After graduating high school, he spent four years in the Coast Guard stationed in Washington, DC. From there, he moved to San Francisco and started his first company at age 21: Slomocup. The product was a plastic cup molded to look like the double-stacked cup that many hip-hop artists have used to drink "lean." It went viral in the hip-hop community and ended up being resold by major names like Lil Wayne, Young Thug, and Juicy J.
After Slomo's success, he took a year to himself living in Japan. When he returned, he knew he wanted to start another company. And it was a chance trip to the doctor that gave him the inspiration.
"Actually this all started because I needed surgery myself," Cal Marshall says. "I found a doctor on YouTube, but what I realized from the experience was man, these doctors have no idea how to market themselves online."
So Marshall founded Burger Media, with the intention to do something no one else had: apply modern social media & digital marketing techniques - the same ones he'd used to grow Slomocup to internet fame - to plastic surgeons.
At first glance, the idea of turning plastic surgeons into Instagram influencers seems far fetched. Medical practices get patients from referrals and Google ads, and if they do have a social media presence, it tends to be a small one. Most of the surgeons Cal Marshall reached out to saw social media more as a time waster than a revenue opportunity.
Making an Influencer
When Cal Marshall a.k.a @Calcaliente sent a DM to Dr. Christopher Khorsandi, the Las Vegas-based plastic surgeon had already been dipping his toes into social media. Khorsandi had managed to grow his Instagram account to around 20,000 followers by making satirical memes about plastic surgery, but he knew he could do better. And he had a feeling Marshall could help.
"We got on a phone call and ended up talking for two hours," explains Marshall. "He's a forward-thinking guy and really understood the potential in Instagram marketing - our goals matched up perfectly."
Marshall, with his background in the hip-hop world, brought a marketing approach that had never been tried in the plastic surgery industry. He worked with Khorsandi to develop a format of 1-minute infotainment videos that showed plastic surgery procedures in full detail, taking viewers through every step of the process.
But instead of creating traditional, dry medical documentation, Marshall took an editing and aesthetic approach that felt closer to MTV than to a medical textbook. The focus was on patient education, but adapted to fit the tastes of more modern, millennial viewers.
The results were explosive.
With the help of Marshall's new approach to marketing, Dr. Khorsandi's Instagram account, @DocVegas, skyrocketed. The content generated hundreds of thousands of views and netted Khorsandi tens of thousands of new followers. As of now, his following stands at 175,000.
Giving Plastic Surgery a Facelift
Cal Marshall had turned Khorsandi into a bonafide influencer. But it didn't stop there: the approach they developed has revolutionized the industry.
"Most doctors were reluctant at first, but eventually they couldn't ignore the numbers," Marshall explains.
And with good reason. Cal Marshall's approach isn't just about celebrity, it's also translated to big business for Khorsandi. Khorsandi now regularly brings on new patients through his Instagram inbox. Whereas he might have to pay hundreds of dollars for a qualified lead through other channels, the only cost with Instagram is the content production itself. This has brought his cost per lead down to record lows. Marshall's approach may have seemed far-fetched at first, but it makes business sense.
Whereas only a few years ago most plastic surgeons wouldn't dream of spending money on an Instagram account, social marketing is now a standard line item in a practice budget. Doctors all over the country have followed Khorsandi's lead, using a similar content approach to build followings in the tens of thousands. It's also helped bring plastic surgery out of the taboo and into the mainstream, with hashtags like #breastaugmentation and #fillers (two popular plastic surgery procedures) generating hundreds of thousands of posts.
"At this point, this type of marketing approach is pretty much ubiquitous in plastic surgery," he says.
It's also spreading beyond plastic surgeons, with Marshall leading the charge. Burger Media has started taking on clients from adjacent industries like medical devices, applying the same consumer marketing strategies to repackage capital goods in a new light.
"People will spend $5,000 on a watch, but then when they go to buy a $250,000 machine, there's no sex appeal at all," he explains. "What we do is repackage these products to make them more appealing, more Apple-esque."
Cal Marshall's renegade approach to medical marketing has turned the plastic surgery industry - and now even adjacent industries - upside down. But for his part, Marshall is just getting started.
"The success we've had in aesthetics has been fantastic," he says, "but now we're looking to diversify."
In addition to medical device companies like Inmode Aesthetics and Cherokee Uniforms (the largest provider of scrubs in the country), Burger Media has taken on new clients ranging from MGM to Nascar. But while the industries are changing, Marshall's approach stays largely the same.
"What we do, fundamentally, is make brands cool. And if we can do that with plastic surgeons and medical devices," he chuckles, "well, there are certainly a lot more opportunities we want to explore."
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