Creating A Viral Growth Model for Your Practice

Creating A Viral Growth Model for Your Practice

The Step-by-Step Formula for Creating A Viral Growth Model for Your Practice

This post is my first in a series that I've put together in order to show you the step-by-step process for creating a viral growth model for your practice. QUICK NOTE:  The following information applies to both Dental practices and to dental companies who are selling either services and/or tangible products.  The models I'm presenting would be slightly altered if your product was 100% digitally-based. I have intentionally started with the simplest possible model because this subject, albeit a very important and potentially profitable one to be familiar with, is unfamiliar to a majority of Dentists, dental marketing experts and practice management companies.

After I have walked you through how to construct (and use) this first (simple) model we will work our way up to a model that simultaneously accounts for non-viral channels, how you retain users over time, and even how a user's virality changes over time. A model like this can arm you with realistic expectations, and can give you a predictive tool that you can keep up to date with real data. NOTE:  This material is covered in great detail in the Dental Marketing University Modules on Growth Hacking and Gamification.

According to Andrew Chen "Viral marketing is not a marketing strategy. Many times, viral marketing is seen as a "marketing strategy" that is interchangeable with other methods of acquiring new users/customers (in our case "patients"). That is, you go through three steps:

    • Through the process of practice development you create a plan on how to make attract and convert new patients... then retain them... then generate referrals from them

    • Declare viral marketing is one of N approaches (along with SEO, SEM, PR, Referral marketing, etc.)

    • Or perhaps you have gotten interested in using a Facebook widget or something like that to make it "viral."

If your idea of viral marketing is that it's a hot new marketing strategy, you’re already set up for FAILURE. Dental practices that have achieved virility don’t have viral marketing bolted on once the practice management program has been developed and incorporated.

Instead, it’s designed into every aspect, function and fundamental architecture of the experience patients have in your practice. Viral marketing is not a feature of your dental marketing program. Similarly, no single feature of your practice (i.e., "same-day-crowns") determines the viral success of a practice.

Instead, it’s part of a viral growth model (i.e., "viral loop") that connects a disparate set of functions into a cohesive motivation for your patients to tell their friends. If the fundamental experience patients have in your practice doesn't drive a viral motivation from them, then it’s very hard to force it. Viral growth in your practice can only be accomplished through a fundamental understanding of product design and predictive analytics.

Creating A Viral Growth Model for Your Practice:  What Does a Dental Practice That Has Achieved A Level of Virility Look Like?

Dental practices acquire new patients via a variety of channels, such as press, advertising, online efforts and joint venture relationships. Perhaps the most intriguing channel of new patients comes from your existing patients. A dental practice that has achieved a level of virility derives much of its growth from its existing patients recruiting new patients (i.e., "referral"). A patient could recruit another through a simple invitation ("You should check out my Dentist... He's cool/affordable/didn't hurt me once/etc.")

Is there a way to predict how viral your practice will become? How long will it take to acquire 500 new patients? Will we get to 5,000 active patients in our practice before we max out? To answer questions like these, we need to build/create a viral growth model for your practice.

Where to Begin Creating A Viral Growth Model for Your Practice? With the Simplest Possible Model

To keep this easy and interesting, let's say we start with 1,000 existing patients in your practice. How many new patients (referrals) will these existing patients recruit into your practice? Well, some patients will love your practice, whereas others will dislike some aspect of it. Some patients will refer many people, whereas others will not refer anybody at all. Some patients may refer people after their initial visit with you, whereas others may not refer until their first hygiene visit.

Let's sweep all these uncertainties away, and say that, on average, 1 in 5 of your patients will successfully refer a quality new patient into your practice within one month of becoming a patient of yours. In other words, our viral factor is 1/5 = 0.2, and our initial 1,000 patients will recruit another 1,000 * 0.2 = 200 new patients after their first month. These 200 users will then recruit another 200 * 0.2 = 40 users in month 2, who will then recruit another 40 * 0.2 = 8 users in month 3, and so on. What does your new patient growth look like? (Follow along on the sheet labelled "1. Simple".)

Dental Practice Viral Growth Model - Chart 1

Using the base number of 1,000 existing patients in your practice and the referral rate of 1 referral from 1 out of every 5 patients (during the first month of their care) you will (in this example) acquire users at a decreasing rate until we have 1,250 active patients in your practice. Stay with me because if you really want to create sustainable growth in your practice the process we're working through now is going to help you achieve it. This will NO DOUBT get your Growth/Production/PROFIT Juices Flowing!

What happens if our viral factor is instead 0.4? With a viral factor of .4 it means that 2 out of every 5 patients you have (and will obtain in the future) will refer one additional new patient within 30 days of starting treatment with you.

Creating A Viral Growth Model for your Dental Practice - Chart 2

Again, we acquire new patient referrals at a decreasing rate. But this time, our growth tails off at around 1,666 active patients in your practice.

Now what happens if our viral factor is instead 1.2?

Creating a Viral Growth Machine for your Practice - Chart 3

This time, we acquire new patient referrals at an ever increasing rate! In fact, with some easy math, we can show the following:

  • With x existing patients, and with viral factor v less than 1, you acquire new patient referrals at a decreasing rate until you have x/(1-v) active patients
  • With viral factor greater than 1, you acquire new patient referrals at an apparently ever increasing rate

So it's simple! All you have to do is get your viral factor over 1, and your practice is set for life, right? Well, not so fast…

For starters, there's plenty lacking with our (simple beginning) model. For example, as your acquire more and more new patients (assuming you had a viral factor of equal to/greater than 1), you would eventually run out of prospective new patients that can be referred to your practice! (I realize that you'd never reach this point but to assure that the model provides ACCURATE information for you and so that you can fully understand and benefit from it we've got to build your model using accurate, factual equations and information.

Next...true viral growth in a dental practice (or for an app and/or interned-based application) is incredibly rare. It took me a while to fully come to terms with this. OK... so if we shouldn't bet on a viral factor greater than 1 for your model, what factor should we then use?

From discussions with other entrepreneurs, investors, growth hackers and my top Clients I've discovered the following: for an amazingly awesome dental practice, a sustainable viral factor of 0.1 to 0.15 is good, 0.25 is great, and around 0.4 is totally awesome, but very difficult to achieve.

However, as I've already shown you (refer back to the beginning) that with when your viral factor is less than 1, you acquire new patient referrals at a decreasing rate until your practice stops growing. But wait... that isn't an outcome that you or any other Dentist (or me) wants, so what's missing from this picture?

We are missing all of the other channels with which we can acquire new patients for your practice: press, direct traffic, inbound marketing, paid advertising, Joint Venture relationships (cross-promotion with other professionals and business owners), search engine marketing, search engine optimization, celebrity endorsement, insurance network referrals (we don't necessarily want a lot of these) and anything else we can think of. Let's revisit our model and take these into account.

The Hybrid Model for Creating A Viral Growth Model for Your Practice

OK... to make our model as accurate as possible we're going to begin adding components to it. On this go around, we're going to rebuild our model to include non-viral channels (i.e., "sources of new patients other than referrals).

Some non-viral channels — such a direct promotion — can give you a quick spike of new patients, whereas others — a dentist website at/near the top of page #1 in Google will give us a stream of new patients over time. We'll make sure our model includes both sources of new patients, and to keep things simple, we'll consider just 3 non-viral channels (i.e., "90-day segments"):

  • Direct Promotion/Press event - A great event might attract 40 new patients.
  • Dentist website search traffic - A well-positioned website might produce 30 (or more) new patients per month. Not all of these new patients will actually accept your recommendations for treatment remain in your practice. Let's assume that 70% of these new patients have a great experience and decide to accept your recommendation for treatment.
  • Direct traffic. Since your patients and prospective patients tend to talk, people will find your practice directly (NOTE: These are NOT referrals I'm talking about). This might attract 10 new patients per month. Again, let's assume that 70% of these new patients have a great experience and decide to accept your recommendation for treatment also.

Finally, let's assume that your Dentist website search traffic and direct traffic remain constant over time.

Next, let's set your viral factor to ZERO, and see how things turn out if your practice doesn't have a viral component at all.

Chart 4

At the end of the year, you've got approximately 1,350 patients in your practice. Now let's test the viral cases.

Chart 5

In the good case, with viral factor 0.15, at year end we've got around 1,410 patients (as opposed to 1,348 in our graph above with NO viral factors). In the great case, with viral factor 0.25, at year's end we've got approximately 1,470 patients. And in the outstanding case, with viral factor 0.4, at year end we've got around 1,565 patients in the practice.

The Amplification Factor for Creating A Viral Growth Model for Your Practice

This simulation illustrates how I often think of creating viral growth (virality) in your practice; not as the viral factor v, but as the amplification factor a = 1/(1-v). To calculate our total number of patients, all we have to do is multiply the number of patients that have been acquired through the non-viral channels (examples I gave at the beginning) by our amplification factor.

Chart 6

This graph shows the amazing potential of the viral factor to radically increase your new patient traffic and (you do the math) your production and profitability: as we increase our viral factor, we increase our amplification factor hyperbolically. With a great viral factor we can afford to amplify, several times over, the investment we making in acquiring new patients through non-viral channels. But remember: you can't amplify something that isn't there! This is why we should split our growth efforts across both non-viral and viral channels. If we focus on just one, we leave new patients on the table.

Patients Never Leave Your Practice... WHAT?

Adding non-viral channels to our model helps you better realize your growth potential, but our model still has significant issues that must be addressed if it is to be as accurate as possible. For example, we assume that when we acquire a new patient in the model we've been building (so far), they never leave your practice.

This is clearly not based in reality: Patients leave your practice for a variety of reasons on an ongoing basis. They can move... stop liking you and/or your new employee... or they may have never liked you (or your staff) to begin with and find someone else to see. In my next post, we will rebuild our model to include the fact that you lose patients from time to time.


  • True viral growth is very rare; for a Dental practice, a sustainable viral factor of 0.15 is good, 0.25 is great, and around 0.4 (and above) is AMAZING!

  • When the viral factor is less than one, it can interpreted as the amplification factor a = 1/(1-v). To calculate the total number of patients, multiply the number of patients you acquire through non-viral channels by the amplification factor

  • The lower your practice's viral factor the greater your need to have strong sustainable sources of new patients from non-viral channels

  • Small increases in the viral factor of your practice can cause large increases in the amplification factor.  To better help illustrate this let me explain:  If the viral factor (v) for your practice = 0.25, every new patient you get in your practice is really 1 1/3 new patients so that every 3rd new patient you get will produce a 4th new patient automatically.  If your practice's viral factor (v) reaches 0.40 (you'll need a Growth Hacker to achieve this and sustain it) every new patient you get will literally be 1 2/3 new patients.  So every 3 new patients you get in your practice will generate 2 additional patients due to the amplification factor (a).  This should not only excite you but leave you asking yourself "what do I have to do to increase the viral factor (v) of my practice?"

That's a great question which we'll be covering (and a lot more) in the next post in this series on Creating A Viral Growth Model for Your Practice

Ken Newhouse is the ‘OFFICIAL’ Growth Hacker for the Dental Profession Worldwide™ and Founder of Growth Hacker Central and the Dental Marketing University™. Growth Hacker Central provides Growth Hacking, Gamification, Dental Web Marketing, Dentist SEO, Dental Websites and Social Media Marketing services for Dental Companies, Dentists and Dental Specialists.

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