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CAP: Member Perspectives

Dr. Courtney Dunn

Dr. Courtney Dunn

Phoenix, AZ

Several years ago, Dr. Courtney Dunn had a variety of concerns about the AAO Consumer Awareness Program (CAP) and decided that she should become part of the solution.

“I wanted to see the AAO working to educate consumers, but felt that changes in both the strategic approach and the messaging were needed in order to be as effective as possible and to make the best use of member dollars,” she says. “I ran for the PCSO position on the Council on Communications (COC) with a goal of helping move the CAP program in a different direction.”

Dr. Dunn had been in orthodontic practice in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband, Dr. Matthew Dunn, since graduating from the orthodontic residency program at the University of Michigan in 2004.  When she joined the COC in 2017, she was pleased to learn that the CAP program was being revamped to its current all-digital format.

“The new AAO team, led by Katie Maassen, director of marketing and communications, had recently begun working on the CAP program,” says Dr. Dunn. “They showed strong expertise and ability to guide the COC with strategic data and knowledge of trends and processes for online marketing.”

As the Council began implementing the new digital program, Dr. Dunn joined its Creative Subcommittee in order to help develop content that was both specific and engaging for consumers. In addition to Dr. Dunn, the 2018-19 Creative Subcommittee includes Dr. Herb Hughes (subcommittee chair), Dr. Aron Dellinger, Dr. Mike Ragan (COC chair) and Carlos Otero of the AAO staff. Subcommittee members work with AAO staff to develop ideas and concepts with the goal of launching new creative content on social media every six to 12 weeks. Much of the social media content consists of short videos.

Humorous Social Media Content Engages Consumers

“I often hear from members who want to see content that immediately delivers serious educational information about orthodontic treatment,” says Dr. Dunn.  “Of course, consumers need that information and we have a large quantity of it on the consumer website, to which everything we do directs the consumer. But in online communications you have a very brief window in which to engage people – and you have to engage them before trying to convey information to them.

“The social media campaigns that we have developed use humor and light-hearted content because that is a good way to engage consumers,” Dr. Dunn continues. “Our data on Likes and Shares have shown these are effective for engagement – and if an approach is not demonstrating success, the great thing about digital marketing is its flexibility. If something is not working, we can pivot quickly and adjust the material.”

In Dr. Dunn’s practice, she has received feedback about the social media content, particularly the Buzzfeed video series. A video in which she appears, “Kids Explain What Orthodontists Do,” which is part of the Leave it to the Professionals series, has sparked many conversations in her office.

The CAP program also includes paid banner ads featuring brief, serious statements about orthodontists’ qualifications to straighten teeth and align jaws, the importance of having an orthodontic check-up by age 7, etc. The ads drive viewers to the AAO consumer website and appear on social media as well as on other major websites.

“The paid ads are funded by the Consumer Awareness Program assessment and I have had members ask me why they have never seen the ads for which they are paying,” says Dr. Dunn. “It is important to be aware that online advertising is very specifically targeted. If you are not in our key target group* you are unlikely to see our ads. But they are seen by those making decisions about orthodontic treatment.”

Coming for National Orthodontic Health Month:  Anti-Bullying Initiative

Dr. Dunn is also a member of the COC Anti-Bullying Subcommittee, which is working on an anti-bullying initiative targeted for launch during National Orthodontic Health Month, observed each year in October. NOHM is also part of the Consumer Awareness Program.  For many years, the AAO has provided members wishing to participate with material for local media, formats for Halloween candy buy-backs and other activities for observing the month.

The Anti-Bullying Subcommittee also includes Drs. Greg Jorgensen (Chair), Jean McGill and Mike Ragan (COC Chair) and Pam Paladin of the AAO staff.

“We wanted to develop a new opportunity for the AAO to demonstrate how much orthodontists really care about kids,” says Dr. Dunn.  “The anti-bullying initiative is in the early stages of development, but we think it will be an exciting way for AAO members to benefit our communities.”

* AAO online advertising is behaviorally targeted, to individuals who are researching orthodontic treatment topics online.

Dr. Chris Edwards

Dr. Chris Edwards

Fort Worth, TX

Practicing Under a DSO Does Not Always Cover All Marketing Needs

Dr. Chris Edwards practices under contract with a dental service organization (DSO) and is a frequent user of materials produced by the AAO Consumer Awareness Program for marketing his practice.

“After finishing my residency at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2009, I was eager to return to my home state of Texas,” says Dr. Edwards. “I joined a private practice where I spent three years as an associate, but the situation did not work out for the long term. My wife and I were getting ready to start a family and at that point I started looking at other options. I was offered an opportunity to join a DSO, practically in my own back yard. I signed on and now practice in Fort Worth and the surrounding Fort Worth Metroplex. It has worked out well.”

Dr. Edwards acknowledges that orthodontists’ perceptions of DSO partnerships often include the belief that all business functions of the practice – including marketing – will be handled by the DSO.

“The corporation does local marketing for my practice and I think they do a pretty good job of it,” he says. “However, there is an important element that they can’t really provide for me: Personalizing my social media presence and directly selling me and my team to the public. Personalization is a critical aspect of success with social media marketing and I wanted to do it right, using content to directly engage patients and prospective patients on my social media pages.”

Content produced by the AAO for social media has been a big solution for Dr. Edwards.

“I share content from the AAO regularly,” he says. “About 99 percent of what I do is on my phone, so it’s very easy. I can work on it during lunch or between patients. I’m most active on Facebook and Instagram, although I sometimes use Twitter and LinkedIn for more targeted messages.”

The AAO’s That Feeling When…video series was one of Dr. Edwards’ favorite campaigns from the past year. The series, reflecting the fact that a beautiful, healthy smile brings a feeling that is not always easy to describe in words, presents the feeling as a series of experiences.

More than 33 million consumers viewed ads and short videos in the That Feeling When…series from September 22, 2018 – March 21, 2019. Over 1.4 million viewers responded to the series by spending time on the AAO consumer website,, where visitors may access a variety of information and utilize the Find an Orthodontist locator.

Shared Content Sparks Conversations

“I like the AAO videos because they are not too long, but they hit the sweet spot in terms of being engaging,” says Dr. Edwards. “They direct the consumer to the substantive information on the AAO website. In my practice, I often have patients ask about topics that the website covers, which suggests to me that they may have visited it. And after I shared the AAO consumer blog post from about the differences between general dentists and orthodontists, many patients and parents brought it up when I saw them. It was a great conversation starter and I found people were not aware that general dentists had not completed orthodontic residencies until they read the post.

“The Texas Association of Orthodontists also has been helpful in producing social media content that I share,” adds Dr. Edwards. “I am grateful to both the TAO and the AAO for helping provide online marketing and public relations solutions.”

Dr. Anil Idiculla

Dr. Anil Idiculla

Denver, CO

As the Consumer Awareness Program experimented with different strategies and messaging over the past seven years, Dr. Anil Idiculla has played a long-term role in the program’s evolution into its current successful format.

“I joined the Council on Communications in 2012,” says Dr. Idiculla, who was the COC Chair for 2017-18 and is now a consultant to the Council. “The biggest changes, of course, have been during the past two to three years. I felt that the Board of Trustees made a great choice in directing that the program change to an all-digital approach in order to make the best use of member dollars.”

In the spring of 2017 as the all-digital CAP program began, Dr. Idiculla and his fellow COC members were eager to see if the digital format would drive vastly more traffic to the AAO consumer website and help engage visitors with the site’s educational content about orthodontic treatment.

“Within the next several months the impact of the digital program became clear,” says Dr. Idiculla. “Comparing monthly visits to the consumer website from one year to the next, for example, we saw that in February 2017, the website had 10,000 visitors. In February 2018, it had more than 700,000 visitors.”

Buzzfeed Partnership Expands Audience Reach, Brings New Creative Opportunities

Dr. Idiculla also shares an insider’s perspective on the partnership that the AAO pursued with Buzzfeed in 2017.

“The partnership with Buzzfeed has added to the impact of the CAP program,” says Dr. Idiculla. “A company that is in competition with us was also pursuing a partnership and when we finalized it, we were a week away from being beaten out of the opportunity to provide orthodontic content on Buzzfeed.”

A digital news and entertainment company, Buzzfeed offers content in a variety of formats including video. AAO social media videos produced as part of the Buzzfeed partnership appear on Facebook and on Buzzfeed’s YouTube channel. Video series developed by the AAO for Buzzfeed, including “Leave it to the Professionals” and “Kids Try to Be Orthodontists” have helped engage online audiences and bring visitors to the AAO consumer website.

“The numbers have shown that the CAP program is reaching vastly more people more easily, more quickly and more cost-effectively than our past media mix of print, TV, radio and a much more limited digital effort,” says Dr. Idiculla. “And while traditional media can be targeted by demographic group to some degree, digital media targeting is much more specific.*

“Ideally, the AAO’s marketing budget should be about $80 million to compete on an equal basis with how our competition advertises,” Dr. Idiculla adds. “That would mean each member would have to pay a $10,000 assessment, which of course is not feasible. But I do hope that we can continue to increase the CAP budget as the data support increases. If we take our foot off the pedal, there are companies that will quickly replace what we do in a negative way that will cause us to lose market share.”

In-Office Education in Dr. Idiculla’s Practice Relies on CAP Materials

In his own practice in suburban Denver, Dr. Idiculla leverages CAP content in some unusual ways.

“We have an in-office radio channel with custom commercials,” he says. “We use some CAP information for the customized messages. In addition, we have the Buzzfeed videos set up to play on a loop feed in some digital displays. These displays are good conversation starters. We feel that consumer education should be done everywhere that we can do it, starting in our own office.”

As Dr. Idiculla continues to phase himself out of his work with the AAO COC, he has a message for AAO members who finished their residencies 10 years ago or less.

“I was 34 and just five years out of residency when I joined the COC,” he says. “For any young AAO member who feels passionately about helping the specialty, I would advise going ahead and getting involved with the AAO, or with your constituent or component. Don’t feel you have to wait until you have more experience. You have a lot to bring to the table already and there are many rewarding ways to contribute.”

* AAO online advertising is behaviorally targeted to individuals who are researching Orthodontic treatment topics online.

Dr. John Callahan

Dr. John Callahan

Fayetteville, NY

Dr. John Callahan, AAO Trustee from the Northeastern Society of Orthodontists, views the Consumer Awareness Program (CAP) as indispensable for branding the orthodontic specialty in North America.

“For our practice’s marketing, it is all about the brand,” says Dr. Callahan. “For the AAO and our members it is all about branding our specialty. Our CAP goal is for the AAO website to be the go-to site for all information regarding the why, what, when, where and who questions that are the basis for a person’s search needs on orthodontics.

“Most AAO members are aware of our move to an all-digital Consumer Awareness Program with some highly visible online ads and social media content,” says Dr. Callahan, who is serving as the Board of Trustees liaison to the Council on Communications for 2018-19. “We know the program has been successful because of the significant increase in the amount of traffic to our consumer website ( We also know the public is accessing what they want because they are staying on the site and not just clicking on it and then immediately clicking off.”

2018 was a monumental year for the CAP. Total annual visits to the AAO consumer website have increased significantly – a 311 percent increase when comparing total annual visits 2017 (1,819,477) versus 2018 (7,491,818), and a 1,730 percent increase when comparing 2016 (409,290) to 2018.

CAP’s Purpose is to Drive Consumers to

Dr. Callahan notes that it could be easy for many members to assume that any value of the Consumer Awareness Program depends on whether its funded initiatives directly bring patients to their practices. As part of a multi-doctor practice with three offices in the Syracuse, New York area, he urges caution in jumping to conclusions.

“I hear from members all the time that patients do not come to their office because of the CAP,” he says. “My answer is that the CAP’s job is to drive consumers to our AAO website.

“Historically our referral base was mostly doctor and patient driven,” adds Dr. Callahan. “That is no longer the case. We find that there are typically many layers to how patients or parents learn about our practice and make decisions about what to do and where to go. Most of us search the Internet for information on products and services, particularly big-ticket items. Orthodontic treatment is a big-ticket item to most families. I believe we can agree that in today’s world, one of the first moves folks make when advised or are interested in getting their ‘teeth straightened’ is to go online and do some homework.”

Decision Process Moves from Global Search to Local Search

Dr. Callahan has observed that patients often search globally to get answers to their basic questions and then look locally to find the right fit for their needs.

“Contact with the AAO consumer website – via Consumer Awareness Program ads – is part of the process,” he says. “First the why, then the what and the when. And, through the Find an Orthodontist directory on our website they can get help with the local part – the where and who.

“I look at it this way: Our practice has a local marketing budget geared toward driving patients directly to our offices,” Dr. Callahan continues. “That type of marketing, while it may focus effectively on our practice, does not create a brand for what we do as orthodontists. I look at branding the specialty as a very important aspect of what the Consumer Awareness Program does. Is it still good for our practice individually? Yes, because for less than $100 per month based on the CAP assessment, we get ongoing establishment of a very strong brand for orthodontic treatment by orthodontists. And that brand is being developed by giving consumers what they need – and what many want: expert information, easily accessed via our website.”

As the number of consumers accessing the AAO website continues to grow and consumers nationally gain greater awareness of the expertise and outstanding treatment results that the orthodontic specialty offers, Dr. Callahan sees these informed consumers as more motivated to be treated by an orthodontist.

“Our vision at the AAO is that all orthodontic care is provided by qualified specialists who successfully treat each patient’s needs,” he says. “Our AAO website must become the go-to resource for consumers who want to make an informed decision about treatment. It is then up to them to do a deeper dive locally on which orthodontist is best for them.”

Dr. James Frazier

Dr. James Frazier

Chicago, IL

Dr. James Frazier’s practice in suburban Chicago first initiated a social media presence last year and since doing so, has made AAO Consumer Awareness Program materials a key element of the practice’s social media marketing.

“We were late getting into social media largely because I had a variety of concerns about it that I had shared with Dr. Frazier,” says Cara Novy, office manager and coordinator of marketing for the practice. “Patient privacy issues were a major aspect of my concern.”

Dr. Frazier had purchased the practice, a former satellite office established by another orthodontist, after graduating from the University of Illinois residency program in 1999.

“We have always done a lot of local marketing,” he says. “We have supported schools and sports teams and the local animal shelter. We participate in an annual contest for kids who draw ads for local businesses. Eventually, we found ways to address our concerns about incorporating social media into the mix and decided to so because of its potential as a multiplier of everything else we were doing.“

Ms. Novy launched the practice into social media in April 2018, using Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. She began following AAO social media to stay abreast of material produced by the AAO.

“Our strategy is based on doing one post per day, using the same material across platforms,” she says. “AAO items have been a huge help with this effort. We have really enjoyed sharing the AAO Buzzfeed videos and particularly liked the recent one with kids pretending to be orthodontists. For Instagram, I usually set up an infographic with a still screen shot from the AAO video and post that, since you can’t post the actual video. The stills work really well.”

Social Media Followers Engage with AAO Content

Patients and prospective patients must take the step of clicking through on the posts to reach the AAO’s educational content about orthodontics. Dr. Frazier and Ms. Novy acknowledge that some may not do so, but in either case they feel the engagement value of the posts makes them worthwhile.

“We have had to invest a lot of effort into letting people know that we are on social media,” says Ms. Novy. “As we gained followers, we have found that many seem to really enjoy Liking, following and sharing the AAO content that we post.”

“I really appreciate the volume and quality of the material that the AAO produces,” says Dr. Frazier. “It adds a lot to our social media presence. I believe that it is also encouraging people nationally to choose Orthodontists for their treatment.”