Should The Wise Dentist Discontinue Their Marketing Spend During COVID?

Marketing During COVID19

What should the wise dentist do? Everybody knows that the impact of the COVID19 and its related shutdowns have impacted the economy severely. The Globe and Mail reported on August 28 earlier this year that Statistics Canada announced that real gross domestic product (GDP) plunged 11.5 percent in the three months ended June 30. This period aggregated the worst of the lockdowns in Canada and elsewhere, aiming to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the deepest single-quarter fall since the national statistical agency began publishing quarterly data in 1961.

It’s well known that the impact of COVID-19 is as significant on the economy as it has been on the health of vulnerable populations in Canada and indeed elsewhere in the world. 

How do people react to economic crises? They tend to try and save what incomes they have as the immediate future looks uncertain. The government of Canada provided a great stimulus to the economy to help it overcome the recessionary impact of COVID19.

This stimulus had various components like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), Mortgage payment deferral, Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA), interest-free loans for small businesses, etc. The government’s desired objective was that people should go out and spend this money that they received. However, people have tended to save this money as much as they have gone out and spent it. 

Seeing a reduction in consumer spending, a businesses’ typical reaction tends to be that if customers are spending less money, then we should cut down on our marketing expenditure. The correct response is quite the opposite.  

In an article from 2019, the Forbes magazine reporting on marketing spend during recessions states that “there have been several studies going back nearly one century that point out the advantages of maintaining or even increasing ad budgets during a weaker economy.”

Advertising during a recession is perhaps more critical now than ever before. In an economic downturn, your brand’s positioning and marketing are vital to your success.

A reduction in your marketing spend may appear to be beneficial in the immediate short term. However, you should bear in mind that when a brand cuts back on its marketing, the first thing that it loses with its customers is the brand’s “share of mind.” This cutback leads to a loss of its market share in pretty quick order, especially when other brands retain their marketing spends.

In more straightforward language, cutting marketing spend leads to the brand becoming out of sight. As the adage goes, “Out of sight, is out of mind.”

You have to remember that your marketing spend is not just a long term value benefit generator. Your marketing is your voice that connects you to your consumers. If you stop talking to customers, you become irrelevant. In contrast, a savvier brand grabs your market share by strategically enhancing its marketing (share of voice) during recessionary times.

This is all very good, but my production is lower during COVID19?

We do not recommend that you keep spending large amounts of money even while your own revenue may have declined.

Instead of slashing your marketing spend, this COVID19 induced recession presents a unique opportunity to take a fresh look at your strategy and realign your strategy to new market imperatives.

For the wise dentist, the opportunity is to assess your dental office’s clients’ media habits or, in marketing language, re-assess what media your brand’s consumers are consuming during this COVID downturn.

Gather some surrogate information

The Wall Street Journal reported on August 15, 2020, that “Internet usage soared 25% within a few days in mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic started forcing Americans to stay home, a Wall Street Journal analysis found, and is bound to remain substantially higher than before the pandemic.”

We all know even anecdotally that people who had never shopped online have become avid online shoppers during the COVID19 stay-at-home shutdowns. We also know that many school boards have encouraged online distance learning for their students instead of in-classroom learning. All of this forces people old and young to spend more and more time with their digital devices. Once comfortable with the digital devices, people will not just watch Netflix movies on their digital devices; they will use them to shop online and, most importantly, will begin to gather information online as well. 

Digital marketing remains a relatively low-cost expenditure. If the digital world is where the consumers of brands are spending time searching for information, you need to present in this digital milieu. A key advantage of digital marketing over print, radio, or other kinds of marketing is that digital marketing is very measurable. In contrast, other forms of marketing are generally difficult to measure.

With quantifiable results and lower costs, a savvy dental office can re-strategize their marketing to reach their customers online. 

Whether your digital marketing strategy points to SEO, paid Google Ads, paid Facebook ads, social media, or any other form of advertising, you must monitor and track what you are doing. This tracking and documentation would help you perform better than your competitors during this current recession. Besides, it will also help get you ready for the digital future.

How are your patients responding during this recession?

Like the consumer of any other brand, the wise dentist’s clients’ behavior can change dramatically during a recession. Traditionally marketers have segmented their market slices by demographics. For example, a profile could be “Female/Age:30-40/Parent/Middle income”.

Psychographic segmentation segments people by their values, attitudes, of lifestyles. A set of Psychographic segments could be, for example, “Traditionalist” or “Green environmentalist.” 

In a recessionary climate like that brought on by COVID19, demographic segmentation or even psychographic segmentation may be a lot less relevant than psychological segmentation.

Psychological segmentation is based on the consumers’ emotional response, in this case, to the bleakness of their economic prospects.

The four psychological segments:

John Quelch, a professor at Harvard University, in his article in the Harvard Business Review of April 2009 suggests that during a recession a marketer could thing of their customers as falling into one of the following four groups:

  1. The slam-on-the-brakes segment
  2. Pained-but-patient
  3. Comfortably well-off 
  4. Live-for-today

A look at these four groups will show you where your patients typically fall. Some groups will form a larger part of your patient base, other less. The messages that you need for these groups are also going to be different. Remember that one size does not fit all!

During a recession, it is imperative to understand that your loyal customers, i.e., your patient base on a forward pre-booked hygiene program, are really the primary and enduring source of cash flow for your practice. They are also the base that provides you with growth through the greatest of all marketing media, “a satisfied customer’s word of mouth, referral.”

Your communication tailored to the largest group in your practice will also appeal to people of a similar persuasion who are not yet your dental office’s clients.

During this recession, you must stay in marketing communication with this chosen group that reflects your dental practice’s client base. Remember that marketing isn’t optional; it’s a necessary expense.

Although it’s the first cost that people typically cut, marketing is undoubtedly not wasteful. Instead, it’s a “good cost” that you must incur if you want to keep the revenue that these clients help to generate for your dental office.

Now comes the part where you customize your communication to the group that you have identified. For example, let’s say that your dental office offers a high-end Dental Implants service. Should you drop your prices? Before you decide, look at your customer base and the group you have decided to target your communication!

The “Comfortable well off” and the “Live for today” groups may go on without any real change in their behavior. 

However, the “Pained but patient” may choose to receive only essential treatment and put off all they deem optional.

Finally, “The slam-on-the-brakes segment” will most decidedly cut out even necessary expenditure. Patients in this segment may only visit the dentist for emergencies.

Therefore, if your Implants service caters to the comfortably well off, then seeing your communication, they may feel inclined to come in for the treatment they are looking for. An absence of communication from you could lead to an assumption that you may yourself be struggling at this time and may not be the best dental office for them to go to.

A diametrically different strategy might apply to your communication if your patients are defined mainly as the “slam on the brakes” segment. A communication message that highlights lower prices or payment plans may need to be the focus of this dental office’s communication.

Keeping track of your marketing spend and its output is critical. It will help you validate the client segment that works best for your dental office.

Of course, you may want to focus your spend on the group you wish to expand the most. This tracking of your marketing will tell you whether or not your plan to target this new segment is working?

So, what does marketing really do?

Your marketing helps you stay top of mind with your existing clients. These existing and regular patients are also the most reliable source of revenue for your dental practice. During a recession, this becomes even truer.

Therefore, the wise dentist must stay in touch with your regular clients or patients, even more than a marketing effort directed at attracting new patients.

The best way, generally, to reach regular clients is through social media or direct mail. This clientele already has a relationship with your office and will be receptive to messages from your office, even more so to well designed relevant messages that offer value.

During this downturn, due to COVID19, the wise dentist should look not at cutting marketing spend; instead, they would focus it on the digital medium to reach all their regular clients.

Another reason to not cut your budget is being contrarian. When other people are cutting the marketing budget, if you don’t, that creates greater visibility for your message or in advertising speak, you have a greater share of voice with the same dollar spend. The impact of your marketing dollars is greater!

Search Engine Optimization:

Good search engine optimization, by definition, helps you get found on Google. Given how consumer habits are changing and how much search is moving online during these past six months of COVID19, having an easily found website in google search is a new marketing imperative.

Use this time to get your website tuned for performance, have its loading speed increased. Review your content, improve it by using keywords that your prospective clients are searching with.

Create new high-quality content that other websites on the internet will want to link to.

Success with SEO depends significantly on the level of competition in the local market you operate in. It is easy to be on page one of Google when you are the only act in town. However, if you have a hundred or a thousand competitors like in Toronto or Vancouver, you can’t afford not to turbo power your website with great SEO practices.

Paid Ads – Google/Facebook

You need to choose the channel where your clients are most likely to spend time. Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising on Google and Facebook has been variably successful for dental offices. The ad’s quality and targeting are variables that people generally get wrong, leading to wasteful expenditure.

However, during a downturn, when some people turn down their advertising, a significant change can occur in PPC advertising. With fewer people targeting the same keywords you are targeting, your PPC ads may be more visible and receive more clicks.

In essence, your cost per click could decline to lead to a much more effective ad campaign spend.

Social Media:

Social media is a handy tool for dental offices. Social media users of specific pages are like tribes. They watch content from the sites or pages that they have friended or liked. 

Unfortunately, many dental offices ignore social media entirely or use recycled content. They regard social media marketing to be a non-serious adjunct to their marketing campaigns. 

If these dental offices drop off social media during the current downturn, this provides an opportunity for you to gain visibility and shine.

In conclusion:

A strong marketing presence is believed to be a surrogate for the brand’s strength; this is especially true in its consumers’ minds.

In a downturn, consumers are bombarded with stories of brand failures, of stores shutting down, of companies laying off people. If your business is visible with its marketing in these testing times, it’s a signal to its clientele and new clients that this business is alive and well. This message is very reassuring for consumers of all brands.

I am not saying that you should go out and spend a blockbuster marketing budget. I would even suggest that you prune the marketing budget to focus it on the channels you believe are critical to your brand’s identity and your dental office’s success.

The dominant channel to re-strategize on is the online channel. Whether it’s a refurbishment of your website, improving your SEO, staying visible on social media, or email marketing to your patients. Choose the methods that work uniquely for your dental office.

In a nutshell, the wise dentist should refocus their marketing strategy in these challenging times, but under no circumstances should they go dark in advertising communication terms.




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