Branding is just for companies that create consumer goods like soda and cars? Wrong. Practices need to worry about branding too.
So what is your brand - and what do you want it to be? It may seem like an unusual question for medical practice owners and managers. Isn't branding primarily for consumer goods like soda and automobiles? Does this kind of commercial notion fit in healthcare? While marketers at big companies like Coca-Cola and BMW are masters of branding, the idea of a brand applies to any organization, not just businesses pushing products.
Political parties have brands. Charities have brands. Universities have brands. Even individuals have their own brands. And whether you have set out to create one or not, your practice has one, too.
Your brand isn't just what you say your practice is about. Your brand is about your relationship with your patients, and the emotional response they have to your practice. You can influence it through branding efforts, but the patient ultimately decides his perception based on his own experience. Does the patient's perception match up with yours? That's the sort of question you should think about as you consider how to define and promote your practice brand.
Here are four ideas that can help you meet your goals for branding, while minimizing wasted time, money, and effort.
1. Prioritize consistency: Building a brand - much like your personal reputation - is largely about reliability. If your goal is to establish a brand that's about, say, convenience or innovation, back that claim up with corresponding actions that are meaningful to your patients. For example, a pediatric practice that offers busy parents early morning or evening hours is 'walking their talk' about convenience. When your services align with what you say about your brand, the two reinforce each other in patients' minds. Conversely, if your promotions are inconsistent with what patients experience, there's a good chance that disconnect will make patients feel worse about your brand.
Consistency in your communications is a time and money-saver. Develop a logo and color scheme that relates to the image you're aiming to convey, and use it in all your materials: letterhead, website, brochures, and signage. Repeating your logo and color scheme is the shortest path to memorability (and shorter means less effort and money). Make a strong visual impression that conveys your branding goals, and combine it with an experience that matches.
2. Seek feedback: To be sure the reality of your brand matches up with your intentions, you'll need honest feedback. The good news is that it's easier than ever to get.
Online reviews are a good starting point. Many practices discount the feedback offered online. However, patient reviews can reveal genuine issues that negatively impact your brand. This gives you an opportunity to fix them. Fixing these potential issues will help you stay on track if you're trying to build a brand that represents excellent service and accessibility.
You can also solicit feedback from your patients with surveys. And don't forget that other physicians who work with your practice (and their staffs) may have valuable input on how your services match up with what your brand promises.
3. Don't try to be and do everything. For physicians that have long sought to be the very best at everything they do (and often come close to it), it can be hard to resist the idea that their practices will fulfill every desire a patient might have from their specialty. However, it's likely you feel dubious when a person or organization tries to tell you they're able to do everything equally well - and it's no different for patients. What's more, when you promote the idea that you're great at everything, you make it hard for patients to remember exactly what's most special about your practice.
Narrow your brand messages down to a few key attributes that represent the service you want to provide. That will make your message clearer. You'll have a better chance of standing out and delivering on your brand's ideals.
4. Make time to regroup and refresh. When you go through the process of introspection and investment required to commission and evaluate logos, website designs, and other marketing materials, it's natural to feel a sense of completion. But branding is never really done. Over time, the way you think about your brand will gradually evolve. Design trends will, too. Make a point of taking a fresh look at your brand and marketing at least every five years or so, to be sure your materials represent who you are today.