Lisa Creaven and her sister were both dentists in Ireland. They decided to launch Spotlight Oral Care bring consumer dental products up to date. They have built a brilliant business which quadrupled its turnover last year by challenging their giant competitors with a position as a beauty brand for teeth.
She shares the marketing approach she used to build up a huge social media following and explains how to go about influencer marketing and how to integrate with paid and email.
We also cover international expansion and the success of the brand in the USA and the rest of Europe.Also available on: or from your smart speaker.
Andrew Veitch: Welcome to the Joy of Marketing with me Andrew Veitch. This week, I’m joined by Lisa Creaven, who moved from dentistry into marketing. Then with her sister Vanessa, founded Spotlight Oral Care, which can quadrupled turnover during the last year. Welcome to the show.
Lisa Creaven: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
AV: So can we just start off, if you just tell us a little bit about Spotlight?
LC: Spotlight Oral Care was set up about four years ago. And it’s really in response to a disconnection that Vanessa, my sister and I were both dentists, that we could see in the oral care market. I think there’s a huge disconnect between what we know as dentists and professionals and what the general public know, to be true. And the reality is that 90% of oral health is achieved through what you do at home. And I don’t, we didn’t feel like that was being reflected in the products that people could buy. And there’s obviously a huge rise in natural products as well. And I truly believe that people are looking for products that are healthy, that are effective, but are not going to damage your overall health. So we sit right in the middle, we have clinically proven active ingredients to target the individual needs of our of our customers. And what that means is we have products that work and work for for oral health issues, and all our packaging is sustainable. We don’t test on animals, and we are ethically and sustainably focused also.
AV: Obviously, in terms of your career, I mean, you you were a dentist, and you suddenly moved into marketing. So I mean, how did you go about learning your new trade?
AV: Like I think, you know, as a dentist, you’re also a small business owner. So you do need to know a certain aspect. And I qualified as a dentist, at a lovely time as the economic crisis hit Ireland. So it was definitely a very challenging environment. And I could see it even in private health care, you know, like a lot of dentists were reducing costs are reducing team members. So you know, even in my first job as a profession, or as a professional dentist, I set up my own practice at the age of 24. And I wanted to set up a premium dental practice. So I had to learn the very basics of marketing through being a dentist and having my own business. And I ran that for about 10 years. And then as we moved into Spotlight, and we created Spotlight and for us, it was definitely a part time job. And then as I moved into it more marketing is something that I feel like I absolutely love, I just it’s aspect of the of the business that I really am passionate about. And it’s more to me, it’s more about communication, and clear, understandable messaging for our patients and customers. I think I definitely learned, you know, as I went, but there’s so much information out there. And I really just delved into it and learned as much as I could. I’m really passionate about email marketing and automation, and really communications. Yeah, I’m obsessed with marketing. I just it fascinates me. So I think what you love you just you learn more of.
AV: Yeah, I think one things I always liked about automation, when I was a marketing director is that, you know, I could be in the pub, and we could be selling automatically, without me actually doing anything.
LC: Which is literally the opposite of being a dentist, you know, if you don’t go to work as an dentist, that’s it, you don’t earn any money. So but it’s, to me, it’s more about communication. Like I really felt that, you know, when you go into a supermarket, you buy toothpaste, all you’re really feel is like this, this kind of mundane messaging are bright white smile and minty fresh. And I saw it’s so old school, and it’s so like, old fashioned. Like we wanted to create a range of products that actually spoke to a customer and told you why you would use it. And it seems really basic. But like I always say, you know, if I asked my friends, you know what kind of skincare routine they use, they be able to like write a PhD on it. But you ask somebody what kind of toothpaste they use. And they say, just the kind of one I always use or the one that’s on special offer. And oral care is health care. But you are you know, choosing kind of these generic products. But oral health is individual like any other aspects of health and you should be using products that are targeting your own needs. So they work harder for you. So for me, my passion is that kind of aspect of communication and designing products that people intuitively look out and go, yeah, I actually understand that’s for me, you know.
AV: Yeah, but then there’s also a missing element about appearance as well, isn’t there, and in fact, I think what struck me looking at your marketing, it felt almost more like a fashion brand, I thought and then a traditional dental brand.
LC: Totally. But then look at look at how beauty has evolved as skincare has evolved, like look at, if you look at skincare 20 years ago, you know, you were buying these multipurpose products, you know, like moisturizer, which is the kind of like meaningless term now. But you know, 20 years ago, you were had these big brands, but like, they were kind of like one size fits all beauty. And now everything is so targeted, so elevated, and but then you look at oral care, and it’s the exact same so fast, 20 years ago, there’s no there’s no customization, there’s no targeting, there’s no elevation, and it’s like, it’s basically like two for the price of one. And that’s how we buy our oral care. And like you never, and sometimes people will ask, oh, you know, you’re slightly more premium. And we’re not even that more premium than average. But my point did you last, you know, justify your purchase of creme de la mer, you know, but you want to buy your toothpaste for two quid. And that’s actually what protects your health, as well as making your teeth look nice. So we just felt like there’s a huge space and like, you look at those big brands, and you know, I really feel like oral care is ripe for disruption, because there’s nobody doing anything really meaningful in the space. And it hasn’t evolved, hasn’t innovated in any way in 20 years. So I think that’s why the brand has been so successful. And it’s something obviously we want to continue to do.
AV: Yeah, I guess you’re lucky with your competitors. So something else again, just looking at at social, I noticed, you have 167,000 followers on Instagram, which is is a lot for this type of brand. So how did you go about building that? And how important is that your business?
LC: So social, for us, I think is one of our key differentiators. I mean, again, we look at those huge brands that we’re up against, you know, they have, obviously, so much power and so much money and resources. And obviously, they’re hugely dominant in their space. But one place that they actually don’t play well is social. And I think that every brand and every company has easier points and more difficult points, and one of our easier spaces to play is on social. And, you know, it’s funny, because Vanessa and I are obviously dentists, so we have nothing to hide, you know, we go on social all the time we do lives on other people’s channels, but we have nothing to hide in terms of what we discuss. And because we have a full range of products we are, we are trying to, you know, always offer the best in terms of advice to the, to whoever we’re talking to. And I think that there is a point of discussion to be made in oral care, like there’s so much to discuss people are people have this idea that or toothpaste is toothpaste. But I know as a dentist that people are passionate about their oral health, people want to look good, and they want their teeth to look nice, and they want them to be healthy. And I used to provide a huge amount of Invisalign and I was probably one of the biggest providers of Invisalign in Ireland, in the UK, all through the economic crisis. And that told me that people are not interested in buying the cheapest or they’re not interested in, it’s not always about price, it’s about value and what you’re actually going to get out of the treatment. So for me like social is hugely important because it gives Vanessa and I that opportunity to speak directly to our customers. And it’s also this thing in dentistry where people are often afraid, like, they might want to straighten their teeth or they want to might want to whiten their teeth, but they’re actually embarrassed to ask your dentist for some reason. So it gives people an opportunity to ask all the questions they ever wanted. So like we we really focus hugely on social like we do like Q and A’s we do lives. We do a lot on TikTok. So we had like a video that we I think it’s like a 3.3 million views on TikTok, so we really…
AV: What was that video that got 3.3?
LC: It was the simplest video honestly, you should honestly go look at it again. Like it’s literally about the color of people’s teeth. Like this girl was saying like, my teeth are always yellow. Like, is there something wrong with me basically. And I just stitched with it and said like, no, like teeth have different, you know shades and you can’t clean you can’t find your teeth or brush your teeth you have to use an active ingredient to whiten your teeth. But it was super simple. But I think the opportunity we have as a brand is that we are the founders. We are the we are dentists and like so many oral care brands they all created by dentists. So like where are these people? Who are these people? You know, I think people are more like, consumers are intelligent, they want to see who is behind the brand who’s developing this and who you know, what are you saying and they want to challenge you and I like that because you know we are literally creating best in class products. So I want to be challenged I want to discuss and it’s funny because I know like I assume my friends will point out like some of the bigger players if they put something on Instagram like, they just get annihilated because consumer knows like that they’re still testing on animals, and they’re still producing products that are ending up in landfill and have no sustainable, no meaningful sustainability focus. So it’s more difficult for them. But it’s easier for us.
AV: Yeah, well, it’s absolutely true. I mean, I’ve sold great products, and I’ve sold products that aren’t very good. And I can absolutely say is massively easier to sell a great product than a product that has problems. So I noticed as well, you’ve also done quite a bit of influencer marketing. And I was just wondering if you could give any advice to people who are thinking about that?
LC: Yeah, I think influencer marketing is, so we work, we kind of look at the company quite separately in terms of Ireland, the EU, the UK and the US. We use influencer marketing quite differently in the three different regions. And it totally depends on how much brand awareness you have in that space. I think you have to be very careful about you have to look at influencer marketing, like a long term strategy. I think that you have to pick people who are like, very aligned with the ethics of your brand. And I think it’s more about the quality versus the quantity, I would say, you know, I spend a lot of time on on Instagram, and I watch people and I have a good feeling for who I want to look at who I want talking about the products, you know, but I think it’s about quality over quantity, I think, never underestimate your own idea of what that content should look like. I think even the word oral health brand, we’re still a beauty oral health brand. So we don’t shy away from that beauty aspect. And I don’t think you can get around like metrics like engagement. And also you have to have an eye on revenue. So I think it’s really important to look at it as like a long term strategy, set out your KPIs. So in the US, we’re not necessarily going for revenue, we might be going for impressions and views and things like that. I think as well, you have to decide the scale of what you want to do. So if you are going like on a higher scale, I would recommend using an agency because it takes so much time and effort to get influencers over the line and make sure you have the right content and things like that. So I think if you’re talking about any kind of scale, I would look at an agency. And one thing I would definitely look at is for the right influencer, who performs well, I would always try and look at like paid media as an aspect of their of their contracts and working that into every other aspect of your business. So whether it’s automation, whether it’s paid social, you know.
AV: Oh I see, right, so you’re using the influencer in your paid marketing as well?
LC: Yeah, well, we’re an Irish brand. And in the UK, if we’re, if we’re segmenting out our emails, we want it to feel like personal to that customer and to be from an influencer, that makes sense to them, you know, so we might work with an influencer. And one of their roles is that we can use their assets in terms of email and automation, or paid social, and it makes our brand more recognizable, more familiar. In a new market, so that I think that’s, that’s really important.
AV: And actually, you’ve mentioned international a few times now. I mean, how big is international for you? And what do you do differently in the different regions?
LC: I think each so we were actually going very quickly in the UK, we have a lot of traction in the UK market at the moment, a huge focus for us is the UK for the next year. And obviously the US. I think it’s respecting the differences in the market and even in terms of how marketing works in different countries. So and what role each channel plays in each market. And sure, you can take a lot of learnings from, you know, previous success or failures and apply it but each market is so individual, I think there’s a huge difference in terms of, you know, you have to be like, you have to have people on the ground in those in those countries. So we have a UK team that are based in London and the US team based in New York, you need marketing experience on the ground, you need PR on the ground you need, you know, and that you just can’t get around that in my opinion, you know, when you’re ready. I think that’s super important. Like different aspects. For example, we would do some paid PR. The PR is really good, you know, in the UK, but it’s it actually works much better in the US for us. Different channels will work better even in terms of lead gen is a huge focus for us. And we would find, you know, influencers in the UK might generate more leads for us than in the US. So you’re taking each channel but you’re mixing up what you want to get out of each channel, and making sure your budgets are as efficient as possible in each market, but I think there’s, there’s nothing like getting like a specific advice from people who are living and breathing that space. And I think PR is essential in each obviously in each country.
AV: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, I was in food and drink when I was in marketing, which is a little bit different. But certainly, I noticed radical differences across countries. I remember we did some offers by email. And in France the response rate was just terrible. It just seems the French just don’t seem very keen on responding to offers at all. UK was kind of in the middle. But the Americans just love an offer. The response rates were just through the roof.
LC: Totally. And it’s just a different and you have to respect that difference. You know, we did some, we did actually some podcast advertising in the US, and, you know, we were on like, some of the biggest, like, you know, we’re doing it through agencies, you could be on like Oprah, and like, Crime Junkie and things. And, you know, I think it’s really important to like, to understand that they have a different way of speaking. And you, you have to take the best advice that you get. But like it can be so salesy, and to an Irish person, it’s like, you just want to die, you want to like, jump into your own shoe, you’re like, oh, my God, I can’t to do this. But it works. And like, you also look at the other brands, like, look, because I was saying, like, you know, even analyzing our own podcast advertising us, you know, saying, people are, it’s like, 80% off, free for the first 100 customers, and it just feels like so devaluing. But like, as a new brand, it’s, that’s what you have to do there, it’s what you have to get that traction, you have to get that word of mouth, you have to get kind of users. But I tell you, it’s different like, because once it depends on how valuable a customer is long term, and again, you won’t have that data for a while. But you know, in the US, they might want value, but they spend more, you know, when they do come and they repeat spending more and they buy more items. So it’s like it is you have to give a lot of way to get them sometimes for the first time, but they’re more, they’re more likely to spend more, whereas we would find in the UK, easier to get them. But they might actually spend a little bit less initially, you know.
AV: And actually just on that subject, when obviously, everything you’re selling pretty much is a consumable. And lifetime value is going to be very important. Do you do anything sort of marketing wise on retention?
LC: Yeah, it’s again, it totally depends on where we are. So in in Ireland, in the EU, we’re really focusing on retention now at the moment and providing value. So, you know, for example, we’ve set up, you know, like things like an advisory service. So you can come on, you can ask about our products completely free, there’s no, you know, pressure to buy or to purchase, but we want to offer that value in terms of, okay, you might have bought something, did you get the most out of us, you know, how, how can we help you to get more out of your products? And even if it’s something to do with products, what concerns Do you have, what information do you need, so we do a huge amount of retention, or work on retention. Also, we focus a lot on lead generation. So again, if we’ve, if we’ve had an app, you know, a period where we’ve been working with influencers a lot, you know, we like to even find that some of our influencers might and perform as well as they did a year ago, because they’re all actually all on our email list, you know, so we also make sure that our customer knows that on our email list, they’re going to get the best value, they’re going to get the first option to buy the best value. And they’re always going to have, you know, they’re going to get the offers for the first time also. So I think it’s making sure that your customer understands from a brand’s point of view where they’re going to get that that best value and for us, it’s, we always try and foster that email because we get an opportunity to educate to discuss and also we get a lot of feedback through email. So for attention for us is basically is a huge focus for lead generation. And we actually see that like, I think in the EU, we have like a 50%, of all our customers every month 50% of those are returning customers. So I think we were doing a good job in terms of building that loyalty, but it’s it’s definitely a process and it’s, it’s something that kind of is a long term, you know, project and goal.
AV: Yeah, and I certainly know you have passionate customers, including our own Emma Fong at Machine Labs, who actually suggested that I should get you on the podcast. So on that lead gen. I mean, obviously you’ve mentioned that social, I can see social is huge. I mean, are there other recruitment channels that you use?
LC: Yeah, like, I mean, we’re always testing. And again, we’re a very young company. So we do test a lot. We’ve done sampling in the in the US in particular. And we obviously do lead gen through organic social. So but we also do it through paid social, we do it through influencer activity also. So we do, it’s huge. It’s so big. It’s so such a focus for us, that we kind of do try to bring it across all channels really as much as we can.
AV: Yeah, so Lisa, I guess, most successful direct to consumer businesses do need to raise money at some point to grow further. I mean, what are the sort of metrics that you’re looking at as you raise money?
LC: Yeah, so we are in the process of raising money at the moment. And, you know, I think that there’s obviously a huge focus on metrics. And I think what what we really need to pay attention to is trends, like looking at your cost per acquisition, looking at looking at your average order values, showing, you know, what’s working and being transparent. And I think that, you know, it’s really important to remember that, you know, we’re a very young company, and we’re taking our money to grow, we’re not taking our money to, to for anything else. So I think that, you know, the right partner will understand your failures as well as your successes. So I would say transparency is actually quite important, because they don’t expect you to be perfect, but I think trends and showing traction, even if it’s not where you exactly you want to be, but you’re moving in the right direction. And I think like, obviously, digital spend is going to be hugely important. your cost per acquisition, your average order value, your returning rate of customers, that they’re the questions we get asked over and over again, but also along with messaging, or what resonates the most, and what are you finding in terms of differences across the market? So you do really need to know the ins and outs of it. But yeah, like I think the right partner should be asking those questions, because if they’re not, they’re not going to be helping you in those areas, either.
AV: Well, that’s, that’s fantastic. It’s been an absolutely fantastic story, and I’ve learned a lot. It’s definitely been the most enjoyable 20 minutes I’ve ever had with a dentist so thank you Lisa.
LC: The bar is low.
AV: If you would like to follow the marketing playbook I use to recruit 1 million customers, then please install Machine Labs available in the Shopify App Store. See you all next week on the Joy of Marketing.