Many medical practices have accepted the fact that marketing is necessary in today’s healthcare environment. But all too often, that means they’ve created a basic website and opened a Facebook page, posting a few things sporadically.
Unfortunately, there’s often no strategy after that. When you look at promotional efforts and social media postings, it’s not always clear what some practices are trying to accomplish. It’s not easy to choose the best way to market a practice. You have a multitude of objectives to choose from, with dozens of delivery channels, and you’re never able to do everything you want (nor should you).
Many providers have shied away from branding because it sounds too much like promotion. Problem is, whether you want it or not, you can’t avoid a brand image. That’s because your brand image is how others perceive your practice. You can’t stop this from happening, because you can’t hide from your patients. The question becomes not whether to brand your practice, but whether you’re going to define your brand yourself or allow someone else to define it for you.
The fundamental tenet of marketing is to define and establish your brand, in this case, your practice. Without this definition, your marketing and social media have no coherent message. Everything you do must point your audience to your brand essence – what makes your practice special.
A lot of people look at a brand as simply your logo, but the logo is just a symbol of your identity; far more goes into defining a brand – language, values, affiliations, reviews, media coverage, everything you say and how you say it – because a brand is the sum of all perceptions people have of you and your practice.
Every single touchpoint affects the brand image, whether it’s the patient experience provided by the physician and staff, the décor and comfort of your waiting area, your marketing efforts, or interaction with a multitude of other touchpoints that tell them a little more about your practice. You need to manage every one of them because each has the potential to gain or lose patients or referrals.
And, you have to be consistent. For example, if you’re all about quality, every touchpoint should convey quality – your office, your website, your graphic design, your patient experience, your decor.
Building a strong brand in health care is just as important – and may be more so – than any other industry. Because health care is all about reputation and how it affects patients’ – and referring physicians’ – confidence in you delivering on expectations. That, in its truest essence, is branding.
Consumer companies long ago discovered the tremendous advantages of brand building. Strong brands enjoy greater customer loyalty, greater value, greater profitability, greater employee engagement and less turnover. They weather economic downturns better and they are more likely to be afforded the benefit of doubt if needed. What practice doesn’t want all of that?
If you want to see it in dollars, it’s the brand image that largely provides Amazon a market capitalization of $873.9 billion while its book value is just $51.3 billion or six percent of its market value.
I know, you’re not the Everything Store, so how does all this translate to a medical practice?
One, even those specialties that rely heavily on referrals can benefit from a strong brand. After all, referring physicians are people, too. They want consistency, quality, stability and loyalty in their referrals. They want their patients to feel good about the referral. A strong brand image communicates and reinforces that confidence, making those referrals even easier.
Two, we all know the consumer market is changing. Today’s millennial parents view healthcare services, including physicians, differently than their baby boomer parents who rarely question their doctor. Millennials are more likely to research options and expect to participate in decisions. They also are more likely to make purchasing decisions based on brand principles and values. A strong brand gives them the confidence they are seeking as they begin making decisions in an unfamiliar area for the first time. And, lest we forget, they are the future of your practice.
Defining and developing your brand provides a number of other advantages for your practice. Most important, it focuses your marketing, which is critical. Just throwing random messages out to your audience isn’t useful because it confuses people. You have to choose the most important points, the fewer the better, to communicate.
Branding forces you to determine what makes you, you. Differentiation is everything in marketing. What makes this practice the one patients seek? Unique expertise? A unique approach to patient care and/or the overall patient experience? Technology? Services provided? Use what sets you apart to establish priorities as you tell your story. That makes for a more efficient, more effective marketing effort.
We’re bombarded by promotional messages every day – at least 3,000 by most estimates and as many as 10,000 by others.
That volume creates clutter. Contrary to what some marketers seem to believe, the answer to the clutter is not more volume, but a more focused message. For instance, in social media, you don’t need to post five times a day, or even every day. But when you do post, leave your audience with a reason to seek out your next post. Craft a message that’s succinct and shaped to break through the clutter. More substance, more consumer benefit. And, with a purpose.
Attention to branding focuses and prioritizes your marketing, makes your message succinct and purposeful, enabling you plow through the clutter of promotional offers consumers face daily. That focus on what you really are brings practices a lot of competitive advantages: loyal patients, loyal referrals, greater community reputation, greater profitability, and happier employees, to name just a few.
Every practice has a brand, whether they think it’s important or not. And, that brand affects their patient base whether they like it or not. It’s up to you to decide who gets to define it. We think it’s the only way to position for the long term.
Keep an eye out for our next installment where we’ll talk about how to approach that new brand effort in your practice.