This article originally appeared in October/2023 on DentistryToday.com.
Corporate vs Private Dental Practice: How can Patients Know the Difference?
By: Jackie Ulasewich Cullen
What’s the difference between a corporate and a private dental practice in the eyes of a patient? In most cases, there is none. Dental practice owners, of course, can rattle off a list of things that make a private practice different from a corporate one. But… are they getting that across to their potential patients?
Patients are bombarded with marketing from large corporations on a daily basis, and corporate dental practices are no exception. In fact, I am willing to bet that most people can name at least two corporate dental practices without having to think about it just because they have been exposed to their marketing messages online and on TV.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: Money
When it comes to marketing, private practices may think they can’t compete because they don’t have the large budget of a corporation. But that is where they are wrong. Small practices are actually at an advantage when it comes to marketing, even though they cannot invest huge sums of money. The fact of the matter is that corporate marketing is cookie cutter. Every dental office under the same corporate umbrella has to be the same. Therefore, local practices have no say in any of the campaigns that the corporate marketing department runs. This means that the marketing has the same “flavor” for each practice, regardless of its physical market.
Considering how corporate practices approach their marketing, a private practice does not have to spend a lot of money to compete. Strategy and execution are the differentiating factors in the equation. In fact, private practices with limited marketing budgets can easily outdo all of their corporate competitors. And here is how:
A private practice has complete freedom to choose the style, voice, frequency, mode, and type of marketing it wants to use based not only on budget, but more importantly the types of patients the doctors want to see and the real needs of the surrounding area. This is a huge opportunity for a small practice to stand out against a corporate giant. Additionally, this high degree of flexibility allows a practice to test out different strategies on a small scale and really home in on what works best for them, resulting in marketing that is far more targeted and, ultimately, successful.
Corporate practices are truly faceless. They do not do a single thing to draw attention to the individual doctors and teams working in the various locations because they are selling homogeneity. We all know that each dentist, hygienist, dental assistant, patient coordinator, and office manager is unique, with different strengths and talents. A private practice can absolutely capitalize on that by highlighting the team in its marketing. Putting this type of human face to the practice gives patients a chance to “get to know” the people who will be working on them even before they have their first appointment. This not only comforts the patient, but it builds rapport and strengthens the practice’s individual brand too.
Corporate practices are somewhat like fast food chains in that if you visit one in San Diego, it will look and feel the same as the one you visited in Chicago, even though San Diego and Chicago are two vastly different areas. Again, they are banking on the idea that patients prefer uniformity over uniqueness. In my years of experience, while this approach might work for fast food, it is not a great way to market healthcare. Patients want to feel special, like they matter. They want to know that the people with whom they are trusting their precious health really care about them. As they should! A private practice can appeal to that desire by emphasizing that each patient is treated as an individual, not a number in the waiting room, and also by demonstrating the ways in which their experience will exceed their expectations.
Private practices have a tremendous opportunity to outshine corporate practices because they can really connect with patients on a personal level through their marketing. It’s easy to highlight a practice’s personality through all forms of digital marketing. And there are really no limits as to what types of marketing strategies a practice can use. Corporate practices don’t have the ability to personalize their marketing. In my opinion, that puts them at a big disadvantage over private practices.