Belief and Doubt.

Belief and Doubt.

One of the best television commercials in history only aired one time. In it, a young girl is shown in a field, picking pedals from a flower she holds in her hand. As she pulls off each pedal, she counts and then drops them to the ground. The commercial starts off warm and makes viewers smile, but just before she reaches the final count, she looks up at the camera with a suddenly worried expression.

The camera quickly zooms towards her face as a man’s voice starts counting backwards from the number ten. When he reaches the number zero, the camera has zoomed all the way into the young child’s worried eye and the scene abruptly cuts to a series of atomic bomb mushroom clouds. President Lyndon Johnson’s voice speaks over the images of nuclear catastrophe.

“These are the stakes,” he says, “to make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must love each other, or we must die.”

An announcer’s voice then encourages the viewer to “Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.” The President’s political opponent, Barry Goldwater, led an enormous outcry after the commercial aired. For obvious reasons, Goldwater and his supporters knew the ad’s intention: to remind viewers that if elected, he would lead the country into a nuclear disaster. Yet, the spot never mentioned Goldwater.

These advertisers were brilliant. They knew in advance what people would think after watching it because they knew what they thought before they saw the commercial. The commercial simply amplified the nation’s current thoughts on Goldwater’s nuclear position.

They destroyed Goldwater’s campaign with a single ad that aired a single time without ever mentioning his name. They could have jammed fact after fact into the ad about Johnson’s position on civil rights, his accomplishments in the aftermath of JFK’s assassination and his plans for the future of this country. Instead, they demonstrated enormous self-restraint and led people to make the desired assumption: Goldwater is trigger-happy. Vote for President Johnson. It worked.

One of the most powerful marketing lessons is on display in this example: people sometimes believe what hey are told, but they never doubt what they conclude.

Look around your practice marketing and advertising and you’ll likely find a ton of reasons why patients or parents should buy your products or services. Your positioning and marketing tell everyone what to believe but there are probably only a handful of practices in the world who allow parents to come to their own conclusions.

Smile Direct Club is doing it brilliantly. They don’t tell consumers what to believe. They show them the facts and let them come to their own conclusion: “orthodontists are charging you too much.”

Years ago when I decided to do something about my moderately-sized practice and average net income, I decided to craft a message that allows parents to come to their own conclusion: other offices are cheaper for a reason. It worked. Parents came to love our satisfaction guarantee, lifetime retainers and never-miss-work-or-school guarantee. We grew from a few hundred case starts per year to 1,904 very quickly.

You choose your marketing message and how you intend to deliver on the promises you make. What you can’t do is sit around trying to tell consumers what to believe or why you think they should get orthodontic treatment. That’s a recipe for failure.

Worked at Burleson Orthodontics. Attended University of Missouri–Kansas City. Lives in Kansas City, Missouri.