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Publisher’s Note: The Brand’s the Thing


Branding is a lot more than just creating a new logo or Web site. It’s a process that you can use to define the essence of your practice.

A few years ago my physician suggested I have some additional blood tests performed; she was concerned by the results of earlier blood work. I was nervous: Was there a problem? Was I seriously ill?

Later, while having the additional blood drawn, the phlebotomist looked at my paperwork and said, “Oh, you have the same doctor as Cal Ripken.”

Yes, I know the phlebotomist committed a major violation of the retired baseball slugger’s confidentiality. Still, I relaxed. Although I didn’t think of it at the time, that encounter amounted to a brand experience: My physician could never have (intentionally) used her reported association with Ripken to her own advantage, but my discovery of it made me feel more confident in her skills. Surely, I reasoned, baseball’s Iron Man, so known because he never broke down physically, would choose his doctor carefully and wisely.

Which leads me to two questions: First, do you provide patients with top-quality care? And second, do your patients and fellow physicians believe you provide top-quality care? “Brand schizophrenia” is the difference between what you believe is your brand and the perception of your brand in the marketplace, according to marketing gurus.

Take Apple’s iPod as an example. The internal brand - that is, the corporate message, the experience Apple wants consumers to have with the iPod - is cool, multifunctional, easy-to-use. But have you ever been on a cramped airplane when your iPod’s battery died midflight? I have. When I complained, the nice person in the Apple store smiled at me and said that my iPod’s less-than-stellar battery life was my problem. For me, Apple’s brand integrity went down a notch.

A brand is the essence of a consumer’s experience around a product or service. Brand integrity means that a consumer’s experience with a brand is consistent both internally and externally. When your patients see your practice in the way that you want them to see it, that’s brand integrity. A lack of consistency is brand schizophrenia. Why should you care? Because your brand in the market may actually affect your ability to deliver quality care.

Branding is a lot more than just creating a new logo or Web site. It’s a process that you can use to define the essence of your practice, and then decide how you communicate that to the outside world: in the staff you hire, train, and compensate; in the location and hours of your office; in your flexibility in billing and payers you carry.

Yet with a growing physician shortage, your schedules may already be packed. In fact you may be turning patients away. Do you need brand integrity?

For one thing, practices with high brand integrity will have an easier time recruiting and retaining good talent.

For another, you may be able to migrate away from the controlling hands of managed care by integrating cash-only services into your practice. If patients already have a good sense of the experience they will have in your office, they will be more willing to spend their own money.

Practices with positive “buzz” attract more patients regardless of clinical outcomes; consumers choose practices with strong brands in the community because they lack access to other kinds of information. They derive peace of mind from your brand because they are unable to judge your clinical skills.  

In the end, you can decide what kind of practice you can have and what your brand is all about. Just make sure that this is what’s communicated outside of your office.

Ken Karpay is the publisher of Physicians Practice. He can be reached at kkarpay@physicianspractice.com.

This article originally appeared in the November 2007 issue of Physicians Practice.

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