Neuromarketing Techniques in Blogging Improve Perceptions of Dentists and Dental Care

Neuromarketing strategies are a key element to holistically optimize patient communications on websites, blogs, and social media pages, by emotionally meeting prospective patients’ non-conscious and conscious concerns, physical needs, and preconceived thoughts while continuing to incorporate traditional web marketing techniques that optimize keyword strategies for search engine purposes.

Essentially, neuromarketing techniques serve to uncover the brain processes of the mind (aka the “black box”) where information goes in — the reader/patient’s own personal experiences and prejudices come into play — and the patient responds in a better-connected manner than if the marketing strategies had not played off of subconscious or conscious emotional and physical experiences. That is, this method optimizes communication in the brains of the audience.

Neuromarketing is not a new concept, but rather one that uses psychophysiology resources that have been available for decades, recording emotional and physical responses to nervous system stimuli to see how individuals respond to marketing materials, and then incorporating that data into newer strategies. In short, it makes modern marketing more effective. Without neuromarketing, information is presented to the consumer (patient) without knowing if a full response or connection is being made. But because no person is a completely blank slate and each one has their own way of dynamically interacting with the message, their responses can vary. Once we’re able to explain why they respond that way, we can better tailor the message presented to them. When we’re able to observe their subconscious responses — for example, changes in pupil size, eye focus, skin response, or brain activity — we can adjust a marketing message to have more meaning and effectiveness

By uncovering what connects most with prospective patients, dentists can use blogs to attract new ones, improve case acceptance rates, increase elective services, build brand association with prospective patients, and lessen anxiety associated with oral health care. Like any type of brand recognition, as prospective patients become connected with the marketing practice, they are more likely to consider them for their oral health needs when the time arises.

Not all dental patients need to read the same information, but for those that purposely seek out educational or factual content regarding treatment options or specific services via online search engines, neuromarketing through blogging uses emotion driven strategies that subconsciously connect with them as readers, working to create a trust and relationship with the dentist through their blog, website, or social media accounts.

How it Works

Research techniques such as eye tracking, galvanic skin response, EEG, fMRI, and cognitive analysis used in neuromarketing provide enlightening data, such as how readers react emotionally to certain content, what words they dwell on the most, which text formats are more effective, and how the prospective patient’s unconscious needs are met by visiting the blog.

Paired with conventional self-reporting styles, neuromarketing provides the most holistic view of how marketing strategies or blogs are able to connect with the emotional and physical needs of the prospective patient.

Information stored inside of the brain can influence a person’s conscious decision making within 2.6 seconds (Kumar, 2015). However, as neuromarketing and brain processing becomes better understood, it is likely that subconscious decision making occurs much sooner on. As such, it’s vital that neuromarketing technologies used for measurement occur in the real time, as the consumer (patient) is being exposed to the marketing material.

Because neuromarketing is specifically used to optimize current marketing strategies, it plays a key role in the motivation of a patient responding to the dentist’s web content, whether it be scheduling an appointment on the call to action button or specifically requesting a particular aesthetic service during their next recall appointment. It “bridges the gap” so to speak, between providing information and making that same information emotionally effective in the way it’s processed by the reader.

For dentists, neuromarketing means understanding the mental processes and emotions at stake in their patients’ “black box” filled with unmet conscious and subconscious needs, many of which are founded on anxiety, pain, fear, previous experiences, and financial matters.

Neuro-Savvy Blogs Build Relationships with Prospective Dental Patients

Current social media and search engine trends show that individuals often turn to online searches for their health information needs. Blogging allows dentists to continually add new content to their existing website, social media account, or online presence, growing their amount of information and making it easier for patients to find.

Readability of content significantly affects patients’ ability to find information that pertains to their specific oral health concerns. One study found that most popular websites in online searches were “inadequate” and written at a level too high for patient-friendly informational needs (Alsoghier, 2018). Unfortunately, most of these top-ranking websites available are deemed either too hard to comprehend or provide too little quality content for the prospective patients reading them.

By adjusting the grade level at which information is written, dentists can better emotionally connect with their readers, sharing data that relates to unmet physical and emotional concerns surrounding oral health care. But that communication can only be optimized when it is written at a 6th-10th grade level, whereas most materials online jeopardize patient understanding due to being written above an 11th grade level (Basch, 2018). The lower the health literacy of the readers, the more likely it is that complicated health concerns or emergency treatment is needed.

Based on these findings, it’s necessary that neuromarketing strategies be implemented to provide readable, higher quality content that connects with patients in an educational and easily accessible manner. Doing so makes the patient feel empowered and better educated to make decisions regarding their care, while consequently adding credibility to the “brand” (practice or dentist) from whom they gathered the information from.

In the era of #fakenews, readers often look for data or proof to back up claims of what they’re reading. But many of the health information found only is written by unknown authors and no sources to back them up. This can leave the patient feeling frustrated or to develop little trust for the author, potentially causing them to go elsewhere for treatment.

Approximately half of 55-65 and a third of 65-74-year-olds use internet searches to find health information, and the websites available are able to influence their decision making (Basch, 2018). When information does have professionally backed data, the fact that the content is typically too difficult for the readers to process can actually alter alter the sub-conscious and conscious attitudes about their dental health and influence decisions they make about treatment (Basch, 2018).

Emotionally Connecting with Prospective Patients

It’s possible for healthcare practitioners to create relationships and brand awareness with audiences, even without posting health-related blog content. One study showed that microblogging during an American Heart Association symposium created more followers and engagements through Twitter when healthcare practitioners shared non-scientific or non-health related posts (Leary, 2018). This proves to show that an active online presence can improve the perceptions of individual practitioners and/or their associated private practices.

Patients that use social media often do so because of “their dissatisfaction with their healthcare professional’s inability to meet [their] emotional and informational needs” (Smailhodzik, 2016). Social media use empowers them to meet needs of emotions, information, esteem, support, comparison, and expression. The patients that had some form of online relationship with their healthcare professionals have been shown to have “more harmonious relationships compared to those that did not use social media as a means of communication.”

Studies have shown that people with active online presence through blogs tend to have significantly increased social networks and satisfaction of support systems (Baker, 2012).

As dentists utilize social media and blogging, it can bridge the information gap and give prospective patients a better understanding of oral health care during their next appointment. Because patients interpret the online relationships as a form of empowerment, they ultimately go into consultations with more information on hand, improving clinical interactions at later dates.

Potential to Reduce Phobia, Anxiety, Perceived Pain Through Blogging

It’s estimated that 1 in 7 adults have some form of dental anxiety, which typically results in an aversion to the dentist and consequently, poor oral health. By dentists offering communication through blogging, they can effectively fill in the key element responsible for the reduction of anxiety (Armfield, 2013).

Although not all dentists want to attract phobic or fearful patients to their practice, most offices are happy to see patients with mild to moderate anxiety issues that can be managed with nitrous oxide or oral conscious sedation. But before discussing sedation choices in the clinical setting, a dentist can lessen the emotional fear of anxious prospective patient through what they really need: communication.

Emotionally driven websites that utilize keyword optimization play a crucial role in reducing patient anxiety, phobia, and build a trust with the practice, so that prospective patients are more connected to the practice or specific dentist, and likely to turn to them for their source of information or treatment, as the brand/dentist is easier to recall due to a subconsciously created association through online blogging and social media presence.

As trust levels increase through regular postings to social media and blogs, prospective patients are likely to shift their anxiety aside and seek care from the dental provider with whom they now feel a sense of familiarity with.

Active blogging engages audiences, even if it’s more for entertainment purposes as opposed to promoting informational health data. As such, it helps prospective patients become more familiar with and subconsciously emotionally engaged with the practice through promoted blogs and social media pages, compared to medical practitioners that are not engaging audiences through online mediums.

But content must be engaging enough to draw attention, especially if the motive is to point out how a reader’s previous dental experiences make them feel. Identifying their physical symptoms creates multi-tiered levels of connection, giving meaning to their current physical symptoms and unconscious needs that may not yet be met. Addressing the physical concerns thus bridges into the emotional needs of the reader to better engage audiences without a personal connection with the practice. For patients who are anxious, drawing attention and eye fixation to more positive language has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety (Krejtz, 2018).

Research has shown that patients who are more comfortable and confident in their dentist’s ability to reduce their anxiety are those who use “explicit statements about preventing pain” and that further “interviews with dentally fearful patients revealed that dentists’ understanding and acceptance of patients’ needs and concerns were more important than their technical competence” (Armfield, 2013). As much as 90% of a dental patient’s behavior is subconscious, and that “neuroscience methodologies could greatly improve our understanding of the role of the emotions and the subconscious learning in determining patient’s health care objectives” (Letic-Gavrilovic, 2014). As such, dentists must be attuned to the physical and mental concerns over pain during procedures and communicate in ways to alleviate that anxiety through their website or blog.

Types of Blogs and How They Connect

Simply having a blog isn’t enough. In order for a dentist’s content to be deemed “trustworthy” to their prospective patient, it must encompass characteristics of quality, personalization, impartiality, and a credible design (Harris, 2011). But to increase the likeliness of prospective patients acting on the advice of their blog, there should also be aspects that discuss perception, threat, coping, and corroboration. When it does, people seeing information about their personal health and treatment recommendations find it much more reliable.

Eliminating fear of the unknown is done by providing realistic information that falls into one of two categories: procedural (step-by-step) or sensory (what to feel, such as pressure or vibrations) (Armfield, 2013). Explaining how a person will feel during treatment and what to expect can create a relatable, conscious awareness prior to the patient experiencing actual treatment. Because patients tend to fall into one of these categories (procedural or sensory) it can help to alternate blog posts that address both aspects of care, to better ensure both camps of thought have equally available data for their unmet emotional needs.

Additionally, the information proves to promote healthier, trusting relationships as misconceptions about dentistry are corrected (Armfield, 2013). For example, there is a general consensus among inexperienced dental patients that “root canals are painful.” In reality, dentists know that it is the abscess and swelling — which make local anesthesia more challenging — that is the painful part. By explaining the true cause of dental pain and how it can be avoided (prescribing an antibiotic for a week leading up to endodontic therapy) patients can see a decrease in anxiety because they now have better information about the procedure before entering the dentist’s office, lessening their level of fear.

Online search data such as Google Trends already provides the itemized information that patients are searching for online (Patthi, 2017). But that does not mean the insight they need regarding their physical concerns actually exists. By using forecasting strategies, it’s possible to understand what physical ailments (such as “no teeth” or “toothache”) are driving audiences to the internet for answers, and provide specific, easy-to-read information on those oral health matters. When dentists proactively offer information that’s being sought out, they’re able to connect more efficiently with the reader.

The way language is communicated, such as in complexity or alongside of images can also play a part in how well a person can recall that information, and if it better targets an older or younger audience. For example, most readers tend to retain the message more effectively when less complex language is being used but pairing a picture alongside of it tends to boost interaction with older patients reading the material (van Weert, 2011).

Eye Tracking: Text Formatting Strategies to Better Connect with the Reader

The way dentists blog and the type of formatting they use can have a direct subconscious impact on how prospective patients read and absorb the information placed in front of them. By using eye tracking equipment and facial information recording real-time reading, it’s possible to differentiate perceived reactions such as joy, boredom, doubt, and disinterest (Ismail, 2011). This includes observation of eye behaviors, such as pupil size and blink rate, and facial expressions such as smiling.

As the reader is watched for scanning, fixation on specific words, or a more focused appearance on specific paragraphs, it’s possible for authors to determine how effective their message is at connect with their audience and determining how different people will respond to the same information. EEG measurements can also be used to determine how effective tagged text is at attracting the attention of readers. Over time, these studies will be able to help identify emotional responses in real time and help to make future messages more effective.

For example, changes in interletter formatting (the amount of space between letters in typed text) can impact how easy or difficult the content is to read. When text is closer together, the viewer tends to need more time to read, indicating that the content is too challenging. Slightly adjusting it so that interletter spacing is 1.5 over the standard 0.0 spacing can make the content easier and faster to read, which consequently helps it to be better understood and absorbed. But if the spacing is too much, it does the opposite (PLOS ONE, 2012).

Additionally, larger sized fonts may trigger a stronger emotional connect with the reader than a traditional 12pt. font (Bayer, 2012).

According to the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG,) eye tracking of users on websites have shown that readers are drawn to text over graphics 78% of the time. By using simple, direct headlines, dentists can draw their prospective patients’ attention to shallower concepts and provide the option for the reader to dive in deeper with heavier content sprinkled throughout the piece (Nielsen Norman Group, 2000).

NNG also suggests that even when readers “read” the full piece, they are essentially only reading 3/4 of it. Simpler headers and page titles that incorporate optimized keywords make it easier for readers to pick through information they’re looking to find. By shifting to a more editorial or journalistic style, bloggers can expect their audience to read a larger amount of the content (Nielsen Norman Group, 2000).

Because so many dental patients search online for costs of specific dental treatments (a common Google search might be “how much do dental veneers cost” or “cost of dental veneers”) it’s vital to not just answer those questions, but to do so in a way that subconsciously stops the wandering eye of the reader to catch their attention.

Additional NNG data shows that by displaying numerals, rather than the number in written form (100 vs. One hundred) the blog becomes more reliable, because “numbers represent facts,” and consequently the information is the first to catch the readers’ eyes (Nielsen Norman Group, 2007).

Most dentists are hesitant to put pricing online because a number of variables can affect the costs outlined on a care plan. A safe alternative is to put ranges or starting prices, so the prospective patient can be drawn to the factual data rather than be potentially turned off by having to call during business hours, schedule an exam, and only then get a cost estimate. Reading “Invisalign treatments starting at $1999” is over 75% more likely to catch readers’ attention than scanning content that contains a statement like “the cost of Invisalign depends on…” not to mention seem more credible, because of the factual implications of including digits on the page.

Along the same lines, complex (1999) vs. simple (2000) numbers can also have different influence on the person looking for information. Simple, rounded numbers tend to be better for people quickly looking for information and more likely to schedule a treatment on an impulse, while complex numbers tend to cause people to pause and think the matter through even longer. Depending on which type of individual is reading the blog at any given time, it may be attractive or put them off without them realizing it, causing them to move forward with requesting more information or moving on to the next website under their search results.

Adding non-related images to the blog content can also alter the way the reader responds to the material. Although subtle, adding a “seal” or logo of a 3rd party accreditation or endorsement can trigger positive emotional cues in the person viewing the page (Harris, 2009).

Because most people tend to “skim and scan” pages for information, the text on the page needs to be formatted and presented in such a way that it draws attention to why the reader is on the site in the first place (NICHCY, 2012). Most people tend to read in an “F” pattern, starting in the upper left, scanning right about two times, and progressively decreasing how much they read as they go further down the page, so it’s best to get to the point quickly. Heat maps show that readers spend about 2/3 of the time looking at the left side of the text, and only about 1/3 of the time looking at the words on the right (NICHCY, 2012).

Conclusion

Blogging and social media use by healthcare practitioners is shown to increase patient compliance, improve health knowledge in the general public, reduce anxiety, and grow a practitioner’s online presence by impacting a larger audience. As such, it deserves an important role in developing a connection between the dentist’s “Brand” (practice or specialty) and prospective patients within their geographical area. But blogging must be done strategically and with neuro-friendly techniques being used in order to fully optimize the message being presented.

More research will be needed to fine tune communication techniques, messages, and keywords specifically with the goal of lowering stress and connecting with readers. As more data comes forward with assessing content that triggers emotional or physical responses, it will further optimize the opportunities to gain trust in prospective dental patients (especially those that are looking for specific treatments or suffer from dental anxiety.) A holistic approach of traditional self-reporting and survey techniques should be applied to the findings of fMRI, galvanic skin response, EEG, eye tracking, etc. for the most comprehensive findings.

Alsoghier, A.; Ni Riordain, R.; Fedele, S.; Porter, S. Web-based information on oral dysplasia and precancer of the mouth – quality and readability. (2018)Oral Oncol.

Oral cancer sufferers are one dental patient subgroup that are shown to have a more challenging time finding reliable information online regarding conditions such as oral epithelial dysplasia. Information that is available often lacks author information, with most sites reading at a 10thgrade level, exceeding recommended standards for written health information. The top 100 ranking websites were located using search engine optimization keyword searches; most were deemed inadequate in regard to the information available to patients.

Researchers noted that patients are more “likely have difficulty in finding reliable information” regarding their specific oral health conditions, suggesting that more research is needed to address the shortfalls of web-based resources on patient-friendly and informative materials.

Armfield, J., Heaton, L.; Management of fear and anxiety in the dental clinic: a review.(2013) Australian Dental Journal. Vol. 48. Issue 4.

Approximately 1 in 7 individuals suffer from dental anxiety. Unfortunately, poor oral health is often a side effect of anxiety, because of the patients’ aversion to seeing the dentist.

Communication is a key element responsible for effective anxiety reduction. By providing realistic information about dental treatment, a healthier, trusting relationship can be founded while correcting misconceptions about dental care.

The usefulness of information provided depends on the patient’s personal preferences regarding sensory and procedural (step-by-step) information. Sensory information — including what to feel, such as pressure or vibrations — tells patients what they can expect to experience physically, creating a conscious awareness and association with the treatment to be completed.

Baker, J., Moore, S.; Blogging as a social tool: a psychosocial examination of the effects of blogging. CyberPsychology & Behavior, Vol. 11, No. 6.

Basch, C.; Ethan, D.; MacLean, S.; Fera, J.; Garcia, P.; Basch, C. (2018) Readability of prostate cancer information online: a cross-sectional study. Am J Mens Health.

An estimated half of 55-65 and one third of 65-74-year-olds use the internet to research health information, including learning about various health conditions and to discover which types of treatments are available. Unfortunately, the information online “can influence patient decisions” and in may be difficult to comprehend for the average reader, impacting health choices.

In this study, the top ranking 100 English websites for an online search of “prostate cancer” were assessed for readability scores using five different readability tests. Results found that the majority of the websites “had difficult readability.”

Experts suggest that health materials for patient education purposes should be written at or below the sixth-grade level, but most online health materials are written above an eleventh-grade level, jeopardizing readability

During their assessment, it became apparent that the internet is often “used as a resource for health-related information” but because of findings, most of the websites available may not be readable for large audiences. Lower health literacy, it seems, results in more complicated health concerns and emergency treatment, suggesting that the health information online is not delivered in an understandable manner. As a result, internet-based health information may inaccessible to the intended audience.

Bayer, M., et al; Font size matters - emotion and attention in critical responses to written words.(2012) PLOS ONE.

Harris, P., Sillence, E., Briggs, P.; Perceived thread and corroboration: key factors that improve a predictive model of trust in internet-based health information and advice.(2011). J Med Internet Res.

A study of 561 participants were questioned about searches for personal health a dvice. A structural equation model (SEM) was used alongside of EQS software.

The primary factors involved in determining which sites were most trusted included 1. Quality, 2. Personalization, 3. Impartiality, 4. Credible design. Information quality and impartiality were the primary predictors of trust.

However, specific variables that pertained more to “eHealth” included 1. Perception, 2. Threat, 3. Coping, and 4. Corroboration, which “added substantially to the ability of the model to predict variance in trust and readiness to act on advice on the site.”

Results of the study model found a 66% variance in trust and 49% variance in readiness to act. Incorporation of these factors can help to impact the trustworthiness of websites related to personal health and medical recommendations.

Harris, P., Sillence, E., Briggs, P.; The effect of credibility-related design cues on responses to a web-based message about the breast cancer risks from alcohol: randomized controlled trial.(2009) J Med Internet Res.

Ismail, F., et al;Emotional text tagging. (2011) Retrieved online July 2018 from http://gbuscher.com/publications/IsmailBiedert11_EmotionalTextTagging.pdf

Kreitz, I., et al;Positive online attention training as a means of modifying attentional and interpretational biases among the clinically depressed: an experimental study using eye tracking.(2018) J Clin Psychol.

Leary, M.; McGovern, S.; Dainty, K.; Doshi, A.; Blewer, A.; Kurz, M.; Rittenberger, J.; Hazinski, M.; Reynolds, J. (2018) Examining the use of a social media campaign to increase engagement for the American Heart Association 2017 Resuscitation Science Symposium.J Am Heart Assoc.

During the American Heart Association 2017 Resuscitation Science Symposium (ReSS), eight medical professionals were selected from a sample of attendees to life tweet throughout the 3.5 days of the conference. They were told to use specific hashtags on Twitter, with the highest amounts of retweets occurring on the final day. More than 260,000 impressions and 8,000 engagements occurred.

Among the tweets shared, those with the highest engagements had absolutely no scientific or educational content, but were rather used for building awareness of the conference. Consequently, the bloggers who participated in the live Twitter postings saw an increase in followers and a more visible social media presence. The evidence showed that health experts who took to social media with a diverse menu of topics were likely to get more followers than if they restricted 100% of their posts to medical topics.

This experiment shows that when medical professionals post online, it can create a wider audience and gain attention, whether their posts are professional or casual in nature. The assumption can be made that other healthcare practitioners can create a level of online “attachment” with followers — among whom include prospective patients — to contribute to improved perceptions of their personal practices.

Letic-Gavrilovic, A.; Evidence based communication in dentistry. (2014) Oral Health Dental Manag. Vol 13. 2.

NICHCY; Writing for the web | How people read on the web. (2012) Center for Parent Information and Resources. Retrieved online July 2018 from https://www.parentcenterhub.org/web-reading/.

Nielsen Norman Group; Eyetracking study of web readers. (2000) Retrieved online July 2018 from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/eyetracking-study-of-web-readers/

Nielsen Norman Group; Show numbers as numerals when writing for online readers.(2007) Retrieved online July 2018 from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/web-writing-show-numbers-as-numerals/

Patthi, B., et al;Global search trends of oral problems using Google Trends from 2004 to 2016: an exploratory analysis. (2017) J Clin Diagn Res.

Perea, M., Gomez, P.; Subtle Increases in Interletter Spacing Facilitate the Encoding of Words during Normal Reading. (2012) PLOS ONE.

Multiple studies were conducted as to how changes in letter spacing in words changed the way they were encoded by the reader. Participant’s eyes were tracked while reading default spacing (0.0), +1.0 letter spacing, and +1.5 letter spacing. Results of one specific study with 24 college-age students found that the readers’ eyes were fixated on the text longer during standard spacing, and briefest with the widest spacing. However, once letter spacing exceeded a specific measure, it did the opposite (slowing down the reader.)

+1.5 letter spacing was found to promote optimal viewing and word fixation compared to wider spacing and smaller/standard spacing.

The study concluded that widening standard interletter spacing to be a variable “that may affect the ease of reading” in a way that made information better understood and absorbed by the reader.

Additional data will need to be studied further to measure the adjustable implementations on readers.

Singh, P.;Neuromarketing: An Emerging Tool of Market Research.(2015) International Journal of Engineering Business Management. 5. 530-535.

Smailhodzik, E., Hooijsma, W., Boonstra, A., Langley, D.; Social media use in healthcare: a systematic review of effects on patients and on their relationship with healthcare professionals. (2016) BMC Health Services Research.

During a literature review of 1,743 articles, 22 were studied where six categories of patients who use social media were identified as emotional, informational, esteem, network support, social comparison, and emotional expression.

One of the primary reasons for patients to use healthcare communities online was because of “their dissatisfaction with their healthcare professional’s inability to meet the patients’ emotional and informational need.” As such, social media use was intended to meet an unfulfilled need, including that of patient empowerment.

Ultimately, the study showed that patients who had an online relationship via social media with healthcare professionals experienced more harmonious relationships compared to those that did not use social media as a means of communication.

More research will be needed to further examine the effects of social media on doctor-patient relationships.

van Weert, J.; et al; Tailored information for cancer patients on the internet: effects of visual cues and language complexity on information recall and satisfaction.(2011) Patient Educ Couns.

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