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bright, sparkling smile is more than just a desirable physical asset - it's the catalyst for a billion-dollar-a-year industry. According to the American Dental Hygienist Association (ADHA), Americans spend close to $2 billion a year on toothpaste, mouthwash, and dental floss.

In the past, Procter & Gamble Co., a Cincinnati-based consumer-goods product company, aimed to take a sizeable bite out of that multi-billion-dollar market by targeting dentists with the brand's key messages, B2B marketing efforts, and product launches. But in 2007, P&G began to doubt whether it was targeting the appropriate audience.

While dentist recommendations are often cited in advertisements for these over-the-counter oral-health products, it is actually the dental hygienists that spend the most time with patients during a routine cleaning, making them ideal product evangelists given their captive audience, according to Patrick Blair, P&G 's brand manager.

That insight, combined with anecdotal information from P&G's salespeople, who reported dental hygienists felt the company wasn't doing enough to cater to them when it came to product launches, caused P&G to refocus its marketing efforts to target hygienists rather than dentists. So when the company began planning to launch its Oral-B Triumph with SmartGuide power toothbrush, which retails for around $170, P&G wanted to not only market the new product directly to hygienists, but also prove to them that it values their opinions.

"There is this perception that hygienists play second fiddle to dentists, similar to the way a lot of nurses feel like they are treated as second best compared to physicians," says Scott Moening, president of Cincinnati-based Moening Presentation Group Inc. (MPG), the company P&G hired to develop the Triumph with SmartGuide launch. P&G hoped that by launching the new power brush to hygienists first instead of dentists, it could diminish that perception.

Furthermore, P&G knew that its spendy new brush - which is accompanied by a wireless device called SmartGuide that tells brushers when they're brushing too hard, how long they've been brushing, when they need to change the brush head, and when to switch sides - needed to be experienced to garner the kinds of recommendations the company wanted. Because at $170 apiece, those recommendations needed to be enthusiastic, or consumers wouldn't be inclined to choose the spendy Triumph over more traditional $2 manual models. As Sarah Walton, assistant brand manager at P&G, explains, "Patients rely on professional recommendations for power toothbrushes probably more than any other dental product. A big reason, of course, is that a power toothbrush is a bigger investment than a manual brush, which costs just a few dollars."

Flossing out the Details

After deciding to shift the focus from dentists to dental hygienists for its Triumph with SmartGuide launch, the P&G brand-management team began searching for an event where hygienists made up the core audience. The 2007 American Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA) Annual Session held in New Orleans in June, and attended by roughly 1,000 dental hygienists, fit the bill. The show occurred about 90 days after the P&G brand management team and MPG made the decision to launch the product to hygienists, giving them just enough time to develop a marketing plan. What's more, ADHA was scheduled roughly 90 days prior to the brush's public launch, which meant hygienists would have the new product long before it hit store shelves. As an added bonus, the professional and scientific relations group within P&G was already set to sponsor an annual breakfast for attendees on the opening day of the event - something it had done for the past six years.

At past ADHA shows, however, the Crest Oral-B breakfast served as a simple networking event for hygienists. According to Cindy Sensabaugh, manager, North America, of P&G's professional and scientific relations group, the breakfast was an opportunity to get in front of dental hygienists and show them that P&G supported them. "The first year we gave Crest SpinBrushes to all attendees," Sensabaugh says, "but we did not have a program or provide any educational materials on the product." The breakfast was basically a free meal for ADHA attendees, and an opportunity for them to mingle with one another. The benefits for Crest Oral-B, however, were missing.

To take advantage of the otherwise wasted marketing opportunity, P&G worked with MPG to craft a complete marketing package with the breakfast serving as the first component of a three-part product launch. "It was the perfect product for the perfect audience revealed at the perfect time in the perfect way," Blair says. But if no one came to the breakfast, Crest Oral-B's efforts to target hygienists would be wasted. So, to ensure attendance, the company sent invitations to 800 pre-registered ADHA attendees. The invitations, in the shape of the SmartGuide device, included details about the buffet-style breakfast, such as the times for the early seating (6:30 to 7:20 a.m.) and the late seating (7:40 to 8:30 a.m.), as well as a message encouraging invitees to attend the breakfast and "Be the first in North America to receive a free Oral-B Triumph with SmartGuide power brush."

Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Upon entering the Armstrong Ballroom at the Sheraton New Orleans for breakfast, attendees were greeted by a professional host who invited them to get their food and a cup of coffee and have a seat. When the room was full - with approximately 300 dental hygienists at each breakfast - the lights dimmed and a video presentation began. The video introduced the new power brush and featured simulated real-life situations experienced by dental hygienists when dealing with patients, from trying to teach patients better brushing habits to asking how often they floss. "The video was done in a sort of 'wink, wink, we know what you deal with' way," Moening says.

But MPG knew the P&G brand management team wanted something more than just an ordinary video and product demo to reach its new target audience. So, after two or three minutes, the lighting in the ballroom changed, and two professional actors - one playing a dental hygienist, the other a patient - came onstage to bring the video to life and continue the patient/hygienist dialogue. Morphing the presentation from a taped dialogue to a live performance kept attendees engaged - a substantial feat for an early morning breakfast crowd.

While the breakfasts lasted 90 minutes each, MPG capped the presentation at about 10 minutes. "We knew hygienists' time was important to them, and we wanted to give them the opportunity to enjoy breakfast and chat with their buddies," Moening says. "We could have used the whole 90 minutes to bombard them with our message, but we wanted to avoid the feeling that they had just sat through a typical sales pitch."

Next, staffers invited attendees to get a closer look at the Triumph with SmartGuide at one of four demo stations set up in the breakfast room. The stations, which were elevated slightly to ensure easy visibility and accessibility, were staffed by MPG presenters and featured the Triumph with SmartGuide displayed on a counter, along with a dental model of a human mouth so hygienists could practice brushing. Presenters answered questions and walked hygienists through the benefits of the Triumph with SmartGuide, explaining how the SmartGuide helps consumers learn better brushing habits.

"Trial is key to acceptance," Walton says. "If a hygienist uses a brush and likes it, she is more likely to recommend it to her patients." With that in mind, dental hygienists that attended the breakfast were given cards to fill out with their names and contact information. When they returned the cards to the Crest Oral-B booth, they received a complimentary toothbrush and branded tote bag. The cards also served as lead forms that provided P&G with the information it needed to follow up with hygienists after the show.

The Booth Fairy

After spending an average of three to four minutes at the demo stations, attendees made their way to the show floor to track down Crest Oral-B's 16-by-40-foot island booth and get their free power brushes. The large booth stood out like a molar amid the baby-tooth-sized 10-by-10-foot exhibits at ADHA - which is exactly what P&G wanted. The Crest Oral-B logo and new Triumph with SmartGuide graphics, along with callouts about the new brush, were featured prominently on every available surface of the booth, including atop the counters and on the back wall. To decrease the frenzy for such a high-priced giveaway, booth staffers stamped the name tags of dental hygienists to ensure only one brush was given away per person. Hygienists could also fill out an order form to purchase one additional Triumph with SmartGuide power brush for themselves and up to 15 brushes for their dental offices - at a discounted price of $39.95 - as well as brush-head refills.

Since getting the new brush into the hands of dental hygienists was key to the success of the product launch, P&G wanted to make sure those that missed out on the breakfast didn't necessarily miss out on the premium giveaway. So it dropped the same cards it distributed to breakfast attendees into the registration bags at the ADHA show. Attendees who opted out of the breakfast were able to get their brush by visiting Crest Oral-B's booth and turning in completed postcards.

To further raise awareness about the premium giveaway, P&G branded the show hotel's keycards with the Crest Oral-B logo, an image of the Triumph with SmartGuide, the company's booth number, and the message, "Available exclusively to hygienists at ADHA."

I'm Ready For My Checkup

After learning about the Triumph with SmartGuide during the breakfast presentation, testing it out at the demo stations, and visiting Crest Oral-B's booth to receive their own brush, attendees could share their thoughts about the product at the company's screen-test booth. The booth, another 16-by-40-foot island four aisles away from P&G's main booth, included six 8-foot-tall banner stands that displayed the same branded graphics and Triumph with SmartGuide images as the main booth space. Designed to resemble the red-carpet area at movie premieres, the screen-test booth featured a camera person, bright lights, and several monitors displaying the product as well as what the camera was shooting in real time.

Though there was no tangible incentive to get in front of the camera and talk about the power brush, more than 100 people did just that over two days at ADHA. "People waited in line to talk about Triumph and Crest Oral-B," Moening says. "Everyone that did the screen test had a real passion for the product." In addition to expressing appreciation for the free brush, hygienists also endorsed the shift in marketing focus from dentists to hygienists, as it made them feel that P&G appreciated their role as influencers and valued their opinions. One hygienist commented, "I think Procter & Gamble was so smart to go to the hygienists to unveil this new Oral-B product. The hygienists are the lifelines to an office." According to another hygienist, "The unveiling of this new product by Crest Oral-B was absolutely wonderful. I can't wait to offer it to my patients and colleagues." In fact, the screen-test content was so impressive that P&G plans to reuse some of the footage at future trade shows, and has identified 15 testimonials that it wants to use in a bigger - though undisclosed - way.

More than Lip Service

P&G hoped to make a total of 950 impressions via the breakfast, the booth, and the screen-test experience. Instead, it racked up more than 1,050 impressions through the multiple activities at a show where total attendance reached only 1,000.

More importantly, the results of a post-show survey sent to all of the nearly 900 dental hygienists that received the Triumph with SmartGuide found that a jaw-dropping 98 percent would recommend the brush to patients, and 75 percent said that it was extremely important to them that Oral-B debuted its product to hygienists first. Now that's certainly something to smile about. e


Lena Valenty, managing editor; lvalenty@exhibitormagazine.com

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