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The following is a guest post by Bahram Nasehi.

A quick look at the offers on daily deal sites like Groupon and Living Social might indicate that the dental industry is either in serious decline or currently over-saturated with new doctors.

As a practicing dentist myself, I know first-hand the difficulty that my practice and those of my peers faced when the recession hit. More and more Americans lack dental insurance within their health care plans. When it becomes necessary to cut costs, dental care is one of the first things to be neglected. Perhaps you decide to forgo your six-month cleaning, opting to wait for an annual check-up. When that rolls around, it’s easier to say ‘no’ a second time.

Dentists have been forced to respond with new methods of reaching new customers and engaging old ones. It’s not uncommon to find dentists with Facebook and Google+ pages designed to remind and maintain their clientele. They also lined up in droves to offer Groupon and Living Social deals.

Estimates show that about one out of every 11 Groupon deals currently offered are health care related. Only a year ago, the majority of these were for cosmetic, chiropractic, and acupuncture services. More traditional medical fields face additional ethical and legal measures, including state-by-state differences over whether or not a coupon constitutes an illegal kickback or referral. (The Mayo Clinic breaks down some of these discrepancies in a 2011 post.

Dentists, however, operate in a middle ground. Their services can be necessary (root canal, broken tooth), but are often also cosmetic or ‘optional.’ Groupons began to pop-up in 2011 for everything from exams to cleanings and x-rays to teeth whitening. In an ever competitive online landscape, these deals give local dentists added exposure and the chance to reach new clients that pay upfront, albeit at a steeply discounted rate after Groupon takes its cut of the generally half-off deals.

Even with the steep discount, the daily deals offer a perfect ‘foot in the door’ marketing technique for dentists. Unlike a restaurant, where daily deal shoppers may visit once, tip poorly and then never return, a new patient that has a comfortable experience at a doctor is more likely to return (and possibly bring their family).

Because switching dentists often requires new x-rays and preliminary processes, we’re more likely to remain faithful to one practice once we’re in their system.

Decline of the Daily Deal

Groupon’s recent woes have received plenty of public attention. After peaking at a stock price of $31.14 after its Initial Public Offering last fall, the company’s share values have dipped below $10 in recent weeks. Businesses put-off by the lack of repeat business generated by the deals have vowed never to offer products and services at such a steep discount again. Groupon has responded by launching a ‘Rewards’ program that saves more money for loyal customers.

That may be too little too late for restaurants, spas, and independent massage therapists who have already given away thousands of dollars of product at cost or below, but it’s welcome news for the health care industry.

Getting a new patient “into the system” is the first big step. Unlike other industries, health care professionals gather detailed contact information for every ‘customer’ they serve. It’s then up to the doctor or office to use this and stay in touch, sending reminders to come back for preventative care.

Facebook and Google+ are proving to be game-changers in this regard, as well. Mailing reminders and coupons has grown increasingly cost-prohibitive, and are often tossed away without being read. Dentists have offered discounts to patients who ‘Like’ their Facebook page, subscribing themselves to the practice’s updates. Developments like ‘+1s’ on Google+ are also making significant changes to search engine results, giving doctors an added motivation to network online. If someone in your Google address book likes a page, it will show up higher in your Google search results.

Health care professionals are no longer devoid of being able to ignore advertising. As families cut back budgets and more competitors enter the market, even services like dentistry that once ‘sold themselves’ require intelligent marketing. Health care is one industry where Groupon seems to still be a smart bet for drawing in new customers.

What other industries can benefit from a social media and online marketing overhaul?

Bahram Nasehi is a Vice President and partner at Dulles Glass and Mirror. He is instrumental in the development and manufacturing of custom cut glass products including wall and bathroom mirrors, vanity mirrors and glass shower doors.

Photo by Groupon.

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Originally posted by Guest Poster on June 11, 2012 in Guest Posts.

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