I briefly shared a platform with Martin Kelleher in front of 150 dentists in Belfast a couple of weeks ago and I have to say he was one of the most entertaining speakers I’ve heard for years.
We were there in part to debate the role of marketing in dentistry. You probably know who Martin is; he’s one of the doyens of dentistry and hugely respected in Ireland and the UK, and for good reason: consultant in restorative dentistry at King’s, past president of the British Society for Restorative Dentistry, former board member of Dental Protection and chair of its advisory committee for dental claims.
Martin is on a crusade. He hates dentists overselling their services and he takes an especially dim view of dentists telling their patients more about the service they’re most skilled in instead of being impartial advisors on long-term dental health. He particularly hates the way marketing has played a misleading role in promising patients incredible and sustainable outcomes.
The man has serious traction and he knows how to make an argument. I first became aware of his trenchant views about dental marketing when I read an article of his on the ‘uberisation of orthodontics’. If you read it, you’ll notice that Martin is extremely angry about what he terms ‘the race to the bottom’ in orthodontics. He knows who to blame for the debasement of a profession that was admired and prestigious when he signed up. It’s the marketeers – of which, as you know, I am one.
Tell the truth
But I’m afraid that Martin may have a warped view of marketing. One of the key things that good marketing always does is tell the truth, because the truth is more compelling than fairy stories. There is absolutely no need to make outrageous and unbelievable promises.
I worked at the world’s biggest marketing services group for a long stretch of my career, and I can tell you that the founding principal at McCann Erickson is telling the story properly, not making it up. Take a look at the website (mccann.com). Not only will you be met with the slogan ‘truth well told’ off the bat, you’ll see that McCann has a department called Truth Central, which is responsible for pumping out thought leadership reports every quarter dedicated to unearthing truths that can be leveraged in different markets across the globe.
Leveraging truth is a bit different from making up stories, mainly because it actually works.
The fortune of businesses
There’s no excuse for poor marketing, and certainly not for dishonest marketing, and there’s no need for them either: authenticity and truth sell every time when you know how to communicate properly.
I loved watching Martin deliver his side of the story in Belfast in his inimitably gritty style of, ‘some dentists are “feckin’” bandits worrying about mortgage payments so they will stiff a whole load of patients with Mr Ed type teeth that they don’t need…’ . He’s so salty that he’s even from Athenrye, a place they sing about when Ireland plays rugby.
I share his dislike for bad marketing but I believe there’s a place for great marketing in dentistry, now more than ever. I expect I’ll be having more debates with him on this subject. This feels like a really fertile area to be discussing because I know many dentists share his views and feel uncomfortable with the direction of travel dentistry’s in right now.