Upside Down - Chapter 2

A Rant on Why Technology Might Be the Biggest Obstacle in Our Marketing


I want to introduce you to someone - Niccolo Paganini. The name is probably not familiar, but he was an early 19th Century Italian violinist. The most celebrated virtuoso of his time.  He built the foundation of what we know today as  modern violin technique.

Paganini was a technologist.  He was known for his imaginative compositions that expanded the limits of classical instruments. He could use violins to mimic the sound of other instruments and even farm animals as in his famous Il Fandango Spanolo (The Spanish Dance). Other prominent composers often referred to Paganini as a phenom since he had exceptionally long fingers and was capable of playing three octaves across four strings in a hand span.

His most famous and well-known composition was the 24 Caprices for Solo Violin written between 1802 and 1817. Each caprice (piece of music) being an doctorate study on varying technical skills. It was some of the most difficult technique in all violin earning him the nickname, “Devil’s Violinist.”

Here is the original Caprice №24 by Paganini. Take a listen. It’s only 4:26 but hang with it for at least a minute or so.

It’s a well-known piece that many recognize and is widely considered one of the most difficult pieces ever written for the violin. It requires many advanced technical skills such as parallel octaves, rapid shifting covering many intervals, extremely fast scales and arpeggios including minor scales in thirds and tenths, left hand pizzicato, high positions, and quick string crossing. These are things I know nothing about… but you can appreciate the complexity just from listening.


One of the first marketing books I ever read was Philip Kotler’s Principles of Marketing.  Throughout my career, I began to take more and more of an interest in the field. Kotler’s name was definitely well known in marketing circles and even though it’s more of a college textbook, I thought it would be a good place to start learning.

One of the earliest thoughts I formed around marketing came from this book.  Dr. Kotler described marketing as a blend of psychology (the study of the human mind), sociology (the study of human groups) and anthropology (the study of humans).  A diagram showed the three circles overlapping with effective marketing in the middle.  From that point on, it became a foundation to my approach - marketing was at the center of all things human.  

Kotler was spot on in 1995 and yet very much ahead of his time.  The truth is, we live in a world where technology has become the major obstacle in the way of true marketing.  Everything is programmed and automated. In the chase for efficiency and scale we are quickly losing the human connection.  We’re forgetting what the human voice sounds like.  


Have you ever given out your email on a website?  Maybe you’re trying to download an educational PDF or wanting to watch a tutorial video.  You trade your email for the resource, but what happens over the next 24 hours?  We’ve all been there.  Get ready because you’ll receive:

     -a phone call from a sales rep
     -an email from the same sales rep
     -an invitation to an upcoming webinar
     -a subscription to their email newsletter
     -another email newsletter subscription from a different, but slightly relevant company that bought your address

And that’s just the first 24 hours.  Once you’re in their funnel, there’s no telling how long this will go on and how many different contacts you’ll receive. Does downloading a PDF or watching a tutorial grant permission to interrupt your day with unsolicited emails, phone calls and newsletters?  

I don’t think there is a person reading this who enjoys that type of interaction.  So why do we do it?  Because .001% of those contacts convert.  And that .001% is enough to make money.  If we use technology to automate that, then we have just automated making money.  And that’s super compelling – the elusive quest for automated passive income.

But does that make it right?  Just because technology CAN doesn’t mean it SHOULD.  

On one hand, dentistry is using technology to do amazing things: detecting early signs of oral cancer, placing same-day implants with 3D imaging and creating CAD-CAM restorations. On the other hand, we think the same technology that makes our lives faster and easier clinically can make marketing faster and easier.  So we use it to trick people into clicking links and giving an email address.  I don’t think we’ve made it easier.  I think we’ve made it more annoying.

Each year I watch the newest and greatest marketing companies come onto the scene. They all have more advanced, automated solutions that guarantee better results in a shorter time with less money. The thought of putting your marketing on autopilot and never thinking about it again becomes REALLY compelling. So we give control of our voice to data analysts, SEO experts and A/B testers who are completely detached from the heart of the practice.  

In an attempt to make marketing easier, we turn it into an IT function.

Technology has a role in marketing, but let’s start with a simple rule: Don’t be annoying.


For the record, I’m not anti-technology.  I love me some data and can geek out on it with the best of them.  However, I start to struggle when we prioritize what statistically converts over what customers really want.

For example: pop-up ads.

Do pop-up ads slightly increase the subscribe rate for newsletters?  Yes.  Over time can that make the difference between hundreds if not thousands of emails? Yes. If leveraged right, can that turn into thousands of dollars in sales?  Yes.  

And yet every customer quality report concludes that people hate pop-up ads. To go one step further, the guy who actually created the pop-up ad (Ethan Zuckerman) came back years later and apologized for introducing it to the world. He said he was sorry for inventing it in the first place.

“At the end of the day, the business model that got us funded was advertising,” he wrote for The Atlantic, “The model that got us acquired was analysing users' personal homepages so we could better target ads to them. Along the way, we ended up creating one of the most hated tools in the advertiser's toolkit: the pop-up ad. I wrote the code to launch the window and run an ad in it. I'm sorry. Our intentions were good.”

He ends by saying that he believes advertising is the “original sin of the web.”  Extreme? True? I personally think he’s talking less about advertising and more about the technology behind it.  

It’s not just pop-up ads though.  All of our smart TVs are tracking what we watch and recording our viewing habits.  Why should we have to think about privacy settings on our TVs? Robocalls have recently seen a surge in usage, especially around election season.  There’s a new tactic that uses local numbers to fool people into answering.  Statistically, they work better, but when I pick up because I’m expecting a local call, I’m even more irritated that I was tricked.

And we haven’t even begun to talk about email.  The cost of sending an email is so low that often one response justifies the strategy. Statistically you can send out a million emails and still make money off one response.  Just because you can annoy 999,999 people to get a sale doesn’t mean you should. The efficiency of it actually encourages abuse.  

If humans are greater than statistics, then the question we must ask ourselves is: Just because technology can, does it mean it should?


We have a button in our offices called the “Easy” button.  Our designers joke around with it whenever a client takes the creative process for granted and assumes what we do is easy.  Sometimes it seems they think we have an “Easy” button that we push and, poof, designs appear out of nowhere. I wish.

The fact is good design is tough work.  And so is marketing.  There’s just no easy way around it.

You know something else that isn’t easy?  Listening.

Listening isn’t easy because it takes time, involves human emotion and doesn’t scale.  Done well, listening forces empathy and engagement.  Have you ever seen this replicated by a chat bot?  

Think about how much value you would create in your marketing by listening to the humans that you serve.  What if a team member sincerely asked about their appointment instead of sending an automated text?  What if the doctor made a post-op call to check-in instead of an email survey?  What if you created enough margin in your schedule every day to allow for a few spontaneous conversations with patients?  That real human interaction might change the way you speak to your community through your marketing.

Marketing expert Seth Godin talks about how easy, mass communication steals the value of person-to-person connection. “It’s a trap because the more you do it, the more you need to do it.  Once you start burning trust, the only way to keep up is to burn more trust… it’s a bit like throwing the walls of your house in the fireplace to stay warm. Don’t waste your time and money on this.  You’re wasting the most valuable thing you own - trust.”

The human connection is too valuable to burn with easy marketing tactics. There’s no easy way to replicate it.  


Often when traveling I meet people for the first time, maybe on a plane or waiting in line for a rental car, they’ll ask me what I do for a living.  I usually respond that I’m in marketing and then wait for their response.  If they’re interested, I’ll give more details, but many times I get a kind of blank, non-interested look and the conversation comes to an end.

I can tell what’s going on.  They hate marketing.  They think marketing has ruined everything - radio, TV, websites and now Instagram. More often than not, it’s not marketing that they hate, it’s the stream of spammy, programmatic ads that interrupt them constantly.  While marketing and advertising are very different things, most people view them the same.  

The fact is they’re right. There’s a dark side to our industry: advertising dollars subsidize the entire internet.  

Without ads, many of the companies powering the internet would simply not exist (think Google, Facebook and Amazon).  Randall Rothenberg of the Interactive Advertising Bureau says that the internet is growing and changing too quickly for businesses to understand its ethics and excess.  He says, “Technology has been outpacing the ability of individual companies to understand what is actually going on.” That’s probably one of the most accurate statements I’ve heard about modern advertising and it’s exactly what’s happening.  

That’s why spammy, uninvited ads aren’t going anywhere.  Even if they get one click for every 100,000 impressions.  Even if we choose, “Show Less” just to discover that the ads are replaced by even more irrelevant ones. Even if it’s an invasion of our privacy.

Ev Williams (former CEO of Twitter and now founder of recently posted about their decision to lay off a third of their company and pivot away from a traditional advertising model.  He said, “It’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the internet.  It simply doesn’t serve people.  In fact, it’s not designed to.  The vast majority of articles, videos, and other content we all consume on a daily basis is paid for - directly or indirectly - by corporations who are funding it to advance their goals.  And content is measured, amplified and rewarded based on its ability to do that.  Period.  As a result, we get… well, what we get.  And it’s getting worse.”

Advertising is a one trillion dollar industry that hasn’t even begun to see the peak of social media spending. It’s obvious that online businesses will continue to be driven by short-term algorithmic rewards over long-term trusting relationships.  


I began this article by introducing you to Niccolo Paganini, the technical Italian violinist, but now let me introduce you to one of his contemporaries: Sergei Rachmaninoff – one of the 20th Century’s greatest composers. While many would recognize his most popular pieces, most of us wouldn’t realize that most of his works were not his own. He was a natural pianist, but approached music more as a composer. He was an interpreter, taking the work of others and creating variations of their well-known compositions.

“Interpretation demands creative instinct,” Rachmaninoff would say.

“You can give their works color. That is the most important thing for me in my interpretations, color. So you make music live. Without color it is dead.”

Before Kanye West was creating mix tapes, he was doing the same thing with classical compositions.  

Russian born, Rachmaninoff found himself part of the late-Romantic period of music. He lived and breathed melody. His work was described as nostalgic, melancholy, and emotionally introverted. My kind of music.

Paganini’s Caprice №24 in particular stuck out to him. During the summer of 1934, towards the end of his life, at his villa home on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland he composed 24 variations of Caprice №24. Basically 24 different interpretations on Paganini’s most technical piece of work.  It would come to be known as “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini’s” and go on to be one of Rachmaninoff’s most famous works — essentially someone else’s music.

Of all the 24 variations, Rachmaninoff’s eighteenth is by far the most well known. It is based on an inversion of the melody. In other words, Rachmaninoff turned it “upside down.”

He took the music, turned it upside down and then played it.

Listen to Rachmaninoff’s eighteenth variation (upside down version) of Caprice №24:

You can tell, it’s almost the complete opposite of the original. Where Paganini is advanced and technical, Rachmaninoff is melodic and soothing. Paganini, driving and almost annoying in tone. Rachmaninoff is angelic.

All from turning the music… UPSIDE DOWN.

Upside Down

I’ve always believed that the best marketing changes the way people see things. It takes something that has always been there and turns it in a way that makes it fresh, interesting and approachable again.

“I know you think dentistry is like this (insert preconceived notions), but really it’s like this (turn it upside down).”

Rachmaninoff took something that had been regarded as one of the most technically advanced pieces of music and turned it upside down. He created something completely different that connected with people in a new way.

Dentistry has always used technology to advance the profession  —  that’s nothing new. But what if the best marketing takes that technology and turns it upside down to connect with patients in a new way? Something that’s technical and clinical now becomes beautiful. Something that may have been uncomfortable and annoying now becomes relaxing. Something that’s created anxiety and fear becomes a path towards lifelong health.

So how do we wrestle with technology to make it serve humanity?  We’re not going to slow the race towards efficiency and automation, but the answer also isn’t new analytics.  It’s not a better pop-up ad.  What if the answer to our technology problem was to turn the whole thing upside down?

What if we asked, “What do our customers love?” Then we used technology to do that?  

It could be the best approach to marketing ever: What do people love?

Now, do that.

Joshua Scott is a marketing speaker and consultant who has spent the last 17 years in the dental industry.  He works with dentists and dental service organizations around the country to create confident marketing strategies.  You can learn more about his unique approach right here at

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