Lost In Space
The Robinson family and everyone else marooned on the harsh surface of this rapidly dying planet had only one hope of rescue: the successful launch of a two-man crew aboard a fiercely stripped-down ship with hardly enough fuel to make it off the surface. With navigation systems eliminated for the sake of cutting weight, they would be relying on Maureen as their “eyes on the ground” to keep them from... well... blowing up. All that, and the weight of knowing they are literally the only hope for more than a hundred others. No pressure, right?
[ SPOILER ALERT for Netflix’s Lost in Space]
In the final hour of the mission, at the pilots’ time of need, we see Dr. Smith (the story’s main antagonist) knock Maureen unconscious in her control center. The two pilots call out over the radio but find only Dr. Smith on the other end. She just stands there, listening to their pleas, in total silence. Outside, everyone watches unknowingly as the ship suddenly explodes in the atmosphere. Roll credits.
I swore I was going to punch my TV. I have never been so angry at a fictional character as I was right now at Dr. Smith. That couldn’t possibly of just happened, could it? At the very least, they would surely find SOME way out of this. They had to. There was no question: we were watching the next one. I didn’t know till later it was already 11:30 on a weeknight. It wouldn’t have mattered if I did.
Love them or hate them, cliffhangers work. Our need to “see what happens next” inevitably overtakes our logical brain and leads us to keep watching. It speaks to the innermost part of us that cries out, “I need it!” I was curious, and so I googled the definition of a cliffhanger: “An ending that leaves the audience in a feeling of excited or anxious uncertainty about what may happen next.” Yep, that sounds right. I’d call my anxiety more anger, but my emotionally intelligent wife would tell me - “anger is a secondary emotion”.
So maybe we don’t want to make people angry OR anxious, but perhaps there’s still something we can glean from the concept of cliffhangers in our marketing. How can we create that coveted anticipation, that leaves a potential patient wanting to see more of your practice?
From what I’ve learned about cliffhangers, it always starts with a setup. A strong setup will establish need, upon which a cliffhanger builds the promise of fulfillment. In Lost in Space, the setup is their desperate need of rescue. The promise is they will find it.
“When you can speak to a patient’s need with the promise of fulfillment,
now you’ve targeted their desire to ‘see more’”
The good news for you is that your potential patients have already built their own setup – you can thank them later. They are (at least subconsciously) aware of their own needs: whether good oral health, a change in scenery, or a relationship with a trustworthy dentist. The tricky part is knowing how to offer a promise that encompasses what they’re after. When you can speak to a patient’s need with the promise of fulfillment, now you’ve targeted their desire to ‘see more’. So, how do we do it?
The setup here may seem simple: your patient is in need of oral health. Perhaps you already feel confident that you have a promise to fulfill it. A patient needs a tooth, you promise a dental implant. They need to fill a cavity, you promise a filling. They need straight teeth, you promise Invisalign. But what I hope to communicate is that a need goes much deeper than circumstantial issues. And so the promise must extend beyond the surface as well.
“There is a fundamental desire, when it comes to oral health,
that extends beyond specific treatments”
When a patient is searching for a dentist to support their oral health, are they only motivated by who can “fill their cavities”? Of course not! Because that’s every dentist… ever. There is a fundamental desire, when it comes to oral health, that extends beyond specific treatments – the need for a beautiful, healthy, lasting smile. What a patient wants to know is, “Who is going to come alongside me in this journey?” So, before you dive into a list of all the services on your website, start with a promise that you will walk along this journey with them until they achieve the smile they’re searching for. Do this, and you will have patients on the edge of their seats ready to begin.
The next setup pertains to atmosphere. Any guess what the need is? Many people think that what a patient is searching for is a beautiful practice that looks like it was designed by Chip and Joanna Gaines. Why wouldn’t they be? Don’t get me wrong, aesthetics are great, but there are beautiful practices that still fail to meet the environmental needs of a patient. Just like with oral health, there is a fundamental desire that goes beyond gorgeous interiors. And it’s the need for comfort.
Beautifully designed practices are certainly more comfortable than cramped, cluttered, dingy looking ones will ever be, but what I hope you can see is the need to be intentional in the way we talk about it. The patient needs to hear that every element works to make them forget they are visiting the dentist. That’s the level of comfort you are promising. Who wouldn’t want an experience like that?
“By identifying the fundamental relational needs of a patient,,
you will gain a clearly-identified method for speaking to them”
Now comes the most intangible of all setups: human connection. This is all about what a patient needs on a relational level from you and your team. My hope is that by identifying the fundamental desire of a patient’s relational need you will gain a clearly identified method for how to speak to them.
The fundamental relational needs of a dental patient are simple: the need to be heard, and the need to be served. They want to know that their voice counts, and you truly have their best interest at heart. Not only do you want to promise them that, but you need to mean it. Make it your goal to seek the heart of what they are trying to communicate to you. Ask them often, “What else can I do for you?” This approach to relationships will have them coming back, seeking more treatments, and telling their friends about you – because now they trust you. Now they want more.
Don’t Break Your Promise
My hope is that you can use these promises to create a clear and simple approach when communicating with potential new patients. Now you can have a framework from which you shape your website, ad campaigns, video content – all of it. Promises like this touch the fundamental desires of your patients, and skip the fluff that pollutes traditional marketing.
The last thing I want to leave you with is a word of warning: you can make all the promises you want, but if you can’t deliver, it will cost you. If after leaving me with this cliffhanger, Lost in Space continued on like nothing happened, I can assure you I would have left the series behind feeling angry and frustrated. It would have been better to promise nothing than to overpromise and underdeliver. But they didn’t. And now I’m eagerly awaiting season two.