Facebook ads for dentists and startups: The framework for rapid results

Facebook ads as a channel has become a popular tool to acquire new customers in recent years, and Facebook ads for dentists are no exception.

They offer a fun tool with amazing targeting options available for us to create campaigns highly tailored to specific types of patients.

There are many good articles on how to get another 100 patients per month or how to set up your first ad campaign. This article is a little different as it focuses specifically on tech startups wanting a large number of patients — the famous hockey stick growth.

Venture-backed startups face a different challenge than a solo clinic or a small network of clinics as they race against time to profitability or raise the next round of funding. In order to raise more cash, they need to show that they can be trusted with the cash they’ve previously raised by growing the company using the proceeds.

Where solo clinics might want another 100 extra patients per month, tech startups often need as many as they can get their hands on. The difference is among the things we’ll explore in this article as it relates specifically to Facebook ads for dentists and dental services.

We’ll also dive into where they fit in among all the different digital channels available and what purpose they play in the overall growth playbook for tech startups and growth teams in the healthcare industry, along with a framework for testing the channel for your own projects.

Why your Facebook ads aren’t performing

You’ve likely got access to a sizable ad budget when the campaigns return a mouthwatering CAC and it’s time to scale… but something isn’t quite right yet.

You’ve probably seen lots of case studies on Facebook ads but can’t quite get the same results even though you’ve been learning from courses and experts.

Maybe you’ve even had good days where things worked out pretty well but became unpredictable a few days later.

Well, you’re not alone.

The reality is that in an industry where referrals are king, we might attract only the most desperate patients via digital channels — those that couldn’t get a referral from a trusted friend and went online to find something instead.

They are so much harder to persuade without the point of view of a trusted friend because dentists may be seen as an expensive thing to avoid if possible. The patient may also worry if they can trust us as the service provider, if this is the right time to do the procedure and if they truly need it. On top of that, patients could have dental anxiety and other concerns.

It’s a lot to overcome in a Facebook ad or even an entire digital sales funnel.

The reason why Facebook ad campaigns aren’t working well is usually two-fold. One, we might not be reaching the people we think we are through our targeting configurations, and two, the problem we want to solve for them is unclear or unexciting. Essentially, a combination between an audience and a problem they care about solving.

I’ve virtually seen dramatic overnight changes in results by experimenting with different variations of those two ad elements more times than I can count.

Since I’m not able to pop in under the hood and look at your specific ad campaigns, I’ll give you a general framework to compare against. This has to satisfy many different situations and it won’t be perfect, so please keep that in mind.

We can look at it through four difference scenario examples:

  1. Scenario 1: If your CTR is low and there isn’t much interest or engagement with your ad (comments, link clicks, likes, etc.), consider your targeting configurations and if you might be reaching a different type of audience than intended
  2. Scenario 2: If there’s some engagement with the ads (e.g. several in-depth, relevant, comments or a high CTR) but few clicks to your website, the targeting might be almost there or you’re reaching a mixed audience (e.g. an interest in ‘football’ can mean both soccer and American football) but the ad or offer isn’t clear or attractive enough for people to click
  3. Scenario 3: If you get a good CTR, and decent interest but no one converts after clicking to the website, it’s likely that the ad was enticing but something on the website was off-putting — it might be a mismatch between the landing page and the ad or the website loading speed. It could also be the price if you haven’t experimented with that against the same type of audience before, or depending on whether it’s shown directly in the ad, or only after clicking to the landing page
  4. Scenario 4: If you get an ok CTR and some conversions, you might be onto something but need to refine the message and experiment with different variations to build a version that ‘clicks’ for the audience

This may feel vague as I didn’t provide any CTR and conversion rate (CVR) benchmarks. I did it in the past and found that people took it too literally which defeated its purpose since different markets have different behaviors. 

For example, in Asia, I’ve found that CTRs and shares tend to be much higher and easier to get than in the west. However, assuming that the extra exposure leads to more conversions is an entirely different story.

With this overview out of the way, let’s dive into the differences as it relates to Facebook ads for dentists among solo clinics and venture-backed tech startups along with a framework to optimize our campaigns for driving patient acquisition.

facebook ads for dentists and startups

Facebook ads for dentists: a stable leads channel or one big blow out?

The biggest difference I’ve noticed in terms of service and delivery of dentistry, among solo clinics and tech startups, is that smaller clinics tend to be focused only on dentistry whereas that might be seen by investors as too small a market to invest in when founders are raising funds. Instead, startups might want to offer dentistry as a part of their overall service portfolio among many other services and that affects their ad campaigns.

They might not be considered the right choice for every dentistry appointment but that isn’t the point. Wise business owners understand that it’s expensive to gain customers’ trust in our industry.

The goals are usually not the same as a VC-backed startup tends to race against time, blitz scale, and need to maximize demand fulfillment whereas a solo clinic might prefer a stable and consistent channel of new patients month after month.

At the same time, if something is working tech startups tend to have cash to throw at the funnel to scale it appropriately but it presents itself with another problem. A better problem to have, you might argue, but a problem nonetheless.

If we depend on the ads to drive many patients every month, we’ll get in trouble in the long run since the product isn’t good enough for them to come back. The business or product becomes a skeleton fueled by ads with no real substance.

Suddenly, the local market is saturated, the ad performance decays and even with new campaigns or variations, things aren’t as great as they once were. We should expect this as it happens to most businesses depending on ads in the long term. I wonder if this trap is what happens when people let us, marketers, in charge of the business?

Facebook ads for dentists: a framework example for VC-backed startups

I wanted to take the opportunity to share a framework that has worked well for me to rapidly test if Facebook ads may be a relevant channel for your startup. We’ll cover the three campaign ‘rounds’ — or types of Facebook ad campaigns — that tend to offer the most bang for your buck.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the target of the campaigns changes as the startup matures. There are two main business stages: the early-stage startup and the more mature startup.

If you are at an early-stage startup (or this is a totally new vertical for you), your goal might be to get the first patient cohorts in the door to refine the product. In that case, Facebook ads can work well but you might be better off with search ads at first since even though they are expensive, they also target direct intent from a user looking for help.

If you are a bit further down the road, you might be looking for a viable marketing channel to drive hockey stick growth before the next funding round.

I’ve found that Facebook can be a terrific source of patients under the right circumstances but it isn’t a channel with longevity and consistency like you might find in search.

Although this framework lends itself best to businesses that haven’t run Facebook ads for dentists before, you can still use it even if you’ve run ad campaigns without the success you were looking for before.

We can almost think of these ad campaigns as gladiators fighting each other in the Colosseum for the best results, but the big difference is that no matter which one outperforms the other, you win in the end.

To make this fast and effective, we can run three testing rounds with the goals as follows: 

Round 1: Test audience

Round 2: Test offer

Round 3: Refine messaging (e.g. which awareness stage they are in)

Round one covers experimentations around the targeting configurations such as testing different types of patients (e.g. children vs adults) and which interests, keywords, or behaviors to use in order to best reach them within Facebook.

Round two covers testing different offer ideas to find one that attracts the right type of customer once we’ve figured out which audience is the most responsive and relevant for us. Of course, we need an offer to use during the audience testing and here we can simply start with what seems the most plausible based on common sense and our experience with that type of audience.

Round three is all about refining the message such as testing different images, video, or copy variations to hone in the phrasing once the overall direction is clear. I’ve found especially working the headline here to be effective.

These three rounds allow us to hone in on the most important parts of our campaigns to get a quick understanding of if Facebook ads is something that can work for us. This framework won’t get you the best ad campaign the world has ever seen, but it’ll give you a clear sign if there’s something worth optimizing upon.

We can continue to optimize if we are happy with the performance before we scale. Although, scaling is a different beast. Even if our clinics are in a big city, the ads will eventually decay and saturate the market, so a good approach for growth marketers at startups is to make it “good enough” and then move on.


By Aske

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