Don’t forget to tell your friends!
Word of mouth is a concept as old as time. Our ancestors used it to pass on traditions and tell stories about heroes and monsters and warn others about danger. It was also used to tell others about where to find the best resources, which is pretty much how we use it today. If you go to a salon, for example, and the stylist does a fantastic job, you naturally tell your friends where you went when they compliment you on your haircut. When we consider business marketing, word-of-mouth or “WOM” takes on a slightly different meaning. Businesses actively encourage WOM because it’s essentially free advertising.
It used to be that WOM was enough to bring in a good amount of new business, virtually eliminating the need for additional marketing, especially in the medical and dental fields. In fact, many a dentist in practice today built their dental practices on WOM marketing. However, the landscape has changed drastically since the internet. With so much information available online, people don’t rely on their neighbors to learn things as much as they used to. People can even be neighbors for years and never have a face-to-face conversation. Likewise, WOM marketing now relies heavily on social media or has taken the form of online reviews. And while there is the potential for these channels to reach many more people, if not properly managed, they can actually work against your practice.
When we begin working with a practice, one issue we encounter often is that the practice’s online presence has not been adequately managed. Of course, we encourage all of our clients to use digital media as part of their overall marketing strategy, and we love it when WOM marketing is working for them. However, we cannot stress enough how important it is to get both channels working in sync. Otherwise, the results can be disastrous. Consider the following example:
- A patient has a wonderful experience at your office and tells a friend. The friend, while trusting that the experience was genuinely great, is likely going to want to learn more before they just call up and schedule an appointment. They will almost certainly check out your practice’s website. They will search for reviews from patients and look for information about the main dentist and associates as well. If they use Facebook, they may also look for your practice there as well.
- What happens then if there is nothing online for the friend to find or what if there is a mess because it was never properly managed? In the worst case, they never call and your practice loses a potentially great patient.
Imagine how many times that example scenario could repeat itself in a week, a month, a year. If WOM advertising is your practice’s main marketing tool, but your online presence doesn’t deliver the goods, it could mean a lot of patients going elsewhere. To make it work, your practice absolutely must have a well-managed online presence to ensure it tells the right story and in the best way possible.
- Your website needs to resonate with the type of potential patient that you want to attract. If a website contains only sparse or generic information, then the patient won’t even get past the homepage.
- Online reviews need to be monitored. That means responding to any negative reviews and highlighting the positive ones on various channels. If what a potential patient reads about the practice isn’t great or all the good reviews are buried under negative ones, they are not likely to want to go further. An excellent strategy for promoting activity is to ask patients to write reviews after their appointments.
- Social media needs to be kept fresh and interesting. If the practice has a Facebook page, great. If the last post is from 2018, it sends the wrong message to potential patients.
If you think about it, WOM isn’t just WOM anymore. It’s a starting point from which a potential patient will begin their research before making a decision, which is really not enough to build and maintain a practice in this day and age. If you want WOM to be part of your overall marketing strategy, we will not discourage you. However, to make it work effectively, you need to consider the true role it plays in today’s mostly digital environment.