What dentists should do in the COVID-19 crisis: Lessons from the 2008 crash

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Look to the past to see the future.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are living through one of the most significant global crises in fifty years. The speed and scale of changes are having an unprecedented impact on virtually all markets. Only a few weeks ago, UK marketing investment was predicted to grow by 5% in 2020, but now 62% of businesses are cutting back their spend.

This reaction parallels what happened in the 2008 financial crash. We saw then and we know now, that there will be a recovery.  We may not know when the tide will turn, but turn it will. Until then, there are things we can learn from the winners and losers in 2008, that can guide short-term decision-making. Learning from these events will help ensure your brand recovers as quickly as possible.

Strategically reduce costs

The immediate response in an economic downturn is to reduce costs as drastically as possible in order to remain nimble and trade through the worst. While theoretically sound, 2008 taught us it’s not that simple. Deep cuts can reap very different results.  In fact, as we’ve seen in the past, maintaining or even increasing investment in certain areas may be a better short/medium-term strategy. 

The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising’s (IPA) research into the 2008 crash showed that companies who maintained or increased investment in marketing and R&D recovered more quickly.  We now briefly look at each of these lessons through today’s lens.

Increase marketing relative to share of market and offering

The IPA study found that while maintaining or reducing fixed costs was desirable, the opposite was true of marketing investment. They determined it was “better to maintain a share of voice at or above the share of the market during a downturn.” The IPA found companies using this tactic benefitted from longer-term profit growth and performed better overall than those opting to simply cut their marketing spend.

The key takeaway here is that, for the best chance of avoiding shrinking returns, marketing visibility needs to be, at the very least, maintained at a level relative to competitors. As we have seen, search investment in cosmetic procedures such as implants, Invisalign and veneers has almost disappeared.  This means progressive dental practices can build awareness in this channel now relatively cost-effective and reap the benefits in a few short months.  More of this later.

More bang with fewer bucks

For dentists struggling with reduced income, fewer staff and relentless overheads, this is not necessarily a simple solution. But there is good news, it is possible to match competitors[AW1]  visibility while minimising spend at the same time. The answer is to be more agile than they are by continually adjusting activity based on competitor investment and channel selection. 

A good example is an investment in Paid Search (PPC) we found that in 78% of cases “emergency dentist [in city/town]” that cost per click had reduced from an average of £3.80 In January 2020 to £2.40 right now. Similarly,  implants search terms CPC have reduced by around 30% and veneers search terms by around 20%. 

This needs to involve increased micro-planning to be the first to capitalise on emerging digital trends.  Things will change and engagement with your specialist dental agency will never be so involved.  Do this every two to three days.

When things change new opportunities emerge

In a downturn, your customers ’ purchasing trends will change and your competitive set may change too. To maintain an edge means understanding these shifts and adapting your tactics accordingly. By repositioning products, services and offers to meet emerging trends you can maximise potential.

Dentists can learn from other sectors

A good parallel is the challenges faced by the hotel sector. Whereas Online Travel Agents (OTAs) have always represented a double-edged sword, they should not be the short-term competitive focus for hotels.  This is especially so when we see them further squeeze hotels by changing their T&Cs right in the middle of the crisis.[1]

People will have a lot of time on their hands right now and will be looking at every possible holiday and break option that could come their way at the other end of the crisis. They will be aware that, when restrictions are lifted there will be a surge in demand for UK-based travel. So, every kind of accommodation type will become a competitor – from Airbnb to holiday parks, from glamping to hostels. The school holidays will become especially fierce with autumn half-term weeks likely to be pushing the capacity of the country as people look to get their first proper escape of the year.

This means there is an opportunity for hotels to bring forward some of that revenue with some well-sculpted promotions focused on these hotspots. For hotels in urban locations, expect there to be some resistance to returning to cities from a leisure perspective – however, it’s likely we will see business bounce back hard – as it will have to.

Rather, for extra-urban and more rural locations, expect increased pressure from alternative accommodation types as they look to differentiate their experience and capitalise on post-COVID fears.

All of this means that the savvy hotelier’s message is going to need to be hyper-local. Focused on why that location is better post-COVID and why that specific location/offer/price is worth committing to upfront. Marketers are going to have to be more detailed in the short term. Messaging will not just be about price. In fact, it is more likely we will see service and assurance-based messaging as a means of getting booking commitment.

So, what does this mean for dentists? 

Right now, people have never been so committed to getting fitter. Streets are full, brimming with joggers, cyclists and dogs have never been walked so much.  Those that are already image-conscious are missing out on treatments like haircuts, beauty regimes, and so forth.  People are also saving money – so when the crisis is over there will not only be a surge in demand for the ‘normal’ treatments – they will also want more significant improvements – like implants, teeth whitening and veneers.  With time on their hands, people will be researching this online NOW.   The savvy dentists will be using the decreased costs in search (PPC and SEO) to build awareness now and encourage potential patients to make appointments for the summer.

If demand exists – take it or others dentists will

Also, there is demand out there right now.  Instead of turning your marketing off and missing out on short-term opportunities – and potentially longer-term ones too – we’ve seen that dentists must stay visible, relevant and agile. This agility can deliver first-mover advantage in search. Cost-per-clicks for many keyword terms are regularly well below average at the moment. This represents an opportunity to secure market share and help with short-term liquidity.  People are looking – they’ve got time on their hands!

With market-wide reductions in search spend, the current landscape should be seen as an opportunity. The majority of our clients are experiencing reduced CPAs and CPC in search, and these opportunities correctly mined, reviewed and targeted daily are reaping high-value, low-cost rewards. So as long as your CPA remains profitable, what reason do you have for exiting a market that is still looking for what you sell.   Be visible for ‘emergency dentists’ and invest in your cosmetic treatment terms now too!

Adapt to patients preferences

This leads nicely into customer preferences during a crisis. As the upheaval changes how people live their lives, it changes how they interact and what they expect from dentists. In order to connect with patients, dentists may need to consider how they communicate and what they offer.

In the current crisis many brands are trapped in a ‘double-bind’ with restrictions on their ability to operate on one hand, and a reduced customer base on the other. But some brands are already finding ways to make the most of the situation. Airlines like EasyJet and BA have waived rebooking fees in the desire to retain revenue and deal with capacity at a later date. Customers are welcoming the change and accept the potential for future capacity challenges as a net benefit to them. Restaurants around the world are pivoting to offer no-contact delivery meals.

Dentists are introducing staggered appointments to ensure social distancing and giving time for more thorough sanitising. The question is “How can you change the way you do business to connect with customers now?”  

Assure to be sure

As mentioned, there is still demand for dentists of every kind. Whilst there are many uncertainties, it is your job to reassure patients that their needs will be met, and they are making the right decision. Dental websites need to be brimming with positive reassurance – your money is safe, our product/service is clean, we are solid business and our focus is you, the patient.   If you do not have a social campaign live with these messages then do so now.  If your website has not been changed to reflect this messaging then do so now.   Inaction could be detrimental if your competitors are doing this.

Now is not the time to be seriously discounting. This looks desperate, can come off as alarmist and devalues your brand in the long term. Worse, it does not give off a feeling of reassurance. Yes, a discount for commitment may be necessary but a deep discount puts the liquidity of your business into question and some sense of stability is what customers crave right now.

Customer service cannot be compromised

Consumers will accept a scaling-back of customer service during the immediate crisis but not forgive a complete derogation of duty.  As people settle into new patterns of life, they will expect their dentists to do the same. As new purchasing patterns normalise, customers will find new go-to brands where old favourites haven’t kept up with their needs or have disappeared altogether.

This is already a huge challenge for business, regardless of sector.  For example, where customer service relies on call centres, companies need to move quickly to offer an alternative.  The role of chatbots to manage call drivers and triage effectively will be essential. With businesses needing to operate more efficiently with fewer staff, employing technology to do the heavy lifting across the supply chain will be paramount.

Don’t forget those patients who cancelled

Many people will have had to cancel their appointments with you. Those are people ready to be loyal again, especially if you treated them with kindness above and beyond your normal business terms. Capture those people and keep communicating with them. Start now, reassure them and recognise them. Then, incentivise them to come back to your business early. Of course, use a pricing mechanism that is flexible and adaptable – one that says, we recognise your business and we will welcome it back with positivity.

How Deseo can help during the crisis

The 30-day website content challenge

Whereas many of us wake each morning to do a Joe Wicks work out, Deseo are giving dentists a new challenge – the 30-day website content challenge.   While staff are at home practising social distancing there has never been a better time to write the content you need for your website and get it optimised for SEO in time to rank for when business returns.   Each day we will give you a topic to write content on.  The challenge will take 30-minutes. We will also optimise this for FREE.    Each day we will send a brief by email and all you need to do is email it back.  

Social media assurance

We have ready to go social media campaign creatives to use to reassure your patients that you are financially secure, have COVID-19 cleaning practices and are here to help.  Just ask us for these.

50% OFF local link building packages

Local SEO will NEVER be more relevant after the COVID-19 crisis and now is the time to ensure your website is optimised for this.  To help, we are offering 50% off our local link building packages.  Normally priced at £100 for 30 local citations these will be £50 for all of April.   Simply email us and we will email you back with the information you need.

Get in touch

Finally, if you have any other questions then we are here to help.    We offer a FREE 30-minute consultation on everything digital – your website, SEO, PPC and SEO.   Simply call us on 0141 363 0290 or pat.mccamley@dentist-seo.co.uk.