You Don’t Have to Out Run a Bear

In an old joke, two friends are camping when a bear crashes the scene. Both take off, but not before one of the campers snatches his running shoes from a pup tent. As the bear lumbers after the pair, the camper stops to kick off his hiking boots and put on his running shoes.

His friend, looking over his shoulder, says, “What are you doing, you can’t outrun a bear?”

“I don’t have to. I only have to outrun you.”

The running shoes were enough to give the camper a small edge. Sometimes a small edge is all that’s needed.

Towne View Dental Care and Orthodontics in Flower Mound makes teeth whitening a small edge. Patients receive a “custom take-home whitening tray and gel.” The dentists place a value of $495 on this. As long as patients get their teeth cleaned twice a year, they get the whitening gel free.

Okay, for starters most dentists don’t sell the tray and gel for $495. Yet, they do sell it for a couple of hundred dollars, or more.

Since I’ve never had my teeth whitened, I don’t know what’s involved in the creation of a “custom take-home whitening tray.” I assume there’s more to it than the $6.95 football and boxing mouth guards I’ve boiled in water to soften and molded to my teeth by biting on the soft plastic. Still, being generous, I doubt the mold costs the dentist more than $20 or $30 out of pocket. And the gel, being generous, can’t run more than $10 a tube when purchased in volume.

This suggests that the dentist elected to forego any whitening fees he might have collected in order to gain a marketing advantage, a customer retention program, and a repetitive business incentive. I’m sure his competitors probably think he’s crazy for leaving several hundred dollars on the table.

Is he?

How many people opt for whitening when it costs a few hundred dollars? Of those, how many would do business with a competitor if the dentist didn’t make the offer?

I learned about the dentist’s program through one of our vendors. The vendor said that without the six month whitening gel, she probably would visit the dentist annually, if that often. With a $10 tube of gel (a price that’s probably built into the dentist’s fee – ditto for the mold on the initial visit), he’s doubled his cleanings with his existing customers.

He’s also turned his customers into advocates. It’s unlikely our vendor would have promoted the dentist if he didn’t provide the “free” whitening service.

At least one of our employees is thinking of switching dentists purely because of the whitening service. Even though our family dentist is a personal friend, my wife is considering switching.

While other dentists are worried they might be giving up too much, Towne View is focusing on what might be gained. Towne View doesn’t need to outrun the bear, just the other dentists.

Outrunning the competition need not be complicated. One of the women in our office mentioned that she’s got a few light bulbs burned out in her home. She’s short and can’t reach the sockets without a step ladder. Since her husband can barely walk with the aid of a walker, he’s no help.

Because of her husband’s disability, she calls a contractor whenever she needs work done in her home. In the past six months, she’s had HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and landscaping contractors out to take care of one problem or another. I asked if she ever requested one of the contractors to change a light bulb.

“Oh, I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that,” she says, “But it would be wonderful if one of them would notice and offer to replace one.”

Changing a light bulb? It’s a very, very small edge. Yet, I bet it’s enough to earn a customer for life. Moreover, it would spur a groundswell in word of mouth marketing as the astonished and pleased customer tells everyone she knows about her experience.

The economy may be in a bear market, but you don’t have to outrun the bear. All you need do is outrun your competitors. After the bear catches them, you’ll have more territory and fewer competitors.

Copyright © 2008 Matt Michel
Source Comanche Marketing. Reprinted by permission. Free subscriptions are available at: — click on the Comanche Marketing tab.

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