10 min read10 Ways Millennials are Changing the Local Dental Practice

Marisa Porter

Chief of Creative Strategy and Senior Content Writer. Marisa is a storyteller at heart, and she thrives on telling a practice’s story. She does this by adding data points to the roadmap based on research, creativity, and a deep understanding of truthful storytelling for the dental industry.

By Marisa Porter, Chief Creative Strategist at Jameson

I’m a millennial. Though I’m right at the cut-off point, I think more like a millennial than I think like any other generation. I’m part of the micro-generation named the Oregon Trail Generation. The kids of this micro-generation were kids right at the sweet spot between the pre-digital era and the digital era. We have experienced drinking from the garden hose and playing until the street lights go out. We have also experienced the explosion of the digital world at a young enough age that the digital world is our homeland. Oregon Trail Millenials dove into the excitement of home PCs, online chat, and computer games before we grew up, got married, or had babies (life events which make it more difficult to adjust to massive cultural shifts). 

So all the trademarks of millennials are also my trademarks—things like loving to book appointments and purchase things online, using my phone only for text and social media, avoiding confrontation (guilty), and knowing I have options when it comes to everything (even my medical services). 

And I research those options online.

Because of the opportunity to research absolutely everything in a digital medium, millennials throw mailings away without a second glance. Trying to use paper to sell us something when you could be utilizing digital resources makes no sense to millennials and instead feels like a horrible waste of paper. It’s a disconnect from our value system, and we worry that if you’re using outdated methods of advertising, you might be outdated in other ways as well. 

What does this have to do with local dental practices?


The millennials’ treatment of paper mailers is one sign of a bigger shift in consumer behavior. 

For example, I know that there are new ways of helping me to care for my teeth. As a result, I am going to go to the office that feels the most technologically advanced and up-to-date. My perception is that my visit will be less painful, more effective, and possibly even less expensive. To find that office, I’m going to use the avenues I use to find anything else in my life—Google search, Google reviews, and social referrals from friends. A mailer isn’t going to help me find what I’m looking for, and I’m not the only one.

Here are 9 more ways millennials are redefining the way people relate to their local dental practice.

1. We value intuitive online experiences.

Millennials value authentic online experiences—not instead of warm in-person exchanges, but as an extension of who a practice or business is. It’s our proof of concept. So before you think “perfect Apple-like website,” remember that millennials also value buying local and purchasing from brands that look unique and reflect who they are. Many local dental practices mistakenly think they cannot compete with the big corporate names in dentistry. Nothing could be further from the truth—they can. 

I can’t stress this enough. We expect national websites to look like national websites. But we expect a local practice to look professional, beautiful, and homespun. This doesn’t mean incompetently designed, but it does mean reflecting the hometown values the website represents (like supporting local businesses, sustainability, neighborliness). This is a tall order, of course, and you’ll need the right team to help you get there.

Millennials also have a very finely-tuned B.S. meter. That means that shiny flashy websites don’t necessarily gain our trust. But neither does anything that looks old, condescending, or outdated (unless it’s a retro site that purposely celebrates the original Oregon Trail, or there is some very strong reverse psychology going on, such as in the case of Ollie’s Bargain Outlet—a chain that pokes fun at itself in its own marketing and that actually helps shoppers buy local). 

The first step to competing with the massive corporate brands is knowing that you can. Have a website and practice that is both professional and friendly. 

2. We value digital experiences.

Contrary to popular opinion, millennials are not so lost in a world of digital technology that we don’t value relationships. It’s just that we grew up in a digital age, and we expect our digital experiences to flow seamlessly We are fluent in navigating the digital world—it’s as natural to us as speaking our native language—and our experience in navigating your digital home is often the beginning of our relationship with your practice.  Because of this fluency, frustrating online experiences reflect on an individual business (whereas for baby boomers, frustrating online experiences often reflect on technology itself).

This absolutely includes our medical choices. Make it easy to see what services you provide and how we can get care quickly and conveniently. Convenient hours? Advertise those. A more friendly or caring touch? Even more important. Online booking, chats or appointment requests? Golden.

3. We value our digital relationships.

This is more true for some and especially for younger digital natives. Our online friends, the ones we actually interact with online, are our friends. Warnings from shows like “Catfish” may make us more cautious in the information we give out online, but we are still open to meeting people and cultivating relationships in a digital world. We like it when that digital world also meshes with our non-digital world. 

It’s great when our medical service providers recognize this and extend their service to us with things like online advice chat and follow-up appointments online when possible. Primary care physicians are leading the way in the web appointment department, while dental practices are utilizing online booking more heavily because the practice of dentistry requires a more hands-on approach. (Though it might be interesting to be able to chat with your dentist as a follow-up to surgery).

4. We’re willing to pay for experiences.

We value experiences more than products and are willing to pay for those experiences. We don’t want to become enmeshed in a world of acquiring stuff. (There’s a reason AirBNB and Marie Kondo are both popular among millennials). But we do love acquiring good memories. Ingrained in our philosophy is the value system of “moments of time” over “collections of stuff.” We’ve soaked up a lot of happiness research early on, and our obsession with creating a life with fewer regrets far surpasses our obsession with accumulating toys. We’ve looked at the baby boomer generation’s value system of the big American dream and found it wanting. It means the world to us when an organization or business goes the extra mile in connection, comfort, or personal touches. When you think of your new patient experience, remember that.

5. Digital hype is old-school. 

While millennials are immersed in a digital world, we are not taken in by it. Growing up as digital natives, our understanding of the world in which we were born is so fine-tuned and nuanced, that you could say we have developed a completely unique set of survival skills. Everybody says our brains have developed differently—they’ve had to. This is not a bad thing, as many seem to think. We have developed the necessary skill set to quickly and efficiently filter out information not useful to us. Scams, poorly targeted ads (or all ads), websites which weren’t built with the user in mind—all of these things are quickly rejected. As a result, we have set the bar high for digital experiences. Weaving together technology and authenticity is a task that the biggest brains of our time are tackling and still figuring out. What can we say? It’s the world we were handed.

So while we will go to a dentist who has a modern website, it doesn’t need to look like a national brand (and it can be a little off-putting if it does).

6. We’ll run if you shout.

A website or ad that tries too hard to gain our attention fails. 

Stop trying. 
Start listening. 

Stop shouting. 
Start whispering. 

7. Good design is part of our education and upbringing, too.

We expect things to be well-designed. It’s not only part of our high school and college education (though it is), it’s also part of our pop culture and relational education. 

Every app we use (and we use a lot of them) is designed with the end user in mind. White space, textual hierarchy, color theory, simple calls to action—these are all part of our upbringing, not add-ons. Ignore these things at the peril of your practice. While millennials will be the first to navigate away from a site that has ignored these principles, we won’t be the only generation that does.

Make sure whoever designs your website is familiar with design principles. The basics are fundamental and have been around for hundreds of years (long before the digital era), but there are still agencies and practices that think they can get away with ignoring them.

8. We’re not fooled by automation.

It’s not that we don’t value automation. We do. It’s just that you have to be sophisticated with how you use it. Segmentation is the cherry on top of automation that lets us know you think of us as more than one email address in your massive database. Segmentation takes time, dedication, and care, just like old-school business relationships did. It’s our way of feeling picked out from the crowd. Do you know that I love a particular style of food or genre of music? Use that in your emails. 

If you don’t segment, don’t expect big results or huge open rates from your email campaigns. And unless you’ve had a meaningful personal interaction recently, skip the non-personal birthday email unless there’s something in it that says, “We value you for who you are.” 

To be clear, it shouldn’t actually say “we value you for who you are.” Why not? Because unless your actions back up your words, we won’t believe you (another sign of our low tolerance for B.S.).

9. We’re not done with paper.

Really? After all the stuff about being digital natives and growing up with apps, we’re back to paper? Yes, and no. No, please do not send us paper mailers. Yes, please send us a thank you card signed by your very own hand. You see, in a world of digital everything, we kind of take digital ease-of-use and automation for granted. 

But what we don’t take for granted is seeing our name in someone else’s handwriting. Vinyl records. Polaroid photos. These are all part of a time we didn’t get to have, hearkening back to sharing a Coca-Cola at a ‘50s diner after school, relationships that lasted a little longer (at least that’s what we see in the movies), and a wooden box full of love letters. In all our digital entitlement, we sometimes feel like we missed out. We wonder if the good old days really were the good old days. And though we’re not going to give up our phones and favorite new social networks any time soon, we at least want to pretend we have something that we’re often afraid is gone forever.

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