Certain Businesses DON’T Benefit from Marketing


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Direct mail letters that begin “Enjoy a 15% Savings” often get my attention. One I received yesterday added a surprise–“on your Dental Visit!”

On my dental visit? Didn’t I receive the same offer last week for tires? There’s even a similar catch: the discount will be honored “if you call to schedule an appointment by April 30th, 2010.” The letter continued, “We have received world-class training in family dentistry, as well as in cosmetics and leading edge techniques to make your visit more pleasant.”

Could that fine marketing prose reassure an apprehensive patient numbed with novocaine? “I think we’re ready to do that root canal, Mr. Rudin.” Thanks anyway, but referrals from peers and patients work better for me. Oh, a diploma or two on the wall doesn’t hurt either.

I called the company, Reflection Dental, and asked the person answering the phone to remove my name from the mailing list. “You’ll have to contact Chicago,” she retorted. Chicago? Reflection Dental is in Virginia, and so am I. I pressed her for clarification. “All our marketing is done from Chicago. You’ll have to call them if you want your name off the list,” she replied. Hmmmm. “If I understand correctly, it was easy for someone to get my name on the mailing list, and it’s hard for you to remove it?” She acquiesced and said she’d make the call.

Still, I couldn’t get Chicago off my mind. I discovered the connection in small print in the lower right-hand corner of the letter: “A Proud Member of the Heartland Dental Care Family.” I visited the Heartland website and found a business that provides dental services. A big business. “Welcome to Heartland Dental Care! . . . Heartland Dental Care is a collection of hometown dental practices that currently reside in 13 states – Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Iowa, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Arizona, Texas, Virginia and Nevada. Our company is comprised of over 1750 employees. Our typical facility has 1 doctor and 6 treatment rooms. Normally these facilities produce over $1 million per year.”

But the website directs its sales pitch more to dentists than to patients. “Visualize a network of collaboration with mentors and colleagues about specific cases, continuing education and training. Expect compensation well above industry standards.” The Published Articles page lacks dry, clinical-sounding topics detailing hard-to-understand procedures. An MBA would feel right at home with titles like The Marketed New Patient. (“The way to open the floodgates is to advertise.” –Makes sense to me!) Why the Heartland branding on my letter? I have no clue. Even the website’s testimonials aren’t from patients.

Although I’m a salesperson, this medical marketing fluff sounds shrill and ugly. I’ve spent a lifetime not buying my personal dental care the same way as I do a trip to Barbados—scouring different sources for the best deal.

Though dentists and other health care providers face operational realities that are similar to tire retailers and other businesses, many professional dental organizations have long eschewed advertising and other promotions from their member communities. Denigrating the value of highly-skilled professionals by copying the tactics of a discount retailer might be just one reason.


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