Upside Down - Chapter 1

How Dental Marketing Can Learn to Speak Human


I grew up on the southside of Los Angeles.  My parents moved when I was eight months old and I spent the majority of my early childhood there before relocating to Columbus.  While I have many fond memories of growing up in the California sun as a young boy, I also have many that were not. I grew up off Compton Ave about two blocks outside of Compton in an area called Paramount. We lived there during the eighties when violence and unrest was pouring into the surrounding areas.  We were pretty low income and it was a majority Hispanic community.

Many times I remember being scared of violence, uncertainty and instability. I’d walk to my elementary school in the mornings through a long row of security fences with barb wire meant to protect the kids.  I remember going over to friends’ houses and their parents would be laying on the couch blitzed from drug use.  My parents managed the apartment complex we lived in so I had inside access into what was going on in the neighborhood.  I remember robberies, arson attempts, domestic violence events and police arriving in the middle of the night, to name a few.

One Sunday morning we were hit by a drunk driver on our way to church.  My mom had packed up my sister, my brother and myself and headed out.  We had been cruising through an intersection when a drunk driver ran a red light at 65 miles per hour hitting our car at a 90 degree angle. It sent us flipping through the intersection.  After two and a half rotations, our car came to a stop, upside down.

It all happened so fast, none of us knew what happened. I found myself strapped to the ceiling in the back seat by my seat belt.  My mom was screaming, “Joshua! Joshua! Are you okay?!” I could tell that someone was talking, but I didn’t know who or what they were saying. I remember hanging there unable to focus.  Either my eyes were blurry from the sudden impact of two cars colliding or it was hazy from the smoke caused by the crash. I looked down to see my younger brother laying on the roof of the car with blood on his head.  He had come out of his car seat at some point in the collision.  Fortunately, he only suffered mild head trauma and would be okay.

As I hung there, a hand reached for me through the side window.  A bystander at a corner gas station had witnessed the whole thing and raced over to the car. He reached through the broken window and yelled, “Undo your seatbelt!”  I obeyed and fell to the roof.  He grabbed me with both hands, pulled me out of car, picked me up in a bear hug hold and ran me over to the safety of the gas station.


Seventeen years ago I fell into dentistry by accident. Believe it or not, I actually went to seminary.  From ministry to dentistry I tell people.  During that journey, I realized that I loved marketing. It came easy to me  and no matter what professional role I found myself in, marketing usually followed.

What I also noticed was dental marketing was really bad.  In fact, dental websites suck.  The whole thing is a wreck.  At first I thought there was a reason why it was so bad.  Maybe some industry regulations that prevented creativity.  I was trying to give it the benefit of the doubt, but I soon realized that it was because nobody cared enough to do something about it.

I always saw dentistry as inspiring and innovative and beautiful.  It’s an industry where humans serve humans.  How could we tell that story?  I stepped out and decided to do something about it. Although I couldn’t define it at the time, what I really wanted to do was create marketing that spoke human.  

Seventeen years later I’ve learned a lot and can talk about it more intelligently.  Dental marketing is changing.  In a season of technological breakthrough, automated services and artificial intelligence, I believe we can learn (again) how to speak human.  


One of the reasons businesses struggle so much with the Millennial generation is because of their disturbingly low brand loyalty.  Some studies have put it as low as 13%.  While our first reaction is negative and followed by generalized slams against Millennials, I think we should interpret it differently - WE NO LONGER OWN THE CUSTOMER JOURNEY.  The customer does.  Millennials are the first consumer generation loyal to themselves. They choose products and companies that fit into their lives, when they want them.  

The job of our marketing isn’t to lock them into an ongoing rewards program or an automated service.  Human marketing creates a constant cycle of engagement. Think about an ongoing natural conversation where customers can enter and engage at any moment.  Or… how humans naturally communicate.  

The mistake many practices make when it comes to social media is treating it like a loyalty platform.  “Our patients follow our Facebook page and engage with it because they’re loyal patients.”  So you post stock content because it really doesn’t matter that much anyway.  The patients aren’t going anywhere.  

Or consider the opposite: Studies show that content created by the consumer - in their naturally authentic voice - receives 600 to 700 percent more engagement than the same content posted by a company. Why? Because it’s  humans speaking to humans.  Think about the uniqueness of the human voice for a moment. It’s open, honest, direct, funny, shocking - It is unmistakingly genuine.  The human voice cannot be faked.

McKinsey and Company consulting group released a report that says two thirds of touch points during the evaluation phase of a purchase involve human-driven activities like online reviews, social media conversations and word of mouth recommendations. Two thirds of your marketing is actually not your marketing.  It’s humans speaking to humans.  So you can push irrelevant content in a monotone voice that gives everyone the busy signal.  Or you can empower real humans to speak on your behalf and engage in the conversations already happening.  

Speaking human gets more engagement.  


What if I asked you to pick up your phone and open Instagram?  Now steadily scroll through all the posts, but don’t stop to look at anything. Just glance over the content.  Now, what if I asked you to stop every time you saw a “sponsored” posts in your feed?  Would you be able to identify all of them?  How do you think you would score?  You’d probably get it right every time.

Corporate content looks so, well… corporate.  It sticks out.  As hard as they try it still looks like an ad. The solution is not to make “better” ads. The solution is to create stories.  

Human marketing leverages word of mouth referrals, social media conversations and online reviews to create a story that allows your patient to be the hero.  In fact, one of the major miscalculations of an outdated marketing strategy is positioning the practice or the doctor as the hero.  In the book Building a Story Brand, author Donald Miller says, “Your customer should be the hero of the story, not your brand.”

Consumers aren’t asking for more heroes. They’re asking you to make them one.  

Miller lays the whole thing out in a nutshell:

“A CHARACTER who wants something encounters a PROBLEM before they can get it.  At the peak of their despair, a GUIDE steps into their life, gives them a PLAN, and CALLS THEM TO ACTION. That action helps them avoid FAILURE and ends in a SUCCESS.”

Doesn’t that sound like an amazing dental practice?.  Does your website communicate that narrative?  What about your social media ads?  I can guarantee a $1500 a month SEO strategy probably doesn’t.  

Sincere face-to-face interactions create stories about our values. Surprising and memorable experiences tell a story about meaning.  Online reviews create a storyline of trust and expertise.  

Human marketing allows patients to create and share their own story.


Millennials believe in companies where values shine through. They’re not loyal to the brand (as we’ve already discussed), they’re loyal to people that stand for something.

Nike recently took a risk with their now famous Colin Kaepernick ad that encouraged us to “Believe in something.  Even if it means sacrificing everything.”  They took a heated political and racial issue and positioned it in a way that created shared values.  They used a human voice to stand up for something.

Nike knew that 93% of consumers say they’re more likely to purchase when a chief executive issues statements about pressing societal issues and they agree with that statement. They knew it would be a risk, but they also thought it might work.  Two-thirds of Nike customers are under the age of 35.  This young demographic can afford $200 shoes. They have substantial disposable income and most likely live in a city. Chances are they also have more liberal views that identify with this issue.

On the day Nike released the campaign, their valuation dropped by nearly $4 billion.  I can imagine everyone involved hoping for the best, but preparing to lose their jobs.  One week later, however, the stock bounced back higher than it had been before the campaign.  Nike placed a bet on shared values and created connection with the next generation of athletes trying to find their voice. Regardless of your stance on the issue, the campaign succeed.

So meaning becomes the new marketing. It is no longer about your “why,” it must also be about your customer’s “why.”


In an effort to establish a marketing strategy that is human, there is one obstacle in our way: technology. Many of us love technology (including me!) and that statement may disappoint you, but technology isn’t bad.  In fact, it’s the opposite. Technology is SO good. It’s so efficient and easy that we end up trying to solve every problem with it.  Even the ones we shouldn’t.  

There’s no ignoring the fact that technology is playing a more important role than ever in marketing, but with high tech comes high touch. When we use technology to solve marketing we attempt to trade trust for expediency.  And trust is the exact opposite of expediency.  Trust equals time.  It equals consistency.  It equals shared values.  All things technology will have a difficult time replacing.  

Author and marketing expert Hugh MacLeod says, “If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they’d punch you in the face.”  I love that he said that because I see it everyday. We create pop up windows on websites that shame you into not taking advantage of their latest promotion. We blast neighborhoods with thousands upon thousands of desperate direct mail pieces that talk nothing about our values. They’re only designed to bait you into the next amazing offer.  Think about this fun fact: the average direct mail response is down to .15%.  That’s fifteen one hundredths of a percent just in case you didn’t see the decimal point. So for every 10,000 pieces you send out, you can expect 15 new patients.  Offend 9,985 people with your overly aggressive advertising, but get 15 patients.  Yep, makes sense.

We can outsource tens of thousands of direct mail pieces and yet we can’t outsource knowing that other humans care.  We can’t outsource empathy.

It’s no secret that dental patients can deal with an enormous amount of anxiety.  So how do you use technology to automate a message that removes anxiety?  A pop up?  A robo-call?  A sales funnel? An empathetic voice is greater than a SEO strategy.

The best marketing happens in the moment when we see the world through the eyes of another.


I remember back to that car accident in California.  When I was hanging there upside down, a generous and kind person pulled me out of that car.  It took a human to reach out his hand and rescue us.  

Dental marketing is a wreck.  The whole thing is upside down. We’ve abused people for the sake of profit.  We’ve automated funnels and implement chat bots and blasted emails that don’t speak human because .001% convert and make us money.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  It can be empathetic and compassionate.  It can be a human hand that reaches out to another human to pull them through the mess and say,  “I know what you’re feeling.  I can help.  Take my hand.”

Marketing should be a human voice speaking to humans.  It should be an outstretched hand.

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