Your practice, like every business, has a brand, which is defined (for better or worse) by the perception people have of you. Brands are powerful motivators of behavior, and perceptions can be difficult to change, so imagine finding out that the brand awareness people have for your business is out of synch with the values you want to project.

That's what happened to us here at Spear Education when we looked over the results of a recent marketplace survey.

It turns out there is a perception among a significant portion of the dental community that the Spear Education curriculum is designed to serve and promote a “boutique” brand of upscale dentistry. This perception truly surprised us, because nothing could be further from the truth. Our philosophy is simple and universal: We believe that patients make decisions based on their own value systems, and that we in the dental community have to do what we can to influence those value systems and move patients toward an appreciation for ideal care. Until they get there, though, those patients receive the best care at the level they value—which might be single-tooth dentistry. In any case, we believe that well-educated, comprehensive-minded dentists tend to develop a clientele of well-educated patients who learn to expect, and even ask for, ideal treatment. Far from being “elitist,” it's a philosophy based on the goal of bringing the best possible dental care to the most people.

Here's another example: Most survey respondents thought our lab (The Winter Lab) was only for complex, “high-end” cases. Although Dr. Bob Winter, who is responsible for guiding our lab clinically, is a world-class prosthodontist and master ceramist, we accept cases from the simplest to the most complex and deliver a range of high-quality services priced within the target of 85% of American dentists.

Clearly, we have some work to do on educating the dental community at large about who we are and what we stand for. I would urge you, too, to take another look at the idea of “brand awareness” from this perspective, and become more aware of how your brand is perceived. Do patients see you as a “nuts and bolts” dentist—good enough for routine care but not the one to deliver comprehensive or complex treatment? Or is it the opposite? Have you developed a reputation for excellence that could be misinterpreted as promoting high-end care for an “exclusive” clientele?

Find out what people are thinking, and take the time to educate each patient on your practice philosophy so they can educate others in the right way. Otherwise, your perception of your brand may be a very well-kept secret.


Commenter's Profile Image Gerald Benjamin
May 28th, 2011
If Frank Spear were a car, he would be a Ferrari. There is no doubt that the education that Frank has taught and preached is elitist and not for everyone.Excellence is NOT for everyone but for those dentists and patients who want and demand it. From the minute that I started my eduacation with Frank (circa 1994-5), I knew that I was in a different place and I would be a different dentist. Frank's office in Seattle was a boutique practice and all of the students wanted to be Frank. So how could your perception been so far off from reality?
Commenter's Profile Image Barry Polansky
May 29th, 2011
I agree with Gerald. I know we don't like to use the term "elitist," but it is what it is. The dental community is composed of all types of dentists doing all types of dentistry. At Spear, Dawson and Pankey...excellence is what is some that is elitism. I don't find the term objectionable. It's the cream of the crop. Without organizations like Spear, Dawson and Pankey, where would dentistry be? Your market survey was correct. It's no mistake how you are perceived, and you should be proud. Provide the highest value to your students, to your doctors as a lab, and to your patients as the dentist...your clients will find you. Barry Polansky
Commenter's Profile Image Imtiaz Manji
May 30th, 2011
Thanks for your comments, Gerald and Barry. I found your responses very thought-provoking. I think it's true that a lot of this comes down to what we mean by “elite” and “elitism.” I agree that we promote a culture here that embraces elite thinking, in the sense that Frank—and all of us at Spear Education—believe in achieving the highest “elite” levels of clinical excellence. But we’re certainly not an elitist organization, in the sense of being exclusive. You put it well in your comment, Gerald: Excellence is for those who want and demand it. We like to think we are here to help anyone who chooses to pursue those elite levels, whether it’s a high-end, urban boutique practice with an esthetic focus or a rural family practice where single-tooth procedures are the bread and butter. And in fact, I can assure you we draw our clients come from a broad base: recent grads as well as seasoned practitioners with 30-plus years in practice, insurance-driven as well as fee-for-service. Our curriculum is designed to promote “great dentistry,” which we define as “the pursuit of clinical excellence that transforms the practices of dentists and the lives of patients.” Everything we do here—from our lectures and workshops, to our online learning and DVDs, to the Faculty Club, our Study Club, our Lab, and indeed our whole organization—is centered around this idea of allowing any dentist to pursue great dentistry and find their own path. If that path means an upscale, high-end, low-volume practice, then great. But there are paths to greatness that don’t take that route and we are seeing examples of them every day. We want that dentist who is happy in a modest family practice but who has that hunger for excellence to know that Spear Education is for him or her too. Great dentistry should not be restricted to a particular demographic. That’s what I wanted to get across in my post, and I thank you for giving me the chance to think deeper on this question. I believe that this perception gap in our brand is an opportunity for us here at Spear Education to learn how to better communicate our vision and better serve dentists—and dentistry. To do that, it really helps us to know what dentists like you are thinking. Thanks again for your input.
Commenter's Profile Image Mike Johnson
May 30th, 2011
Barry, I liked your comment about "without Spear, Dawson and Pankey, where would dentistry be? (by the way i did enjoy your book. Is the Art of the examination part 2 in the works?) I have thought about your statement many times. I believe we are extremely fortunate as health care providers to have such great clinicians with us and also as true professionals they are gracious enough to share their dental expertise with us. When I first heard about Pankey and Dawson back in the early 90's there was a perception that these courses were designed for the "elite" dentists. I had received their mailers and read all about them, however what enticed me to give it a try was the encouragement of two colleagues of mine. They had taken the courses and told me....just go. You will like it. I did go and it totally changed my outlook on dentistry. At this stage of my career I was just doing the same old dentistry day after day after day with not a whole lot of fulfillment. It was a job but not much more than that. After spending just a few days with Pete Dawson I finally understook for the first time how the TMJ works. I gained a better understanding of the relationship of the TMJ and occlusion. I began to understand how to treat occlusal problems in my own practice, probems that I didn't even know I had. Shortly after that I began taking the Spear courses in Seattle and Las Vegas. Frank was a continuation of my learning curriculum. From Frank I learned how to diagnose better, tx plan better and how to restore teeth better. What was most impressive about Frank was not only could he get phenomenal results with his dentistry but he could also communicate this process to dentists....US!! In other words not only can Frank talk the talk and walk the talk, he can also teach the talk. So no matter where you are at in your dental career, if you want to improve you clinical skills and your level of competence, you can get it at Spear Education. The great part about this curriculum is that it gives you the knowledge and confidence that you can do complex resorative dentistry and do it very predictably. I have been a student here for about 12 years now and have never looked at it as an "elitest" organization at all. I treat it as a place where I can pursue clinical excellence at my own pace in an outstanding learning environment. Since attending these courses, I have been able to do a far better job of diagnosing, treatment planning, helping patients be aware of what is goin on with their teeth and then letting them know how we can help. I am enjoying dentisty as much now as I ever have in my 27 years as a dentist. Gerald, I agree with you comment that with Frank, you know you were in a different place and that you would be a different dentist. Through Spear Education you can truly differentiate you practice from others in you efforts to build the practice that you desire.
Commenter's Profile Image Barry Polansky
May 31st, 2011
There is no doubt that dentistry is far better off for teachers like Frank, Pete and LD himself. These are gifted people who make our complex field much more accessible. These are rare individuals because they go beyond what is usually taught by teaching a "way" to implement excellence into the practice that eventually effects the lives of the dentist, their staff and eventually the patients. In other words they help the dentist provide a value chain...philosophically and economically this is what makes dentistry a great profession. Value. Kudos to Frank for his video blog to further discuss the concept of "elitism," it truly is a word that has bothered me for a long time. Mike, it certainly sounds as if you are creating value for your patients everyday...and yes< I am working on another edition of the Art pf the Exam...I have so much more to say on the matter.
Commenter's Profile Image Nikos Krompas
June 5th, 2011
Dear Imtiaz, why do you worry so much about dentists' perceptions of you brand being ELITE.If Frank was not who he is and what he offers, with your cooperation, why on earth should i come so many times ,since 1998, from beautiful Greece and leave my offices and my family and spend so much money to learn and become who i am? I believe, my friend, that what you should aim at Spear education ,is not changing your profile of excellence but help take the fear out of Dentists and make them believe that they too can take the path!