays you as a valuable member of your community who likes to give back.
Truly unique differentiators
We aren’t saying you should apply these particular differentiators to your practice. We are just pointing out that you shouldn’t be afraid to get creative.
A common instruction orthodontists give patients with new braces is to eat soft foods and apply an ice pack or drink something cold to relieve any discomfort. One doctor takes it a step further by providing ice cream to his patients. And it’s not just a little cup of pre-packaged ice cream; he has an actual ice cream shop in his office with two different flavors that his patients vote on every month. That’s quite an image differentiator.
Another orthodontist is using price differentiation with a twist. Instead of offering discounts to select groups or monthly promotions, he has the base price for his silver braces prominently displayed in all of his marketing. If patients want to upgrade their treatment by adding bells and whistles (gold or ceramic braces instead of silver, different-shaped brackets instead of rectangular ones), there is an extra fee. This transparency of price lets new patients know what they’re going to pay before they even walk through the door, eliminating the sticker shock that can turn some people away.
Two orthodontists combine image and service differentiation. One offers a lifetime guarantee on a patient’s smile. If a patient’s teeth shift at any point after his/her treatment is complete, the practice will fix the issue for only 10% of the cost of the initial treatment. The other offers noninvasive cosmetic treatment and spa services in her office, making it a one-stop shop for patients wanting to improve their image and well-being.
Finding the right differentiators for your office
It’s important to choose differentiators that make sense for your practice. Review your patient personas to determine what type of people you want to attract. Do some competitive analysis on practices in your area to see what differentiators they are using and make sure you do something else that makes you stand out. And finally, select differentiators that you can live with. If lowering prices keeps you up all night worrying about your bottom line, or you can’t tell your patients to watch their sugar intake and offer them ice cream in the same visit with a clear conscience, don’t put these practices in place. There are many other ways to make you and your practice memorable.
Remote monitoring is another way to create a memorable practice. Read about Dr. Terry Sellke’s experience using Smartphone technology to increase efficiency here.
- Burger D. Orthodontists, dentists atop list of best jobs in U.S. ADA News. Jan 26, 2019. https://www.ada.org/en/publications/ada-news/2016-archive/january/orthodontists-dentists-atop-list-of-best-jobs-in-us. Accessed April 22, 2019.
- Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Professionally active dentists by specialty field. March 2019. https://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/dentists-by-specialty-field/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D. Accessed April 22, 2019.
- WildSmiles website. https://www.wildsmilesbraces.com. Accessed April 22, 2019.
- Mascot Braces website. https://www.mascotbraces.com. Accessed April 22, 2019.