Building a dentistry marketplace and brand: AirSmile's story

Founder of new marketplace talks through the brand building efforts to launching successfully

A new online marketplace is reshaping how ordinary Australians think about dentistry and bringing pricing transparency to an otherwise tight-lipped market.

AirSmile is the brainchild of Queensland dentist, Heath Fraser, and enables people to understand and compare pricing for various procedures across numerous dental practices.

Fraser's original vision was to be able to help more people than just those seated in his dentist's chair. His hope was by allowing ordinary Australians to understand and compare the pricing of dental procedures, they would be less worried about costs and more willing to undertake necessary procedures.

"Fifty per cent of people are not going to the dentist because of worries about cost, so we are missing out on taking care of all those people," Fraser tells CMO. "This is about stepping back and looking at this bigger problem.

"I had the opportunity, and I had the drive, so why not try and make an impact on a bigger scale?"

In early 2020 Fraser and his business partner, Rebecca VanZutphen, started brainstorming ideas. The result was a brand story and business model for an online marketplace that would enable dentists to list their services and prices.

The brand narrative

He soon discovered bringing his vision to life would see him needing to learn about brand building, public relations and a whole set of skills far removed from drills and dentures.

"Right from the start I had no idea what I was doing, so I had to learn every little thing," Fraser says. "I had a friend who runs a marketing and brand company, and she took me aside and said I can’t just jump in and do this - you have got to work out your values, work out your brand position, and you've got to build it right from the beginning, otherwise you are going to lose your way."

That led Fraser to re-evaluate his reasons for building the marketplace and ensure these were expressed through its brand and service.

"I always thought it was going to be about 'what is going to make this sell and make people want to take this up'," Fraser says. "I never thought it would be about myself and my business partner and our values, but that is going to be the thing most effective to sell it and get this out there."

Fraser chose the brand, AirSmile, as a deliberate reflection of the ease-of-use people have come to expect through other online marketplaces such as Airbnb, with 'smile' being the result patients were looking for.

"They don't see teeth and molars and incisors, they just see their smile, and that is what is important for them," Fraser says.

With the site launched, Fraser than engaged a PR agency, The Ideas Suite, to begin spreading the word. Its efforts were more effective than Fraser had planned for, however.

"There are only 7000 practices in Australia, and one industry magazine, so as soon you as you start putting any information out there and people talk and you get an interest, you lose control pretty quickly," Fraser says. "The PR campaigns we were running have essentially meant dentists in every state have jumped onboard. We have gone from our starting plan to a national network extraordinarily quickly."

Although still in its early stages of development, AirSmile is already hosting about 2000 searches each month, which Fraser is seeking to monetise by converting to bookings in dentists' practice management systems. He has also been surprised by the enthusiasm dentists have embraced the service, who see AirSmile as representing a new stream of patients.

"I always thought there would be a push back, because we are putting pricing out there," he says. "But if they are not on there, they're not getting into a source of new patients."

Having navigated the new world of marketing and brand building, Fraser is now keen to raise awareness of AirSmile among the general public, to realise his goal of improving people's dental health.

"It delivers a pretty simple solution straight up, it is free to use, and is the best format to deliver a more democratic process in which people can go out and chose their dentist or the treatment they are trying to get," Fraser says. "On some levels if is really changing how the public sees how they engage their oral health."

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