AEM Podcast: Pacific Dental Services – Filling your content management cavities with AEM

Just prior to Adobe Summit 2016, we were able to sit down with Matt Hall, Vice President of Marketing for Pacific Dental Services, who partnered with Axis41 at Adobe Summit 2016 to present at one of the breakout sessions. In this podcast Matt spent some time with Joey and I discussing the reasons that they chose Adobe Experience Manager to accomplish their need to supply websites for 495 individual dentist offices.

Also discussed were:

  • PDS business goals
  • Using analytics data to make the best business decisions for user experience
  • What part the PDS IT team played and what part Axis41 played
  • How content is updated across 495 sites
  • What PDS looked for in an implementation partner
  • Next things on the roadmap for PDS

At the end of the podcast Matt told us about Charity Water and why Pacific Dental wants to be part of helping the world get clean water. If you wish to donate then you can go to Charity Water’s website.

From left to right: Joey Smith, Matt Hall, and Peter Nash

Would you like to be interviewed on AEM Podcast or do you have an AEM question? Reach out to us at or on Twitter @axis41 and we’ll see what we can do.


Peter Nash: Welcome to the Abode Experience Manager Podcast, a weekly discussion regarding Adobe Experience Manager, formerly CQ, and other marketing and technical issues. This podcast is presented by Axis41, your partner in Adobe Experience Manager implementations. Your host for the podcast are Joey Smith, and Peter Nash.

Peter Nash: Hi, I'm Peter.

Joey Smith: And I am Joey.

Peter Nash: Welcome back everyone. We're excited, Joey and I to be able to do another podcast like this. We're coming up on Summit, although this podcast will probably come out after Summit, but we have an opportunity to attend Adobe Summit and we're going to being another presentation there at Summit, one of the breakout sessions. And this year we're going to be partnering up with Pacific Dental Services. And today, to help us talk a little bit about that story is Matt Hall. Matt is Vice President of Marketing at Pacific Dental Services. So Matt, welcome.

Matt Hall: Cool. Thanks Peter, thanks Joey.

Peter Nash: Yeah, good to have you on. Matt, maybe take a minute and just tell us we just said Vice President of Marketing, but what does that really entail? What do you actually do for PDS? What is PDS? What do they do? Maybe give us a little high level of the company.

Matt Hall: Sure. Yeah. So starting with the company, Pacific Dental Services started a little over 20 years ago. We've really started to ramp up our growth about 13 years ago. So we were sitting at about 30 dental offices. So we support those dental offices from anything from the construction and the accounting for those offices all the way to the marketing, HR, the payroll, and the IT infrastructure. So as we started to build that platform, again, about a dozen years ago, we found a model that would work in partnering up with clinicians. So we a model that we hate to say the "F" word, the franchise word (laughter) but it is similar in a sense to that type of model where partnerships at each office. So we have owner doctors at each office that we partner up with. Found success in that model. And 13 years later we're sitting at 495 supported offices and pushing a billion dollars in revenue. So it's been a fun ride. Certainly been neat to have been there myself for those 13 years that we started to grow. From my position, I get to do all of the fun stuff now. So I get to oversee all of our marketing, infrastructure, our campaigns, our systems, the tools and guidance that we give to those individual offices. So we have a team of 25 of us at what we call our National Support Center that supports the offices. And then really the heart and soul of our team is out in the field with the offices, spread across the country. So 50 field marketers helping the individual offices get involved locally in their communities and being kind of the hometown dentist in their community.

Peter Nash: Now you personally, have been doing this for 13 years. I think that's kind of impressive because I know in the business world it's like oh, let's just to the next big thing. Why stay? I'm just curious personally.

Matt Hall: It's a great question. I ask myself that every night. (Laughs) Sometimes I ask my wife that, like why ? No. I really believe in what we're doing. I think it's a great mix of you take talented people like these clinicians, and lot of them have become friends and it's like they are amazing scientists that are so great with their trade in helping people with their oral health care. But you know, for the marketing side, we always joke, we have some of the greatest clinicians in the country, but some of the worst creative directors in the country. (Laughs) So they all think they're creative directors. I can say that again because they're friends of mine. But that's where we kind of come in and that's a component of what we do from a marketing standpoint at Pacific Dental Services. But each department is like that, where really we can complement those clinical and scientific skills of the clinician to just focus on patients. Where we can supplement all the business side. So for me that keeps it fun, it keeps it fun that we're growing at about 20 percent clip. We're privately owned. Founder is still the CEO, a man named Steve Thorne who started it from the beginning, you know? And just a great story from him and inspirational that allows us and empowers us to, from a marketing standpoint to push the envelope, to do things that in our industry, you think, you know, I always get asked about dentistry, and it's like, "No, it's not cool or sexy or whatever," (laughs) but it is fun that we can do things that other people in retail are doing, or other people in CPG field or whatever it is, that we can bring into this industry and differentiate our supported offices from others. So it's fun.

Peter Nash: So you guys help set up an actual physical office, you know, brick and mortar, quote/unquote store so to speak. But you also, and this is where we get into why we're here today is to talk a little bit more about the web presence. Because you'll actually help them get a website set up. You know, 20 years ago, were we thinking that everybody needed to have a website? No, probably not. But now you've got to support them. And it's an absolutely critical thing. Maybe talk a little bit about how you guys have set up things and maybe then get into why you decided to move towards AEM to start handling your web presence?

Matt Hall: Sure. Yeah, as we started to grow, we've grown by not only just geographic expansion across the country. Started in southern California and then kind of moving north and east. But we started to grow density. And so we used to be able to kind of get by I would say with a model of having a digital presence that was similar across all the offices and didn't really require differentiation. So we could have the same website, literally, for you know, 100 different offices, for 200 different offices. Because the way people are searching for a dentist, especially online, they're looking for proximity. You know, they're looking for a dentist three, five, ten miles from their home or from their work. So they would never kind of stumble across two of our supported offices. Well, as we grew density, we came upon the challenge of how do we differentiate two offices within five miles from each other? And then all of the sudden, four offices, five, six, seven offices within a stone's throw of each other. And so that led us to one, finding a platform that could allow us for that customization. And again, the offices are all individually named, but they carry the same brand standards. They carry the same similar looks and feels and visual verbal language, all that good stuff. And so we needed some flexibility so that they could be different from each other, but also keep that within the framework. So that they represent the image that our brand stands for. So that eventually led us to web CMS, Adobe Experience Manager that could be that platform for differentiated sites across the 495 domains that we have, which keeps it fun. (Chuckles) So.

Peter Nash: Yeah, that's the fun part of the story, right? 495 different sites but all kind of tied to the same brand, but still unique and everyone needs to feel like it's their own. How did you guys accomplish that with AEM? And did you use any of the other marketing cloud tools or what was the process behind saying okay, AEM is the one for us and we're going to use these things to accomplish what is, you know, allowing them the flexibility to take ownership of it themselves and say this is mine, but still maintain the brand standards?

Matt Hall: Yeah, that's a good question. We went through really an exhaustive research around different web CMSs. So we pulled in partners of ours such as Gartner, Forrester, our internal IT team of course. Because we always partner with them on any technical project or

Peter Nash: Good decision to do. (Laughs)

Matt Hall: Yeah, we try. I think you know, in talking to other marketing leaders, I think we are blessed to have a good partnership with our IT team. (Laughs) So I think sometimes I take that for granted. So hopefully he's listening to the podcast and he'll appreciate the shout out. But yeah, so bringing those parties together and really looking at first, what were our objectives, what were our needs from a system? And then what system would match well with what how we, again, having 495 different websites that are similar look and feel, but completely different domains. Completely different owner doctors, completely different imagery and geography so we could represent that with you know, hero imagery and whatnot. So we narrowed it down, you know, without putting the others in there, we narrowed it down to really where we felt Adobe Experience Manager was the best based on our needs, based on our need to scale and grow this as well. We're adding about 80 to 90 offices and of course websites each year. And how could we scale that efficiently with a centralized team? That led us to Adobe kind of bumping towards the top and then we've been a partner, you know, back in the Omniture days. We were a partner with Omniture, and of course the relationship there with Adobe and kind of continuing on the analytics side. You know, integrating Adobe media optimizer. So we kind of built this trust with Adobe, and then obviously you start to see some of those integration possibilities across the marketing cloud there which led us to using Experience Manager.

Peter Nash: One of the stories that we were chatting earlier on, you talked about is the fact that your analytics told you you get more conversions or you get a higher people who actually engage on the site if they can see the doctor.

Matt Hall: Yup.

Peter Nash: And it was that that said okay, well we need to now design our next implementation for these sites, you know, what the site needs to become, we need to make sure that that is front and center.

Matt Hall: Yeah. So that was the cool part about you know, after we kind of picked the platform, then we went and looked at implementation partners. And kind of went back to the same group of Gartner, Forrester and our internal IT team, and started to vet through the different possibilities of partners. Of course sitting here with you guys

Peter Nash: (Laughs) I wonder who you chose.

Matt Hall: I don't know! (Laughs) So yeah, so Axis41, it just, for so many reasons, and I don't want to be too over the top and man crush on you guys, but yeah, alignment in the companies and in our vision, you guys have done distributed sites like that, multi sites. Using Adobe Experience Manager in different ways with multi site manager and just in native form and adapting it so we liked the capabilities. And as we engaged with you guys and we started to look at then on the creative side, what you guys can do as a full service, full house shop here, it was like all right, let's dig into that data together. And that's a great example, Peter, of us working together, looking at the analytics to say look, in fact, the second most visited page for us was what we called "Meet Our Team." So it was like, all right, people want to figure out (laughs)

Peter Nash: Good idea of who I'm going to be meeting with.

Matt Hall: Yeah, I think Peter said, "Whose hands are going be in my mouth?" You know? (Laughs) And it's like, but that's the power of using those analytics for conversion. So we had, on our old sites we had "Meet Our Team" as the number one menu item and that's as good as it got. And re creating the sites. All of the sudden you know, above the fold and high up on the list for mobile, when we have the sites go responsive was the actual image of the clinicians and making that scrollable to see, you know, who could possibly be working on your teeth. So yeah, it was neat to put those tools together.

Peter Nash: One of the unique things for us as an implementation partner is we've got the development skills to work with this. But you have your own IT team. So let's talk a little bit about what did your IT team do, because you guys are a little unique. We're not actually using multi site manager. There are some reasons behind that. You can come to the Summit presentation to hear it.

Matt Hall: Yeah, I was going to say, I'm not going to I know we have a slide, I won't release the how or why's, so. (Laughs)

Peter Nash: But talk a little bit about kind of what your internal IT team kind of does for you guys and why what they're doing now. Because the implementation is done. You've already got these sites out there.

Matt Hall: Yeah, I think one of the most interesting things and we go, you know, as we went through the selection process we kept hearing this divide between .NET and Java, right? And I'm sure you guys, with all of the implementations you do, you hear that a ton. Well natively, our IT team is .NET. And we thought that it may be a barrier, of course the stigma on AEM is oh, if you're .NET shop then maybe steer clear. And I think, you know, as we got into it, and really even before we selected an implementation partner and working with you guys, it started to help our IT team open the doors to say, "Look, it really doesn't matter." And having a partner like Axis41, by working together, developers can figure out how to get from our marketing vision and our stewardship to the owner doctors, and of course to their patients. What we want to get accomplished can be done with your Java developers, and certainly our folks and on our IT teams. So yeah, I think, for us, it was just the constant for, as we got into the project, working together, both working in an agile format where we're in sync on the sprints. And for me, like I kind of got to just sit back. And it was funny, Joey and Peter and I were kind of discussing earlier how deep I was involved in the technical side. And at first it was like all right, I'm very hands on. And like my background is the old school management information systems and like I love it. And I could finally kind of separate, as we got going with Axis41 because we were just in sync on everything. And you know, your guys' ability and experience with Adobe Managed Services, setting up the hosting and different server configurations, that stuff we didn't know, but we could rely on you for, right? And you could educate us on. So yeah, it was great. And as you know, we had some integrations with our web services where we needed help from you guys to say all right, how do we get this data into the system so that we can add to that differentiation? I mean anything from office hours, you know, or doctors on staff, or different treatments that different offices do. So we could start to pull that from our databases with your guys' help, and differentiate on the website.

Joey Smith: You know, a lot of that stuff turned into some pretty heated internal discussions about exactly how we were going to develop this thing, and how we were going to build this out. Because it was kind of a unique run at the AEM platform, and some of the decisions that we made. Where early on, Kem Elbrader, who is our Chief Software Architect, he and I and Wick Swain who was the architect on the project, sent a lot of time in meetings just arguing a little bit back and forth about, "No, it's going to be better to do it this way." And you know, it's awesome because I think at the end we really landed on a very powerful solution for you guys. But it was kind of interesting from my aspect to watch those things happen and to say oh, you know what, this is not one, a lot of our AEM implementations, I wouldn't call them cookie cutter, but you know, there's certain pieces that you just don't have to worry too much about. And then in this one we actually got to really get deep down into the internals of a lot of pieces of AEM that we just kind of glossed over in some of our other implementations.

Matt Hall: Yeah, we had a saying that, and again, it's the fun side for me to be like okay, I can kind of picture where this can go. And we had to internally just say, "Well Wick said we could do it." (Laughter) So now I'm going to start throwing in there, "Joey said we could do it." (Laughter) We had a meeting once where Wick left the room and I probably put ten things on his plate just saying "Wick said we could do it." So. (Laughs)

Peter Nash: That's funny. So you guys have I want to talk a little bit more about the roadmap. We'll actually post up the presentation that we give at Summit, it will probably go up maybe a week before this goes out or maybe this will go out before

Joey Smith: And that will get more into the technical details.

Peter Nash: Yeah, we'll dive into some of that. But I want you to talk maybe a little bit about the roadmap. It seems as though you guys have really just kind of doubled down on the Adobe stuff. You drank the Kool Aid and said, "That tasted good, I'll have another drink." Because you already were doing analytics. You've got AEM. Media Optimizer. And are you using Target right now?

Matt Hall: We are, you guys are helping us, yup.

Peter Nash: Okay, and you're also using Adobe Managed Services. So I'm sure there's a few more solutions that Adobe offers that you could go out and buy, (chuckles) but what is joke aside, what's kind of next? Like what is the direction that you guys want to take the web presence next?

Matt Hall: Yeah, that's a great question. We look at this project in three phases. So phase number one was what we called cosmetic. So essentially we had these old sites that all looked the same, that literally had like one piece of content that could be customized. So our first goal is just get better-looking sites. So we

Peter Nash: I think you joked around the monkey, the doctor with the dog, and some flying monkey

Matt Hall: Exactly. And that's exactly what led us to phase two was like all right, how do we allow for customization? Like I said, we have great clinicians who think they're also creative directors. And if we gave them all the flexibility without the framework, we would have I think you know, family pets as hero images, and dancing monkeys as promo boxes. (Chuckles) But yeah, we went back to just saying all right, how do we allow them to customize? And that was the genesis of our phase two which we're currently in with you guys. And really looking at what I would call kind of this push strategy of we have these ideals of what we want to push, this content we want to push to the web visitor. And we think those things are right, but then we need to get into phase three after that to say okay, what is the content that's going to be pulled into the site based on personalizing that experience for the individual user? So it's kind of like phase two of customization helps us satisfy our partner doctors, our owner doctors, and their goals, but then phase three, getting into that personalization really helps us focus on the end user, the customer, the patient. And when we look at roadmap, then we start to see what and this was part of our evaluation criteria in partnering with you guys too, quite frankly is what you've done with other integrations. So as we look at how can we take CRM data from our Salesforce CRM and start to utilize that data to individualize and personalize the content within our regulated industry, right? Health care and HIPAA and all that kind of stuff what data can we take and leverage that to use to enhance the experience digitally for each patient? So of course integrating that into all of our digital communications. We have Facebook pages across all of the offices. We have a platform for that that not Adobe's so I don't know if I'm allowed to say. (Chuckles) Or you guys can edit out that we use Salesforce Social Studio for that. We use Salesforce Marketing Cloud for all of our digital communications from SMS to email.

Peter Nash: Yeah, but the nice thing is, even though it's not the Adobe product, there's still integration points and you use the right tool, the tool that you feel is best for you guys.

Joey Smith: Plus we happen to know that Salesforce uses AEM, so. (Laughs)

Matt Hall: Yeah, exactly.

Joey Smith: It's all good. (Laughs)

Matt Hall: Exactly. (Laughs) Very true.

Peter Nash: One of the neat things that I didn't actually work on this project, but I'm familiar with some of the things that happened is the level of control that you guys can give. Maybe I'll just tease a little bit. The header and footer of your guys' sites are not controlled by the owner dentist. That's controlled by you guys at your level. But the control that you guys built into this to allow them to say okay, well I need to modify this at the state level. I need to modify this maybe at the region level, or at a per city level, or even down to as gritty as this specific location, that flexibility was built in there to allow you to manipulate things where it's most appropriate. And maybe you can talk a little bit about the 495 sites but are there 495 authors who are going into AEM? And what does that look like for updating content?

Matt Hall: Sure. It's an interesting aspect of kind of our business model. So we want to provide that customization, that flexibility because it's an owner dentist. It's like I said, individually named, they're the hometown dentist. They know their market better than we do, you know, sitting in Irvine, California. (Chuckles) So yeah, we have different components of the site that can be authored by people on our team currently. We currently hold that authorization centrally, but as we've done with other systems such as Salesforce Social Studio, we're allowing them, the marketing team so the field marketers like I talked about can be authors for the owner doctors. So they can start to author content and then eventually the next phase would be to take that out to the office level. We are experimenting with some of our owner doctors on that currently. Now there's certainly, again, our concept of flexibility within a framework also means that we have to stay compliant. So like you said, even down to the state level, a disclaimer on getting your teeth cleaned is different. And so how do we give them that ability to author content but also at least align it with the right disclaimers so that we keep them out of

Peter Nash: So you keep them legal. (Laughs) Keep the doors open.

Matt Hall: (Laughs) Yeah, the thing they like worst, I guess, than cavities is probably lawsuits, so. (Laughs) So yeah, there is lot of that content where some of it, and I don't even imagine a time where all of it will be authorable where they can change things that might get them into hot water. Or again, it's interesting, when we launched these websites we talked heavily about analytics, right? And it's like, well, we could make these sites completely different. We also have to rely back on the analytics side. So with the analytics, looking at the analytics to say look, at the end of the day, the owner doctors have asked us to help them with conversion, right? And just like any business model, for us, it's appointments. Pretty simple. Just like a sale. They say we got to get appointments. So yes, you know, Doc, in working with you, we'd love to change this and change that, but the analytics show us that we need this in this spot, and we need this in that spot. And when design goes responsive on mobile, most likely you know, they're having a dental emergency or they're in the car, they can't find you. Those are specific pieces of content that we need to put before your family photo or something like that. We love your family, but you know, map and directions and click to call are a lot more important.

Peter Nash: So Matt, one last thing, and we appreciate you coming in to talk a little bit about this. I think it's good to get the higher-level business reasons why you choose certain solutions over another. We are grateful for your time. I wanted to just allow you to plug. I overheard you mentioning with one of our other employees, some philanthropic stuff that your organization is affiliated with. Maybe tell us a little bit about that to take us out.

Matt Hall: Sure. No, I appreciate you guys having me. I'm stoked to be on the show, you know? (Chuckles) And it will inspire me to get back into code. So yeah, thanks a ton, thanks a ton for having me, and it is fun to hang out with you guys and be out here in Salt Lake and spend the day with the whole team here. So I appreciate that. And yeah, I appreciate the opportunity to share. It's something that's near and dear to my heart. Our company, gosh, I hope I don't botch this, but I think about eight years ago, partnered with an organization called Charity Water. And so Charity Water is based in New York and just a tremendous founder, Scott Harrison who had a passion for third world countries that were literally impoverished based off of clean drinking water. I mean the debilitating fact of dirty water is unbelievable. And it's like, you know, there's villages that spend half a day getting the water, and if you spill it on the way back, you know, the abuse that can happen. And you look at the water that they're collecting is the same water that the livestock are drinking out of and using as living quarters. So they're spending up to a third of their day sick just from drinking the water. So, about eight years ago we looked at getting involved in something was kind of the idea. Certainly our CEO has a heart and passion for giving back. And we wanted something simple. So something, no political affiliation, no religious affiliation, just something simple. And we found that in Charity Water, and the ability to bring people clean water, what that can do for generations to come. And so we've done a ton of work, not just raising funds but getting involved on the ground as well, especially in Ethiopia. So in northern Ethiopia, I used to go annually and now we spend two teams a year now over there. So we're building wells with Charity Water and with an in country NGO. Just tremendously grateful, thankful, beautiful people over there that work so hard to maintain the wells and really build up their micro-economies and just some neat stuff that they're doing. So we've now started a dental clinic over there and helping build the second dental school in all of Ethiopia.

Peter Nash: Wow.

Matt Hall: So really neat stuff. And we've put wells in places like Sierra Leone and Haiti and India, and all across the world now. So yeah, if you're looking for something cool to do, or if it gets to the end of the year and you're looking somewhere to give your money, make a donation. Charity Water is amazing. Scott Harrison's story is incredible.

Peter Nash: What's the URL?

Matt Hall: So if you go to, they're great with social too, so give them a follow and yeah, see the cool stuff. Even just monitor them and see the cool stuff they're doing will inspire you. It will give you a smile, that's for sure.

Peter Nash: (Chuckles) And I think we'll put out a link right up to allow people to hopefully maybe donate as well. Matt, thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us today. And we look forward to working even more with you.

Matt Hall: Cool. Thank you guys, appreciate it.