Everywhere we go, we’re inundated by brands. With the rise of brands on social media, the prevalence of advertising, and the use of ads to monetize everything we see online, traditional marketing is nearly impossible to escape.
It’s estimated that 2.5 exabytes of information are created online every day (that’s the size of 250,000 Libraries of Congress). And because we’re attached to our smartphones at the hip, even our living rooms are becoming more like Times Square.
In an age where 89% of patients research their physicians online before scheduling an appointment or coming in for a visit, physicians need to take a hard strategic look at their brand and think about how they can stand out from the crowd. It’s time to re-think brand strategy.
But what’s the right approach to take? First, let’s look at some misconceptions about branding.
YOUR LOGO IS NOT A BRAND
The most common misconception when it comes to branding is that a brand is just a logo. When you think of some of the world’s most well-known brands, such as Apple, Nike, or McDonalds, what comes to mind? Their logos.
This is normal. It’s how the human brain works; 80% of all information we consume is processed visually, so when we bring a certain organization to mind, we often think of a symbol (ie, logo) first. For these companies, their symbols have become so inextricably linked with their brand that they’d be foolish to ditch that brand equity.
But that doesn’t mean a brand is a logo.
Some brands have great logos, like Nike or Apple, while some brand’s logos are in your face …
… and others are downright lazy:
Don’t get me wrong—a logo is a tremendously important aspect of your brand, but it’s not your entire brand.
SO, WHAT IS A BRAND?
The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a “name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.”
But I like to go a little further. I define a brand as “the sum total of every interaction, or ‘touchpoint’ people have with your business, regardless of their relationship with your business.”
By this definition, your logo is a part of your brand … as is your website, your name, your practice’s office, your staff, and even small factors such as the average time a patient has to wait before being seen for his or her appointment.
How you answer your phone? That is part of your brand. How your office looks? Also part of your brand. Your practice hasn’t tweeted in 9+ months? Guess what? That is part of your brand.
Good branding isn’t about what colors your logo uses or how flashy your website is; it starts with patient experience, or how people feel when they interact with your business.
It’s also important to note that good branding isn’t just for the benefit of your current patients. Under this definition of branding, your brand is affected by current patients, prospective patients, employees, vendors, and, yes, even complete outsiders. Portraying a consistent, reliable message to long-time patients and outsiders alike is an important part of good branding.
Whether you eat at McDonald’s daily or haven’t had fast food in 3 years, you have a relationship with the McDonald’s brand. And whether you have the newest iPhone 7 or use a prepaid Go Phone, you have a relationship with Apple, because you see the company in a certain way, regardless of whether you use its products or not. Big brands like McDonald’s and Apple understand this, and, as a physician, you should, too.
WHY PRACTICE BRANDING IS IMPORTANT
If we define your practice’s brand as the sum of all touchpoints that patients and potential patients have with you, a more comprehensive approach is necessary. In branding, the name of the game is consistency.
If you want patients to have a good experience with you, your message and experience must be unwaveringly consistent across all touchpoints. There are several steps to ensuring that your brand is exceeding patient expectations and delivering a consistent experience.
First, consider who you’re serving. If your practice focuses primarily on LASIK, you will likely want to focus your attention on a younger audience, most likely millennials. Consider their needs and desires when building your practice brand. What do they want a doctor’s office to look and feel like? How can you use technology to help them through the surgical process?
If your practice is catering toward older generations seeking refractive surgery, the same considerations apply. Will they place a premium on human interaction over the ease of technology? How can you train your office staff to educate patients on their procedure, the risks, surgical outcomes, and the like?
Building a premium lens practice? Plan accordingly so that your message, your materials, the education and rhetoric of your office staff, and everything in between conveys a consistent message. How do your office procedures and educational initiatives support patients so that they feel shepherded through the surgical process, rather than being left to fend for themselves?
We all know these aspects of running a practice are incredibly important, but it’s not often that we sit down and assess how we’re actually doing. It is advisable to conduct a practice audit at least once a year (or more frequently if you can handle it). Take a few hours to assess how your practice is measuring up against brand benchmarks you’ve set:
• What are patients saying about your practice online?
• What feedback has your staff been receiving?
• Are there any points at which practice-patient communication breaks down?
• What do patients not understand about your practice, their surgery, or ________________?
• What are the most frequently asked questions your office staff has to answer about surgical procedures? About insurance? About appointments?
By collecting real data about your practice and the unique challenges it faces, you’ll be able to see how you’re measuring up to the goals you’ve set to convey a consistent message and a consistent experience.
WHY PERSONAL BRANDING IS IMPORTANT
Whether you’re the sole ophthalmologist at your own practice or one on a team of many, personal branding is another crucial factor that plays into practice branding. From day 1, you’re selling.
Too many people don’t realize the impact that their actions, words, and lifestyle have on the places they work and, in turn, live their everyday lives without thinking about how their actions reflect on the organizations they represent. The way you treat people (both in and out of your practice), how you communicate, the messages you tweet—all of these elements have an impact on how patients perceive you and, by extension, your practice. As they say, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This is especially true in personal and practice branding because you never know when someone is watching.
Remember how I said that you have a relationship with Apple, even if you don’t use Apple products? The same is true for your prospective patients: They have a relationship with your practice (via their thoughts, feelings, and perceptions), regardless of whether they’ve come in for surgery or not.
Just like that new iPhone 7 billboard hanging above the freeway is a touchpoint for Apple, you are a touchpoint for your practice. The people you come into contact with on a daily basis are interacting with your brand, although they may not know it! Even if you’re one of many ophthalmologists at a larger practice, you are still your own brand, and, as we learned before, every touchpoint matters.
A FINAL NOTE
Brands are incredibly comprehensive. They are composed of every interaction potential consumers have with their people, their products, and their message, and, in order to make the most impact, every piece of a brand has to function correctly. Take some time to evaluate and “audit” your brand, identifying strengths and areas for improvement.
Author’s Note: In the next issue, we’ll take branding a step further and explore design through the lens of patient experience. We’ll cover website design, messaging, the psychology of good design, and more.