Thanks to television shows like Extreme Makeover, The Swan and A Makeover Story, consumers are more aware than ever about ways they can enhance their appearances, including the esthetic possibilities of their smiles.
Da Vinci Dental Studios knows firsthand what a dramatic impact makeover television can have on business. Due to the West Hills, California-laboratory's affiliation with ABC's Extreme Makeover, "da Vinci veneers" have become a household name and patients are requesting this specific brand from their dentists. "We're fortunate to have been included in the show and that the public picked up on the concept of a da Vinci veneer," says Paul Wolff, president of the da Vinci Group. "TV is a powerful medium and we've been very busy."
In fact, da Vinci recently took action to maximize the exposure and consumer interest in cosmetic restorations. It formed the da Vinci Group to create a larger, top-quality manufacturing base for da Vinci veneers. To date, it has formed partnerships with a select group of 30 laboratories and nearly 50 dentists who are authorized to offer veneers with the exclusive da Vinci name. There is no licensing fee for participating labs, but they must purchase proprietary da Vinci porcelain kits that were developed with Vident and Vita. Two dollars of the cost of the kit goes into a da Vinci veneer marketing fund and $1 goes to charity. Qualified dentists who join the group pay $950 per month and can market the da Vinci brand. They also receive customizable advertising materials to create a da Vinci presence in their local markets.
But you don't have to be featured on prime time to reap the benefits of the public's makeover mania. Dental laboratories across the nation are reporting higher sales for their cosmetic restorations. "These shows are a huge factor in boosting my cosmetic sales," says Robert Ratliff, owner of Gator Ceramics, Bossier City, Louisiana. "It's easy to overlook how dramatic a dental makeover can be until you see the results firsthand. TV is a whole new avenue that has created an awareness in the dental consumer about what is possible."
Given this interest, many proactive laboratories are acting as adjunct marketers to their dentist-clients and promoting cosmetic services directly to the public. By educating consumers about restorative options, they are increasing patient flow to their clients' offices and thus increasing their lab's business. "We want to support our dentists and any way we can help them get more patients into their chairs is great for both of us," says Daniel White, vice president of marketing at MicroDental Laboratories, Dublin, California. "At first, some of our clients wonder why a laboratory is marketing to the public, but the first time they get a patient from it they love us forever."
Here are eight pull-through marketing strategies that savvy laboratory owners are using to go public:
1. Get involved in your own extreme makeover case. When Louisiana's SB Magazine wanted to follow a woman through a dramatic head-to-toe makeover, it contacted Dr. Brian Broadwell to see if he would perform the dental work. Broadwell, in turn, asked Gator Ceramics to fabricate the case. "We looked at it as an opportunity to bring attention to dentistry," says Ratliff. "Anytime we can get in the public eye, it's a positive thing because we're competing for the consumer's buying dollars."
In two weeks, the patient received a root canal, composite resin fillings, core buildups, bleaching, six veneers and two Empress Esthetic crowns fabricated by Ratliff. The woman also received liposuction, full-body lift, breast augmentation, eyelid surgery and collagen lip injections.
Last month, 60,000 readers learned about the woman's transformation in the consumer publication's February 2005 issue. While the laboratory isn't mentioned in the article, Ratliff says that doesn't matter--and he's right. At LMT's press time--when SB Magazine had just hit the newsstands--Dr. Broadwell had already scheduled a makeover consultation with a patient who saw the story. If the patient decides to proceed, Gator Ceramics will fabricate the case.
Another woman, who was turned down by ABC's Extreme Makeover, recently received a new smile courtesy of laboratory owners Dave Jensen, Natural Prosthetics Dental Lab, and Ron Purdue and Brad White, Purdue Dental Lab in Bradenton, Florida. The two labs teamed up with Dr. Gy Yatros who had heard about the local woman's rejection from the show and poor dental condition and decided to help. Together, they have donated over $14,000 in services. The patient received a 10-unit bridge from Natural Prosthetics and a lower partial denture and a complete maxillary denture from Purdue--not to mention a new hairstyle, makeup and clothes donated by other area businesses.
To publicize the makeover, Dr. Yatros unveiled the patient during a press conference at his office complete with a champagne toast. The event resulted in two spots on Tampa TV news as well as more than seven newspaper articles. Since then, five patients have come to Dr. Yatros' office specifically as a result of the coverage; all casework has gone to Natural Prosthetics and Purdue, Dr. Yatros' exclusive laboratories.
2. Cyber market. Laboratory owners are harnessing the power of the Internet to reach dental consumers. For instance, the da Vinci Group created http://www.davinciveneers.com for consumers seeking information on its restorations. The website features the following call to action: "If you're thinking about an extreme or not-so-extreme smile makeover, give us a call and we will connect you to a network of some of the finest cosmetic dentists in North America." It then provides an 800 number that gives the consumer a list of da Vinci-network dentists in his area. The lab gets five to 10 patient calls or e-mails a day. The site also links to da Vinci Dental Studios' website which features smile galleries, videos, and information about the lab.
Rather than focusing on a specific type of restoration, other laboratories have created websites to spread public awareness of cosmetic dentistry in general. For instance, when Steve Dearien, owner of Sundance Dental Laboratory, Scottsdale, Arizona, wanted to assist his clients in promoting cosmetic dentistry, he created http://www.definingsmile.com, a website dedicated to educating the public on restorative options. "Some dentists weren't taking the initiative to get patients excited about restoring their smiles, so we did it for them," says Dearien.
The informative site offers descriptions of dental procedures, a before-and-after smile gallery, a list of dentist-clients, and an "ask a dentist a question" feature in which patients e-mail questions to Dearien who then forwards them on to an appropriate dentist-client. The site gets approximately 40 hits a day. For details on other ways laboratories are using websites, click here.
To get the site up and running, Dearien worked with a website designer and spent about $1,100 on the project. He also spent $3,300 to market the site to local residents: he had the lab's two pick-up-and-delivery vehicles vinyl wrapped with four-color images of smiling patients and the website address.
3. Advertise in consumer magazines. Another strategy Sundance uses to promote the website is to advertise in Phoenix magazine, a monthly, general-interest publication that covers trends, events and people in the Phoenix area. Once a year, the lab buys a spot in the publication's annual "Top Dentist" issue, which lists the area's best general dentists and specialists. The full-page, four-color ads feature beautiful smiles and copy such as "How can I safely whiten and straighten my teeth?" and refer readers to http://www.definingsmile.com.
Last year, Dearien spent about $6,500 to run the ad, including graphic design, image rights and ad placement. "It's expensive, but this magazine sits on people's coffee tables for months, so we really get some longevity and mileage out of it," he says. The magazine has a circulation of 320,000,
MicroDental is about to launch an ad campaign in national consumer magazines. The ads in InStyle magazine will focus on how quick and simple it can be to remake your smile with MAC (Micro Advanced Cosmetics) veneers. "The ads will be 80% emotion, 20% content," says White. "We want to downplay the extreme part of a makeover and let consumers know that they can change their smiles in the same amount of time it takes for dinner and a movie." The laboratory's goal is to generate interest with consumers and refer them to a dentist through a special 800 number or by visiting the laboratory's sophisticated consumer website, www.macveneers.com.
4. Buy a billboard. Believe it or not, Don Albensi's marketing idea came to him at the local car wash. "I was looking to do something to piggyback the Extreme Makeover madness, when I noticed the beautiful billboards at a very busy car wash," says Albensi, owner of Albensi Dental Laboratory in Irwin, Pennsylvania. "When people are out of their cars waiting to pay, the billboard is staring them right in the face."
To make his idea a reality, Albensi contacted his manufacturer-partner, Ivoclar Vivadent. Working with Ivoclar's marketing staff, they came up with a marketing message and created an image for Albensi, who brought the image to a local print shop to output the 5' x 7' sign. The car wash, which owns the billboard, put it up. The total cost of the project was $1,200.
The billboard went up last summer and stays up for one year. The sign showcases a woman with a beautiful smile and tells people to contact Albensi for a list of cosmetic dentists in the area; so far, the lab has gotten about two dozen calls. "It's worked so well to pique the public's interest that we're thinking about running another larger, roadside billboard this summer," says Albensi.
5. Hit the airwaves. Each spring, Gary Spadaro, owner of Liberty Dental Lab, Schenectady, New York, targets consumers in his local area with a radio commercial on the Valplast partial. The ad touts the benefits of the restoration and encourages listeners to call the laboratory for a dentist referral in their area. Spadaro created the ad with the help of a radio station and reruns the same ad every year.
He's refined his approach over time. For example, Spadaro's first campaign with a large, high-profile radio station cost a total of $15,000 for 65 spots over a three-week time period. He now focuses on talk radio programs at smaller stations that target a more senior demographic; last year he spent $10,000 for a total of 154 spots over four weeks. "It's a less expensive option, and I'm getting a better return," says Spadaro, who gets an average of 15 calls per week during the campaign. He helps defray the cost of the ads by charging interested dentist-clients $75 to list their name and number at the end of the spot.
6. Offer fantastic freebies. Before Precision Ceramics went 100% mail order and had local accounts, Owner Mark Jackson used some effective marketing giveaways. Since no one is more interested in having a beautiful smile than a bride, Jackson bought a booth at a weekend bridal show and invited dentist-clients to work the event with him in shifts. They offered free smile consultations, demonstrated bleaching treatments, showed before-and-after pictures, and even explained how to straighten teeth with veneers rather than braces. "Over the course of two years, we sent at least 50 patients to our dentists' offices and who knows how many people those patients referred," says Jackson.
Jackson and his clients also offered free cosmetic consultations to the owners and managers of hair salons and fitness centers. If they opted to have the work performed--in most cases it was a bleaching procedure--they got "before" and "after" photos to keep at no charge.
To get even more people to the dentist's office, Jackson asked the owner/manager-patient to display an 11" x 14" counter card that advertised attractive smiles and included a dentist's business cards. When a customer asked about the display, the patient was inclined to share the photos and his experience. "We created living, breathing salespeople for our dentist-clients and that was powerful," says Jackson.
7. Seek free editorial coverage. Articles in newspapers or magazines can be a powerful way to target dental consumers: it takes your message to a large audience and can be more credible to readers than paid publicity or advertising. However, this type of coverage is usually challenging to get--until now. Today's public interest in makeovers gives you an instant angle.
In fact, many publications are so interested in dental makeovers that they are going out of their way to highlight dental laboratories and their role in the makeover process. LMT has created a special In the Public Eye section to showcase the editorial coverage labs across the country are receiving.
Instead of waiting for a reporter to contact them, MicroDental is taking a proactive approach. Working with a public relations company, CEO Fred Walke recently completed a media tour with major health and fitness publications in New York City. The laboratory expects to see an article on ways to improve your smile in Men's Health in the next few months.
8. "Wow!" patients with stylish educational materials. Patient education materials are nothing new, but MicroDental's materials are something special. The laboratory offers its high-end MAC clients a package themed, Teeth: The Ultimate Accessory, including the Patient Smile Guide, a sleek, coffee-table-style book of before-and-after photos. The laboratory has also recently completed a new videotape featuring emotional interviews with patients whose lives have been changed by bleaching procedures or cosmetic dentistry.
The laboratory offers the materials to its MAC clients at no charge. Although producing the materials is costly, by creating the pieces with its graphic design staff and in-house capabilities, the lab is able to produce them at a much lower unit price than their dentist clients can. The laboratory's commitment to offering this value-added service seems to be paying off: last year, MAC division revenues grew by 30%.