What differentiates your medical practice’s brand?
You hear the word “brand” thrown around so much that it’s easy to wonder if it has meaning anymore. Should a medical practice have a brand? If so, what is a doctor or a practice administrator supposed to do with it?
First, let’s not be afraid to admit that every organization, whether that’s a professional-services group, medical practice or a not-for-profit, exists to provide products or services (or both). Those products and services must be relevant to the organization’s customers, patients or constituents.
Most importantly, not only those products and services, but the organization’s staff, leadership, ease of access, customer service, cleanliness, even the phone system, must ring as meaningful and delightful in customers’ heads and hearts.
How does an organization relay positive and meaningful messaging that encompasses all of its features and benefits to its existing and potential audiences? With its brand.
Size doesn’t matter. Distinctions do.
You can’t merely say or even prove your product or service is better than most. You have to make consumers believe and feel it. That’s where branding comes in. The most successful organizations usually have a strong brand that clearly differentiates them from all others that provide similar products and services. To put it simply, your brand is your claim of distinction.
Brands are not a function of organizational size or market dominance. Volkswagen is one of the world’s largest automakers, yet Volvo and Rolls Royce are stronger brands (for different reasons), more easily associated with clear distinctions. Volvo = safety. Rolls Royce = luxury. Similarly, Apple computers, Domino’s and Victorinox Swiss Army knives may not necessarily outsell their competitors, but their branding cultivates legions of till-death-do-us-part loyal customers. How?
The first impression must make the choice clear
Specifically, what can be said about a specialty medical practice that is not true about others? In the free market, every healthcare provider faces three essential questions:
- Are you really different?
- Who knows it?
Often – perhaps even most of the time – the smallest of distinctions will build a strong brand. Volvo originally made the branding claim of safety because in the 1980s they were the first European automaker to include seat belts as standard equipment. Does Volvo make the safest car?
In late 2011, Subaru was the first car maker able to say that all its models were awarded Top Safety Pick winners by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. Barely half of Volvo’s nine models got the same designation for 2012.
Yet after three decades of branding itself as the safe car, Volvo still owns the safety category in the minds of car buyers.
The insurmountable train brand
One distinction is all it takes. AdWeek magazine columnist Robert Klara has pointed out Amtrak’s singular competitive distinction against airlines: scenery. Flying to a distant destination certainly takes less time and often costs less than taking a train. So why does passenger train travel still exist outside of commuter trains?
“Like many of the western railroads,” Klara writes, “the Northern Pacific had purchased a fleet of new ‘Vista Dome’ cars after the war, and, as a 1955 [magazine] ad shows in Norman Rockwell-like splendor, passengers of all ages could marvel at a 360-degree view from inside the dome of the North Coast Limited.”
Amtrak carefully times its train schedules so that passengers can see the best western vistas at the prime sunlight of the day. You can’t see the same scenery from an airplane. No way. Now that’s good branding that no multi-billion-dollar airline can top.
In healthcare, often a medical practice will possess a unique distinction in its marketplace. An example might be a particularly advanced radiation technology that has been licensed exclusively to one oncology practice in a city for a limited period of, say, three years.
Such a clear distinction could make for strong branding for as long as the exclusivity lasts – or until the practice can find another technological distinction when the three years are up.
Just to be clear
The good news is that a medical practice doesn’t need an entirely exclusive distinction.
In our nearly three decades of experience in specialty medicine, our clients have succeeded with these distinctions:
- An orthopedics practice with the largest staff of physical and occupational therapists within 100 miles.
- A neurosurgery group that was the first in its home state to offer artificial disc replacements for degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine.
- A fertility practice with a special arrangement with far-flung OB/GYNs willing to monitor induced ovulation procedures so that female patients wouldn’t have to travel far for daily sonograms.
One warning: It’s dangerous to build a brand around a single physician or surgical procedure. What if the physician leaves the group? What if your competitors adopt the same procedure?
The key is broad and durable simplicity. Ideally, you want to say something your practice was the first or is the oldest or has the most of something. Don’t try to build a brand around multiple strengths. Yes, Starbucks sells sandwiches and salads, but its brand is associated with coffee.
Pick your strongest, most lasting and reliable distinction and make that the flag at the top of your mighty ship. And fly the flag everywhere you can. Repeat the message on your office door, your business cards, your website, even on your lab coats. Wear it with pride. Above all, make it stick in the minds of healthcare consumers.