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An Interview with John Hughes
John Hughes, Marketing Manager for Whip Mix Corporation, discusses the best ways for laboratories to market themselves in the digital age.
Inside Dental Technology: What trends in marketing do you see impacting the dental laboratory industry?
John Hughes: Just as CAD/CAM is changing the way technicians work, the digital age is changing the way we communicate with prospective customers. Information is at everyone’s fingertips thanks to the Internet and mobile devices. The average customer today is much more educated about companies and products.
IDT: What advice do you have for a laboratory that wants to increase its marketing reach?
JH: The single most important thing is having an online presence, starting with a website. Your website is a place to express your laboratory’s identity, show your work, and tell people who you are. It should be your flagship, with all other activities directed to and around it. A website gives your business validity.
IDT: Are websites expensive for smaller laboratories to build and maintain?
JH: Many inexpensive online website builder platforms are available. Most have an easy drag-and-drop interface that enables even a novice to create a professional look. All your emails, social media, etc. should have links back to your website. Make sure you are listed on outside sites such as Manta and Yellow Pages, which will help get Google’s crawler to index your site. This search-engine optimization (SEO) increases your chances of being found when someone is searching for a laboratory.
I suggest starting a blog. Regular blogging will increase your SEO, establish you as a thought leader, and transform your website from an online brochure to a living, breathing entity with fresh content. Plenty of inexpensive platforms exist to make blogging easy. Make sure your blog is set up as a subdomain of your website to build on your own SEO.
The beauty of the blog is infinite shelf life. At Whip Mix, we blog at least once a week. We have approximately 1800 subscribers, but when we first started, we only had a handful. People would ask, “What good is a blog when only 12 people have read it?” However, our analytics show those same blogs over time have been read hundreds of times and those numbers continue to grow.
Other great ways to get your name out there are to participate in the various online dental forums and social media groups, including Facebook and Linkedin.
IDT: Do you think these new approaches to marketing will replace more traditional methods?
JH: A need still exists for print advertising, tradeshows, etc. However, digital methods should be a large part of the mix. One exception at Whip Mix is email marketing, which has completely replaced traditional direct mail for us. I love email marketing because it can be measured for effectiveness; no more “spray and pray.” Only send to an opt-in list; never, ever buy a list. Using a purchased email list is against the law according to the Can-Spam Act of 2003.
Using a third-party list is a great way to extend your reach. We send a paid e-mail and add a call to action (CTA) that brings the recipient of the email back to us. The CTA usually comes in the form of an eBook, whitepaper, or how-to video. It is a great way to build your list of prospective customers. This process has helped feed all our digital marketing efforts and increase subscribers to our blog, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook pages.
IDT: With Baby Boomer dentists retiring, it seems natural that laboratories would want to connect with younger dentists. What do you feel is the best way to do that?
JH: The main thing a marketer must do when trying to attract a specific demographic is understand that customer — his/her background, goals, and challenges. A good laboratory technician can think of numerous pitfalls a new dentist might face when working with a laboratory. Use that knowledge and create content around that.
The dentists coming out of school today grew up with the Internet, so social media can be an especially powerful tool with them. Video is another powerful tool. Whip Mix gets approximately 8000 views per month on our YouTube channel. Case studies, customer stories, and how-tos all would be great content for a laboratory to post on a YouTube channel. Digital video cameras are inexpensive these days, and YouTube is free. Promote the videos by posting links on Facebook, LinkedIn, your blog, and more.