Why Smile Direct is One of the Best Things That Has Happened to Orthodontics.

Why Smile Direct is One of the Best Things That Has Happened to Orthodontics.

Recently, Smile Direct Club (SDC) launched a new ad campaign and celebrity endorsement from Shawn Mendes, the pop star and Canadian singer-songwriter. I have no idea if their expansion into Canada and the timing of this endorsement are intentional or lucky happenstance, but I know this is smart marketing and PR.

Combined with their huge win in arbitration against Align Technology, SDC recently announced they are hiring another 2,000 employees at their Nashville, Tennessee headquarters and have aligned with the world’s top bankers at J.P. Morgan in preparation for their IPO.

These are all smart and impressive moves that deliver value in an industry that has been long-overdue for disruption.

Dan Kennedy, my friend and strategic marketing advisor, launched ProActive to a billion dollar powerhouse, disrupting the acne skin-care market and leading the field for over a decade, through the power of celebrity endorsement and smart, strategic marketing investments. We’ve done it to a small-extent with Excellence in Orthodontics and I’ve leveraged the same principles and strategies in my own privately-held practices.

If you haven’t seen the SDC advertising campaign, it’s very well done. They are giving away a guitar, signed by Mendes. The video testimonial is brilliant and touches on the stimulation of human desire with a little touch of fear, both of missing out and on not living your most confident life, if you’re embarrassed about your smile.

Compare and contrast this to what the American Association of Orthodontists has done to stimulate “consumer awareness,” which is an association code phrase, loosely translating to “we’re going to throw your money into a black hole.”

The problem with most orthodontists is that they always think and act like orthodontists.  When business and marketing skills are required, take off your orthodontic hat and pay attention to smart companies like SDC and Align.

The brilliance of Smile Direct Club is that they think and act like a scrappy start-up company that wants to disrupt an entire industry, but they’ve already treated more patients in a year than anyone imagined possible. They could easily rest on their accomplishments, but they won’t. SDC can easily become the 800 pound gorilla in this industry because they’re hungry and they don’t think and act like orthodontists.

  • A few weeks ago, one of our members wouldn’t commit to attending a free webinar, where Dr. Ryan Tamburrino and I were giving free and important continuing education, until he knew what kind of bracket system (and specifically how much incisor torque) we used and which bracket system we would be talking about on the webinar. This is an orthodontist always thinking like an orthodontist.
  • Last month, several new member questionnaires listed “cash flow and net income” as high level concerns in their businesses. Mind you, these are doctors who generate $1.5 million to $2.5 million in gross revenue, but are so bad at running a business and managing their overhead that they only take home a few hundred thousand dollars. Their margin and inability to manage are SDC’s opportunity.
  • In a recent buy-sell agreement for one of my private clients, I helped orchestrate a three-practice acquisition for pennies on the dollar because we knew the real assets in the business and the seller did not. We were happy to let the seller focus on things that didn’t matter, while strategically injecting equity without equity on a six month contract with performance guarantees and pay-back penalties on top of the very reasonable pay structure to keep a few associates in the mix.  This is thinking unlike an orthodontist.


In all of these examples, there is a decision to make: be dumb or smart. If you want to make smarter decisions, look around at what smart companies like SDC and Align are doing.  They are doing more to help this profession than any other company, organization for force, because they are shining a light on the tremendous potential and educating millions of potential patients who would otherwise never darken the doorstep of an orthodontic practice.

You can get pissed at this advice and label me a hater of my own profession, as I’m usually happy to throw the first stones at the orthodontic glass house and gleefully point out where we behave stupidly and irrationally as orthodontists. You can follow the dumb behavior of nearly everyone else in our profession or you can be smart. Either way, know this: Smile Direct Club is a godsend because they might actually get orthodontists to stop thinking like orthodontists 100% of the time.

* This article is not endorsed by Align Technology or Smile Direct Club and the views expressed are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of any affiliated parties, institutions or organizations. The author is an investor in Align Technology, Inc. (ALGN) and was previously an Endorsed Local Provider for Smile Care Club.

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