How to Make a Big Social Bet in a Traditional Industry

I’ll admit it: I don’t like flossing, I don’t like my 6-month teeth cleaning, I just don’t like the dentist. So when Delta Dental, America’s largest, most experienced dental benefits company, made me (and hundreds of thousands of others on social) smile with their “Smile Power” campaign, I knew they had done something seriously right - proving you don’t have to be a big-budget CPG or media company to build brand value on social.

At this point, almost every brand imaginable in every industry imaginable has a social media presence, but it’s still easy to think of social as a playground reserved for big, flashy brands universally loved by young and old alike. Think brands like Pepsi, Target, or the NBA. But the truth is, the vast majority of brands on social don’t fit this profile. Most brands on social are not household names: they fall into niche industries or are B2B rather than consumer-facing. But that doesn’t mean they can’t get just as much value out of social.

Social media is a universal equalizer. We all know brands pay to play, but at the heart of any successful social media campaign is solid content — no matter who it’s coming from or how much money is behind it. Every industry, every brand, every social media team has an opportunity to build brand value on social. On social, brands can think beyond the obvious, connect with people, and show their personality. Social media is also extremely cost-effective. With more and more companies looking to prove the ever-elusive metric of ROI, social media is becoming a relatively inexpensive way to experiment with new ways of gaining brand awareness and engagement.

Despite all of this, many brands still think that social isn’t for brands “like them.” It’s often hard for social teams at such brands to find marketing budget or an appetite to experiment.

Not a team to back down from a challenge, Delta Dental didn’t let any of those concerns stop them from creating a buzz around their brand on social. In honor of National Smile Month in June, they created a surprise and delight video at a local coffee shop where baristas asked for a payment of “one smile” from customers after they ordered. Hidden cameras were there to capture the infectious reactions and, of course, lots of smiles. The video was used throughout their network’s social media channels and ended up being their most successful campaign to-date.



I talked with Caroline Jacobson, Social Media Content Strategist at Delta Dental, about the “Smile Power” campaign and why social media matters so much to a brand like hers.

What are some of the major marketing challenges Delta Dental faces as a brand, and how does social specifically help you solve them?

Different brands have different audiences, but every audience is asking the same question on social: “What’s in it for me?” Social media users don’t care about how great your brand is. They won’t engage unless it makes their life better. Whether it educates or entertains, every piece of content has to have the user in mind.

Just because our office is excited about oral health doesn’t mean the social media world shares our love for toothbrushes, the tooth fairy and dental insurance. Our team always jokes that if we were a brand like Coca-Cola or Oreo, our brains would explode with ideas. Some people don’t even know what Delta Dental does. We receive comments regularly asking if we’re a dentist’s office. If that wasn’t enough, insurance is confusing and many millennials do not see its value. Our social media has a big job to do. Even for the people that know we’re a dental insurance company, we’re still selling a service—not a consumer product. It’s easy for brands like us to get lost in the Kate Spade secret sales and Tasty videos of the world. Instead of using the “we’re-just-a-boring-brand” excuse, we take content from sexy brands and use their formula. For example: While we can’t do a makeup tutorial on YouTube, we can create a video how to make toothbrush bracelets.

What do you want other “boring brands” to know about building brand value through social?

Think past the product. Dig down deep to your brand’s core attributes. Find ways to connect your brand’s personality to more exciting ideas. For example: Dental insurance helps you to see the dentist and keep your teeth healthy. Healthy teeth give you the confidence to show off your smile. And who doesn’t want to talk about smiling? From people to products, and everything in between—you can connect smiling to almost anything.

What has your team learned from this campaign and what will you use going forward in future social campaigns?

We work on very tight budgets and are hesitant to invest in unproven ideas. This campaign taught us that taking intentional risks can have great rewards! Catching positive, spontaneous moments on video is a formula that paid off. And thanks to the social media world, there’s a place where a dental insurance company can show its fun side. We hear it from every conference, article and webinar—video is powerful. Now that we know it worked for us, we will continue to treat video as our campaign king.

Delta Dental is a great example of how one social team is looking past what people know (and assume) about them to really connect with audiences on social. At Spredfast, our goal is to help every company connect with the people they care about most - and that means every company. We see the successes of social teams big to small and companies consumer-facing to B2B, whether they sell products or services. You don’t have to be in a certain industry or make a certain type of product to see success. Every company has an opportunity to build brand value on social.

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Christina Burgess is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at Spredfast, where she helps tell the story about how Spredfast can help every organization realize the value of social. She is a boomerang Texan, who came to Austin via Washington D.C. and she is probably daydreaming about hiking or wandering through a museum right now.