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What “Holding Out for A Hero” Teaches About Marketing Your Dental Lab – Part 1

By Joseph Margolis

Her extreme desperation appears to almost take human form as Bonnie Tyler passionately belts out the chorus to “Holding Out for a Hero”: 

“I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ’till the end of the night

He’s gotta be strong, and he’s gotta be fast

And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight

I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ’till the morning light

He’s gotta be sure, and it’s gotta be soon

And he’s gotta be larger than life

Larger than life” 

This unforgettable hit topped Billboard at #34 and is part of way more Gen Xer’s childhood playlists than likely are willing to admit. More important, “Holding out for a hero” is on the soundtrack of Footloose, ala Kevin Bacon, and, tracking an amazingly over-the-top and, yet somehow, suspenseful tractor duel montage break. The duel pits Bacon’s character, Ren, against one of his main antagonist-highschool-peers. The song, driven by Tyler’s fast pace and high intensity, was a perfect counter, transforming, what was really, two teen boys slowly driving their farm equipment towards each other into a must-see, dangerous battle of chicken where death was imminent. With power like that, it should be no surprise that Tyler’s chorus is also the perfect model for discovering your dental lab’s ideal clients.

Welcome to the first of a three-part series on marketing your dental lab. Part one introduces The Hero’s Journey is a classic storytelling concept that profiles the plotline and all of the character types that are typical to most well-told heroic stories. Used by George Lucas to develop Star Wars, marketers have also discussed its usefulness for appealing to new prospects. (Go here for a comprehensive overview of the Hero’s Journey from Copyblogger’s Brian Clark). Today, with support from the chorus in “Holding out for a Hero”, we’ll explore the marketing version of the Hero’s Journey and set you up with foundational knowledge you’ll need to begin scripting one for your lab business. 

1: Marketing to Your Prospects is Literally You Holding Out for a Hero 

As with any other play or show,  our storyline has a casting call for auditions. That’s where our work begins. In the marketing version of The Hero’s Journey, there are only two roles: hero and faithful sidekick. Maybe you’re eyeballing the hero part for yourself, but it’s too late. Your prospect, the dentist, has already been cast for that role. That leaves you and your Dental Lab to audition for the thankless, yet essential role of faithful sidekick, ever the loyal companion and, sometimes, the helpful mentor. As the sidekick, you’re not looking for a hero to be your romantic lover like in the song, but, other than that, you too are making a pitch and then holding out. The more persuasive your pitch is doctors, the less time you’ll be waiting. In real life, dental labs don’t need heroes, right? You need a range of dentists who trust you to manage critical stages of the restoration workflow to spec and on time. To me, that seems like a heck of a lot of trust and responsibility. To have gained such trust in the past, you’ve likely proven you’re very good at what you do. Maybe you’ve also even modernized your lab with the most up-to-date digital workflows, designing with modules like Exocad’s Smile Creator, an AI tool that uses photos and 3D scans of teeth to create an instant rendering of how a patient new smile will look. You kept up with the many advances in digital dentistry and you’re now better equipped than ever to produce cases to a degree of function and esthetics that, just a few years back, wasn’t possible. So why then, after gaining hard-won expertise from years on the bench, after taking out and paying off loans to implement and update your digital workflow, why, after all of this, is the dentist the hero and not you? That’s a fair question?

Why are you the sidekick and not the hero?  admittedly, it’s a bit counterintuitive on its face, so let’s shift to the vantage point of someone hiring a service: For your consideration, a short-short story entitled “The Dental Technician & The Distributor”:

You’re a lab owner and you contact your distributor, Opulent Digital Specialists (ODS), for help with choosing the right printer for your workflow. An ODS CAD/CAM Integration Specialist begins working with you and you tell them you’re outsourcing your printed models and that you’d like to bring that business in-house if doable without significantly disrupting your workflow. Based on this key requirement, ODS recommends EnvisionTec’s EnvisionOne printer for its industry-leading ability to print highly refined, accurate parts at next-level speeds. As you seriously consider their recommendation, ODS continues to support you whenever needed. You finally pick the EnvisionOne and, because of the support they provided, you decide to buy from ODS. A few months pass. Now your new printer is fully integrated into your workflow and your team is up-to-speed on how to operate it. As a result, not only have you increased your profits by all the money you’re saving from bringing your model business in-house, but you’re now marketing your model printing services to other labs in your area, creating a brand new profitable revenue stream for your business. Now, as the dental lab owner, this is your hypothetical success story of solving your problem, a problem you chose ODS to help you solve. As distributors go, ODS certainly did a lot to support you from consultation all the way through installation and training. Still, if you were to frame this process within the Hero’s Journey framework, would the hero be … your distributor?

I think the answer is “no” and, to be clear where my bias lives, I work for a distributor. The reason you’re the hero is simple: the nature of how we humans perceive ourselves. In the stories, each of us respectively tells ourselves, regardless of who we are, we’re the protagonists, the heroes overcoming our respective struggles, the ones who ultimately solve our problems. No matter who else supports us along the way, the journey is ours including the hero’s reward at the end. Take me, for example, I decided to save money on repairs by changing my own brakes, but I had no idea how to do this. To help me solve this problem, I found some how-to videos on YouTube that took me through the steps. In that scenario, a couple of mechanics gave me helpful information that I, in turn, used, but did they solve my problem? No. The expertise they shared in the videos was indispensable. But I was the person with the central problem and control over to solve it and, storytelling goes, that person is always the hero. In turn, the person who supports the hero in their problem efforts is always the sidekick no matter how robust their support ends up being. Breaking this dynamic down to business terms, the dentist who chooses your lab to help with their restoration case becomes the hero, gaining the credit for solving the problem, no matter how much work you and your staff put in. On the other hand, the successful sidekick gets to a dental lab that’s earned a new paying client.

Taking these two incentive structures into account, let’s now center on your dentists. When a patient presents to a dentist needing a restoration, say for a crown, the doctor now has a new problem to solve: returning a healthy fixed restoration on time. To help solve this problem,  the doctor outsources the case to your dental lab. Consider the stakes from your doctor’s perspective. Essentially, this doctor has entrusted you with control of several key steps in the restoration process. You may be able to do crowns in your sleep with no problem, but as far as risk is concerned, they’re still trusting you and your able expertise with no way to inspect your work until the case is returned to the practice. If you fail to build that restoration to spec, your doctor will likely fail their patient as a result. As far as sidekicks go, it seems like dental technicians carry a lot of weight. But again, we’re centering on the Doctor and their perspective right now, so consider how it might feel to them to cede that much control of a process for which the patient ultimately holds them accountable. Yes, you’re carrying a lot of the weight, but in this marketing story, the doctor still bears the burden of solving the problem. The dental technician’s fate in this regard is similar to that of Samwise from the Lord of Rings. In a central moment of the story, Samwise literally carried the hero, Frodo, up a steep mountain after the latter after the ring of power drained his strength, sapping his ability to carry himself. Similarly, doctors must feel a sense of ownership over the entire workflow, even the parts of it they outsource. As such, I can see how they might want to know, with certainty, that their dental lab will dependably carry them through the lab’s role in the restoration process. This is just one example of how a prospect’s perspective shapes the story they tell themselves, in this case, the Hero’s Journey, you’re marketing to. That’s why, no matter how essential a dental lab’s work is to a successful restoration, from the doctor’s point of view, it’s done in the service of helping to solve their problem. Just as you likely see yourself as the hero in the above story of procuring that brilliantly profitable printer, dentists are the heroes of their own stories as well. Keep this in mind because it’s to this storyline a dental lab must relatably pitch to market successfully to dentists, be they general dentists, prosthodontists, orthodontists, etc.

The key point  I hope you’ll take is that, when you’re developing marketing for your dental lab, you’re not just selling a doctor on yourself, your digital workflow, or your expertise. You’re also crafting a pitch that appeals to each doctor’s perceptions about themselves and about the risk they’re assuming whenever they outsource a case, among many other concerns.

That’s the end of part one. Next week when we move to part two of the “Holding out for a Hero” series: An appealing hook is your power as a marketer.

We will continue to build on what we learned, so here’s a recap of this post’s main points:

  1. In the Hero’s Journey framework for marketing, the dentists are the hero and you’re the sidekick pitching and holding out for the hero, like in the 80’s power ballad.
  2. You’re marketing to dentists’ perceptions of both themselves and the problems they need your help solving.
  3. The incentive in the Hero’s Journey framework for dentists is gaining a sense of satisfaction from a job well-done once the problem is solved. The business incentive for positioning your dental lab as your dentist’s sidekick is the opportunity it creates for you to appeal to your prospects and earn their business. 

Between now and next week, I invite you to exercise what you’ve learned by positioning some of your current clients within the Hero’s Journey framework. Here’s a list of questions to get you started:

  1. What types of problems do doctors typically call your lab to help them solve?
  2. What are some of the key solutions your lab offers that are most valuable to your doctors?
  3. Thought exercise: Put yourself in your doctor’s point of view and describe the dynamics in play when they choose one of your key solutions to solve their problem? What’s motivating them? Why do they feel they need your solution? What qualities gain and lose their trust? What’s at stake for them if the case is done incorrectly or is completed on time?
  4. Taking what you’ve gained from #3, craft compelling pitches about yourself and your solutions. 
  5. If you do business with different types of practices, repeat this process for each type of practice.

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