I had just sat down at the end of the day and was scrolling through Instagram when I noticed a friend of mine posting some recent design work. It was really great work, so I double-tapped, but then paused for a moment because I recognized the practice.
I had pitched them a project with my company four months ago. We worked on a comprehensive marketing proposal only to be told the budget was “entirely too expensive.”
“Josh, I think you’re a great guy, but this seems like a lot of sexy, fluffy stuff for all that money,” the doctor said. “I mean, really, what’s the ROI of a logo and photography?”
What’s the ROI of a logo?
Let’s see. How about this: What’s the ROI of your face?
Your face makes you human. So what’s the ROI of that?
Your logo makes you an authentic business that cares. What’s the ROI of that?
And what about photography?
What’s the ROI of a discretionary healthcare business that shows compassion and empathy in their care of patients? Can we even place a value on that?
I remembered that email and seeing this Instagram post made me think of an opportunity that we lost. Asking that question showed me that we were worlds apart speaking different languages. In the end, it probably wasn’t a good fit.
So what is the ROI of branding? It’s actually a good question. Let’s look at Brand versus Direct Response (marketing meant to create a response that is clearly tracked) and measure the value.
Brand Always Wins
In a head to head battle, Brand always beats Direct Response (DR). Think about it. You could create a new soda pop and use every marketing trick in the book to create sales. You could use science to create an alluring color scheme. You could test hundreds of names with real time focus groups to find the perfect one. You could hire chefs to engineer the perfect recipe. In all honesty, it’s likely that you could produce a “better” product, but in the end you’d still get beat by Coke. Why? Because of the billions of dollars spent over decades on branding. The name recognition is too strong.
DR = Science; Brand = Loyalty
In fact the largest marketing budgets in the world are all brand based: Coke, Nike, Apple, Disney, General Electric. Their approach to marketing is a simple two step process:
- Set aside a percentage of revenue — Coke reinvests 7% every year. In 2014 that amounted to $3.5 billion.
- Decide where to spend it — Want to run Super Bowl commercials? Great. Set aside $20 million for those.
I guarantee Coke doesn’t invest in Super Bowl commercials and then nervously watch the analytics to see if it increased sales. They don’t play that game. They don’t even care if revenue increases the month following as a result of ads. They spend $3.5 billion every year strengthening their name recognition no matter what.
It’s straight forward, logical and simple. In fact, if we move too fast, we’ll miss the fact that this is the single biggest key to branding success: Set the budget, then decide where to spend it.
Direct Response is a Drug
Year by year I see more practices get hooked on Direct Response Marketing. It’s a result of all the really cool digital marketing tools we have at our finger tips. Google AdWords and Facebook ads have trained us to scrutinize our Return On Investment.
Next month, we could spend $500 on Facebook ads and get four new patients. That’s $125 per patient which is a good deal. The obvious reaction is let’s continue to play that game. Increase the budget next month to $1000 and see if we can get eight new patients.
You can make anything and everything Direct Response if you want to. The bigger question is, “should dentistry be direct response?”
I think it’s short-sighted. DR is a strategy for products to create sales. Brand is a strategy for services to create loyalty. Would you rather have quick sales or long-term equity?
DR = Sales. Brand = Equity.
DR becomes a drug. We become addicted to the quick hit of new patients every month. Think about it like the difference between taking drugs and working out. It’s easier to just feel good than to go to the gym.
It has us addicted to data. We have to track the dollars and see clear results. It builds a practice based on short term sales and leaves us vulnerable to competition. All it takes is a practice who wants to spend more money or create smarter ads to capture our digital patient flow.
Creative is the Variable
Direct Response is the distribution or the channel. Brand is the creative. And the creative is always the variable.
DR = Distribution; Brand = Creative
Think about our digital marketing options right now. Google AdWords are very much Direct Response. In fact there’s very little Brand or creative. Everyone gets the same amount of blue letters. You can get a little creative with what you say, but even that becomes formulaic based on the constraints.
Then there’s Facebook Ads which gives us so much more creative. Now you can use photos, images and logos. It still has some Direct Response tied to it, but it’s more of a Brand play. It’s a great way to associate pictures (images of the doctor and/or the team) with your practice. Since many people process visually, this is a really great marketing option.
There’s also Instagram. We had a handful of clients who got into Instagram ads in 2016. All of them were disappointed overall with the results and blamed it on the platform having too young of an audience. The fact is advertising here is all Brand. It’s a visually creative platform. If you’re trying to get a Direct Response, you’re missing the point of the network all together. DR is not native to Instagram.
Finally, there’s Snapchat. It seems very few people understand Snapchat and even those that do discount its marketing impact for dentistry. I think mainly because it’s impossible to track. There is absolutely no Direct Response in Snapchat and that makes us hesitant to invest real money.
I know width (data, audience size) is sexy, but depth (brand, loyalty) is everything.
Width is sexy, but depth is everything.
All that said, this isn’t an article about deciding between Brand or Direct Response. This is a classic both/and position; not either/or. They both have their place in dental practice marketing strategies. The key is knowing your model and what the balance should be.