Market Focus - Dentists: Marketable Smiles
Smile! Dentists make a promising market for anyone targeting entrepreneurs or medical professionals. There are more than 228,000 dentists in the U.S., according to the American Dental Association (ADA), and their incomes tend to start at more than $100,000 and reach more than $200,000 later on, particularly for specialists. Drilling for Data
There are two kinds of dentists: general practitioners and specialists, such as cosmetic surgeons, orthodontists, oral surgeons and pediatric dentists. According to Greg Branstetter, president of Hippo Direct, a list brokerage that specializes in lists of dentists and other medical professionals, about 75 percent of dentists are general practitioners and approximately 25 percent are specialists. Specialists tend to be concentrated in
However, the line between generalist and specialist is starting to blur. “A lot of these specialties now have worked their way into the general dentistry practice,” says Branstetter. “A general practitioner dentist may be able to offer some of those services at a lower cost to patients rather than sending them off to another doctor who specializes.”
Dentists are highly educated; in fact, of the ADA membership list of more than 120,000 dentists, says Branstetter, all but 34 have a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine degree. According to the ADA’s Distribution of Dentists in the United States by Region and State, 2005, 69.8 percent of dentists are male and 30.2 percent are female. ADA membership is 81 percent white, 11 percent Asian, 4 percent Hispanic and 3 percent black. “A case probably can be made that minority dental markets are being underserved from that perspective,”
The dental profession encompasses a wide range of ages. Approximately 4,000 new dentists graduate from dental school each year, while about 55 percent of dental practice owners are more than 55. Some marketers segment the dentist market by age, especially if they’re promoting technology. “Many marketers have found that the younger the dentist[s], the more likely they are to adopt new technologies,” says Branstetter. In addition, dental practices often have similar life cycles: A dentist will earn his degree and work for someone else while he pays off his loans and learns the ropes, buy his own practice, and finally, get ready to sell the practice. “When dentists get over 55 or so, they tend not to spend much on their practice, because they’re really setting themselves up to go out,” explains Branstetter.
Because dental practices are businesses—and typically small businesses—dentists purchase office equipment and supplies like chairs, cabinetry, copy paper, electronics and lighting. “If you think of anything that can go in an office, the dentist has some hand in it—though when it comes to purchasing, the dental assistant will make a lot of decisions,” says Kevin Henry, DDS, managing editor of Dental Economics magazine.
According to Jennifer Felling, account executive at the list management and brokerage firm Statlistics, dentists are also a good market for business subscriptions and financial offers. TIME and Newsweek are frequent users of the Statlistics dental files. Other frequent users include manufacturers of uniforms and shoes, and gift businesses like Harry & David.
Dentists also buy consumables such as cotton balls, bibs, gloves and masks. And then there are major dental purchases, says Henry, like cone beam technology, which lets dentists take panoramic X-rays of the entire skull, including sinus cavities and teeth.
Because dentistry is physical work, dentists are interested in products that allow them to work more comfortably, such as ergonomic drills with small heads, small cameras, dental equipment with easy-to-hold grips and ergonomic dentist stools.
Outside of the dental category, high-end travel is big. “We find travel is the No. 1 thing that dentists and their staff will spend money on,” says Henry. “They go to places like Hawaii and Las Vegas for continuing education.”
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Ready to reach this healthy market? Henry says that print and direct mail trump e-mail marketing. “We found that dentists are a little slower on the technology curve than a lot of their compatriots are,” he says. “There are still a ton of our readers who are using AOL. And, until recently, we had quite a chunk of people who were still on dial-up.” In fact, Dental Economics is in the process of offering digital publications—and finding that an overwhelming majority of its readers want print.
In addition, it can be difficult to come up with dentists’ e-mail addresses. “Nobody has more than about 15 [percent] or 20 percent of the dentists’ e-mail addresses,” says Branstetter. “E-mail, as a medium, is not yet for this market, unless somebody is really, really good at e-mail marketing and unless they’re doing it in conjunction with postal.”
Eric Shirley, vice president at the dental division of Midmark Corp., which makes dental equipment such as chairs, lighting and air compressors, is one marketer who’s had luck with direct mail. “We’ll do a lot of direct mail before a trade show,” he says. “We’ll also do some targeted marketing toward our distributors who actually sell the product.” Shirley also recommends exhibiting at trade shows because dentists like to see and try out products before making a commitment to buy.
Once you have the medium in place, it’s time to think about the message. Reliability and quality are important talking points. “There’s nothing worse than having a patient sitting in the chair and the piece of equipment or tool you’re using doesn’t work properly,” says Branstetter.
In addition, let dentists know how your products save them time and money. Dentists are entrepreneurs, and they’re interested in making their jobs easier and being able to see more patients, says Henry. “A lot of dentists are looking at how they can work fewer hours and still make a very comfortable living,” explains Henry. “‘What procedures can I learn? What products can I use that will help me work less in the office but still be very productive?’”
Another point to hit upon in your marketing is ergonomics and comfort. “Think about how physically demanding the job can be; you’re on your feet most of the time, hunched over, [working within] a workspace the size of your mouth,” says Branstetter. “So anything that makes the physical part of the job easier is something that’s going to catch a dentist’s attention.”
Whatever marketing method and messaging you use, prepare to be patient. “Dentists are not going to see an infomercial on TV and say, ‘Wow, that’s great. I need that [product],’” says Henry. “They’re actually going to wait to try it out, and they may want to try it out again and again and again to make sure it actually works. So, patience is a virtue whenever it comes to working a dentist and trying to really get your message out there.”
Linda Formichelli is a freelance writer based in New Hampshire. She wrote about marketing to skiers in Target Marketing’s January issue.