How SmileDirectClub’s tele-dental service was on-message for the pandemic

The online dental platform has been able to direct its marketing messaging to harness the pandemic-driven uptake in digital services

SmileDirectClub, the tele-dentistry platform that connects customers to dentists or orthodontists in its network, wanted to go one step further in linking people with healthcare.

Creating a collective of specialists to provide health and wellness advice to customers, its Confidence Council addresses the areas such as love and relationships, health and fitness, body language, beauty and oral health. 

SmileDirectClub A/NZ marketing director, Niki Brown, told CMO the initiative was about underlining the role of confidence in people’s lives and realising the potential of a good smile in that mix. It stems from the brand’s mission to democratise the oral health industry “by providing affordable, accessible teeth straightening solutions to all”.  

“Members of the council use their expertise to offer advice to Australians on how they can be their best, most confident selves,” Brown said.

As Brown put it, Australia is known as the happy-go-lucky nation, but people are lacking confidence within themselves. Research SmileDirectClub conducted in 2019 found nearly one-quarter claiming their day-to-day confidence had declined in the previous five years.  

“With this in mind, we decided to onboard a variety of home-grown Australian specialists to form SmileDirectClub’s Confidence Council, all of whom can relate to Australians and their everyday situations,” Brown said.

Further consumer research conducted in 2020 showed half of respondents agreed teeth straightening would give them a confidence boost.  

“We believe there’s never been a better time to work with our Confidence Council to spread awareness of how Aussies can be their most confident and make a positive impact on their lives,” Brown said.  

The two newest appointees to the Council are body language expert, Dr Louise Mahler, and beauty content creator, Tammy Christina. The duo joins fitness expert, Jono Castano, renowned relationships expert, Dr Lurve, and SmileDirectClub chief clinical officer, Dr Jeffrey Sulitzer.  

“All members of the Council believe a smile has the power to transform one’s confidence and can speak from their own experience about situations Australians might find themselves in, by which they could feel or appear more confident,” Brown said. “The members provide advice, tips and tricks around confidence that Australians can take home and practice in their everyday lives.”  

The broader marketing play  

Since its launch in 2014, SmileDirectClub has attempted to disrupt the 120-year-old, $12 billion orthodontic industry. Through the creation of the world’s first telehealth platform for orthodontia, SmileDirectClub made teeth straightening more accessible, affordable and convenient, Brown explained.   

Credit: SmileDirectClub

Now the platform is looking to shift its marketing approach from disrupter to a challenger brand with the goal of getting consumers to understand there is a new teeth straightening option in Australia that’s more affordable as well as high quality.  

“Our product is a transformative product and the best way to talk about our product is through the lens of the consumer,” she said. “Getting a smile you have always wanted is an emotional experience. We want to create an experience that is both valuable and transformational for the customer. Being able to have a credible voice is important, to talk about the process. We enable the customer to tell their story, which leads to sharing with friends and family.”  

Pandemic-driving digital uptick  

Registered dentists and orthodontists customise each patient's treatment plan and manage their patients' care from initial diagnosis through the conclusion of treatment, monitoring care along the way with regular remote check-ins. During the pandemic, the business was in a fortunate position to already be in the field of telehealth. 

“We were uniquely positioned to serve our customers through our tele-dentistry platform and quickly shifted our business from our SmileShops to dentist-prescribed, remote impression kits practically overnight,” Brown said.  

SmileDirectClub’s clear aligners are dentist-prescribed and custom-made from BPA-free plastic thermoformed onto personalised 3D-printed mouth moulds, powered by a ground-breaking fleet of HP industrial 3D printers. Each customer's clear aligner treatment plan is shipped in an 'all-in-one' box directly to the customer's door.  

Brown said creative messaging in the pandemic initially focused on ‘start from home’ calls to action to remind customers the telehealth platform doesn’t require in-office visits. It then looked to better quantify its pricing benefit compared to the competitors.  

“As we know, some customers are more price conscious coming out of potential economic distress in 2020,” she said.  

During Covid, the brand also saw a rise in overall online and streaming video consumption and increase in social media consumption, specifically on new apps like TikTok. As a result, Brown’s team has leaned into these consumption trends. The plans are to continue to be led by data and focus on delivering a superior customer experience.    

Brand alignment  

And these industry expert ambassadors remain key now and into the future. Asked for her advice to other marketers embarking on a similar brand ambassador plan, Brown said it’s vital to do the research and ensure you’re selecting individuals aligned to both your brand’s beliefs and values.  

“It's also important to ensure they can speak genuinely and informatively to the brand’s audience. It never hurts to be selective, so take the time to choose the right ambassador for the brand to ensure your brand values and the ambassador’s values are aligned,” she said.  

“We wanted to ensure our prospective members were authentic and genuine in the fact they believe in the power of a smile and confidence in changing your life and could speak to this through their expertise, knowledge, and own personal experience.”  

Looking more broadly at the trends and influences impacting marketing, Brown said staff and customer safety while interacting with a brand will be paramount. “Customers are also expecting a premium digital experience,” she said.  

“Never has digital been more important than it is now. After months where the only access to the outside world has been through online ordering, consumers will search for the best products, and services online, considering the offering before they head into store. While interacting with your brand, they’ll expect improved customer service with capabilities like video chat,” she added.  

“Having an innovator mentality within any organisation is important, but post-Covid, the ability to quickly pivot is more important than ever.”  

In Australia and globally, SmileDirectClub pivoted its entire organisation and marketing efforts to support the growth of its impression kit business, which as a result doubled during the pandemic.  

“It’s an entrepreneurial culture at the heart of the business and a mentality that companies need to adopt moving forward,” Brown added.  

Don’t miss out on the wealth of insight and content provided by CMO A/NZ and sign up to our weekly CMO Digest newsletters and information services here.  

You can also follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page          




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