Published by Galen Stilson
The Direct Response Specialist
Direct Response Dental Marketing Consultant

"Which Media Is Most Effective?"
by Galen Stilson

This is a question I was recently asked by a subscriber. In fact, it is a question I'm often asked by dental clients who are just getting actively involved in marketing.

Q. If you could choose just one media (ie, newspaper, direct mail, radio, television, etc.) on which to spend your external advertising dollar, which would it be? Which is likely to generate the most new, high quality, patients?

A. Direct mail.

There are a number of reasons why direct mail is often the most effective media when it comes to producing more high quality new patients.

1. You can be selective ... choose who receives your marketing message using geographic and demographic data.

That means you can focus your marketing efforts and dollars only on those prospects who fall within your base marketing area (usually 3-5 miles from practice ... except in rural areas) and who are likely able to afford your services.

For example, you could order a mailing list of married folks who live within 3 miles of your practice ... are between the ages of 55 and 70 ... have a household income of $100,000+ ... and who own their own homes.

And those are just a few of the selection options available to you. You can also choose by gender, business ownership, home value, number of children, age of children, length of residency, etc.

2. You can personalize your message.

Personalized mailings usually work better than non-personalized mail ... assuming that the personalization actually looks and feels personal.

Although the automatic response magic of personalization has declined in recent years (due to overuse and poor execution of the technique), it still works when handled appropriately. This is particularly true within a tight geographic area when the mail is from a professional who lives/works in that area.

But what about cost?

Personalization does increase cost, sometimes by a substantial percentage ... depending upon how much personalization is incorporated, the type of mailing, and the number of pieces printed. This is always a consideration when deciding whether to personalize or not. But, when feasible, it's worth testing. And the option is always available ... unlike other media.

3. You have virtually unlimited format choices.

To name a few, you can choose to use a small postcard, a simple self-mailer, a standard #10 envelope mailing, an oversized envelope, a box, or a newsletter. You (or your copywriter/designer) have complete control over colors used, the number of pages, the type of inserts, etc. ... based upon your budget, your audience, and your marketing goals.

This flexibility is particularly valuable when creating a series of mailings where you don't want each mailing to look or feel the same. And it affords you the opportunity to test and tweak mailings to maximize response.

Why wouldn't you want each mailing to look similar? Because it's more likely that the prospect will assume it's the same mailing or message that you sent previously. And if s/he makes that assumption it's much more likely that your mailing gets trashed and not opened.

4. You have full control over how much copy -- and the quantity/size of graphics -- used.

Unlike working within the limited space of newspaper or magazine ads, direct mail affords you the opportunity to tell a complete story and use a variety of direct response techniques (involvement devices, offer incentives, lift notes, etc.) that can help boost response.

Example: I'm currently working with a client on a new lead generation program. We use small newspaper ads to target prospects with specific dental problems. The ad offers to send detailed information on that specific problem if the prospect will simply call and request it. (Anyone who responds becomes a lead. Thus, the name lead generation.)

Of course, once someone responds they are entered into my client's prospect database ... and the mailing series begins. (As the database grows we end up with a significant list of local prospects to which we can specifically target and personalize mailings ... not only by name but by specific dental needs/wants.)

The initial information packet mailed to all respondents uses a personalized 9x12 envelope and includes 20+ pages of information ... including a detailed report that relates specifically to the information requested, a personalized letter, an involvement piece, background info on the dentist, illustration sheets about the procedure ... to name a few of the enclosures.

Prospects who don't respond to this initial mailing will receive up to five follow-up mailings at various intervals using various formats, appeals and offers.

Direct mail is the only media that affords this level of flexibility.

5. Your competition is unaware of what you're doing.

Unlike other forms of advertising, direct mail is -- in effect -- stealthy. Only the people you choose receive your mailings are directly privy to your message. Competitors can't track, or copy, your marketing/advertising efforts nearly as easily ... unless they end up on your mailing list (which a little due diligence on your part can prevent),

6. You have less competition for prospect attention.

There will always be fewer mail advertisements competing for prospect attention than there is with magazine or newspaper ads. You might be competing with 5-10-15 other mailings for attention whereas in newspapers and magazines you may be competing with that many on a single page.

And with direct mail you are virtually assured that your mailing will get AT LEAST a cursory glance -- an opportunity to spark a prospect's interest. That's not true with other media.

Those are just a few reasons why direct mail is, in most cases, the most effective media.

However, cost is always a factor and direct mail can be expensive. Depending upon a number of factors, it can run anywhere from about $350 (per thousand pieces printed and mailed) upwards. And that would be for a simple postcard. It's not unusual for mailings to run $750 or more per thousand.

But, if you chose your mailing list with care, you should be mailing only to reasonably qualified people who will, most likely, read message. And, that matters.

Plus, your ultimate concern should be cost-per-new-patient as it relates to the average lifetime-value of a patient in your practice, not cost per media or cost per exposure. (I'll explain this in more detail in a future issue).

Does this mean that I always incorporate direct mail into my retainer clients' marketing mix ... or recommend it to my by-the-project clients?

No, but it's always discussed as a possibility ... unless I'm hired for a specific, non-direct mail, project.

What determines whether or not direct mail becomes a part of the mix is a client's location, goals, desires, budget, competitor strategies, and target audience list availability. And occasionally, we start out incorporating it but it doesn't produce the favorable cost-per-new-patient numbers that other media does. In that case, we may drop it from the mix.

One final comment ...

There is a synergistic response effect when you use multiple media.

Example: If you run complementary newspaper ads to coincide with the delivery of your direct mail you'll virtually always get a greater combined response than you would from running the newspaper ad and direct mail independently.

Continued success ...


P.S. If the lead generation program mentioned above piques your interest ... and you'd like more details on the program ... please feel free to email or call me.

Copyright 2007 by Galen Stilson. All rights reserved. Feel free to link to this article ... but ... if you would like to reprint or use any part of this article, please click here to request permission to use.

If you enjoyed this article,
please share it with a friend ...

Companion Websites

Galen Stilson's
Dental Marketing Services

Dental Marketing Briefs

-- coming soon --

Direct Response
Dental Marketing 101

Dental Marketing Books

Please Tell A Dentist
Friend About This Site

Marketing Tips
for Dentists

email newsletter
subscription form

Dental Staff Other

Privacy Promise: None of the above information will be sold to, or shared with, anyone.