By Daniel A. Bobrow, MBA (University of Chicago) & MBA (K.U.L. Belgium)
There is an overwhelming consensus that effectively branding one’s practice is one of the most important practice growth activities in which one can engage. Branding is an ongoing process. Ultimately, it is the extent to which the practice delivers on the promises it makes through its branding strategies that determine overall success, It is, therefore, essential that systems, processes, and expertise are in place to ensure quality And consistency.
To build and maintain a strong practice brand, the practitioner and team must first identify what differentiates them from their competition. Next, the practice will determine its market position. Only when these have been achieved can the practice proceed to decisions concerning the outward expression of its brand, that is, its professional identity. The practice should choose a name and logo that offers memorable simplicity along with consistency and function. It need not be literal, as its purpose is to remind people of the positive experience they associate with your practice. Equipped with a powerful professional identity and market position, you then implement your marketing plan. All tactics comprising your plan should be measured against your positioning statement to ensure consistency with your brand identity. Ongoing monitoring through surveys, and a willingness to continually evaluate all systems and communications, will ensure the strength and vitality of your practice brand.
The goal of Issue VII is to bring some clarity to this nebulous concept known as “branding” and to place in perspective this essential ingredient for creating and managing an effective dental practice marketing plan.
What, exactly, does it mean to build a brand? While there is an overwhelming consensus on the value of building and owning a strong brand, most of us would be hard-pressed to agree on definitions for concepts related to it.
For this reason, all terms requiring a clear understanding of branding and the branding process are hyperlinked to our glossary of terms. I encourage you to consult it any time you want clarification of terminology.
The goal of a brand is to differentiate, that is, to provide current and prospective patients with one or more unique reasons for becoming and remaining a part of your practice. Fortunately, to successfully brand your dental practice, you do not need to be different from every dentist in the world, or even the country, state, or necessarily city in which you practice. Your goal need only be to positively differentiate yourself from those practices with which you compete.
People often equate a brand with a logo. While a logo is an important ingredient to an effective brand, it is but one, albeit a very important one, of a number of methods of conveying the impressions, feelings, expectations, and emotions that comprise your brand identity. Branding is about far more than a neat logo, catchy name and clever ads. It is about everything you do to fulfill the promise of a superior patient experience.
One of the most common misconceptions about branding is that it is something one chooses to create. The fact is that your practice already has a ‘brand.’ The question is the extent to which you control its consistency with your desired message. Branding is an ongoing process, occurring in every interaction between your practice and its various audiences (current patients, prospective patients, referral sources, the media, etc.
Whether one should brand one’s practice reminds me of what author Elie Wiesel said when asked if he believed in Free Will. His answer: “Of course I do. I have no choice!”
Because one’s brand is such an intangible asset, it is often forgotten or ignored. As David A. Aaker points out in his book, Managing Brand Equity, “Everyone understands that, even in bad times, a factory must be maintained…because maintenance needs are visible.” By contrast, the maintenance of an intangible asset, such as your brand, is more vulnerable to neglect, to the detriment of your practice.”
Ironically, it is the very intangibility of a brand that gives it so much value. While individual experiences with your practice are transient in nature (indeed, your services offering will most certainly change over time), your brand is an enduring symbol in the minds of your patients as a unique set of feelings and impressions. This enduring value is also important when it comes time to sell the practice, as it means the goodwill associated with it does not leave when you do.
A strong brand bolsters relationships with current and prospective patients because brand loyalty arises not so much out of rational consideration, but more on the basis of an emotional affinity or personal connection that is typically stronger than any single negative experience.
To illustrate this resiliency, think of a product or service with which you have a strong, positive association. It might be a soft drink or other beverage, an airline, restaurant chain, automobile, or something else. If you should have a negative experience with that brand, for example, a flat, warm 7-Up, a delayed flight, a poorly served meal, etc., you will probably nonetheless continue to have a positive association with the brand in question.
For prospective patients, your brand helps to ‘humanize’ your practice by presenting a face, a personality, in the form of a symbol. This humanizing function can aid in the eventual formation of a trusted relationship, which is the glue that binds your practice to its patients, both current and prospective.
It’s also a great way to ‘immunize’ your practice against being viewed as fungible, thereby securing patient loyalty, as well as a means to consistently attract new patients (not to mention a premium for your services).
Successful branding has benefits beyond the formation of a strong, cohesive, and positive association in the minds of your patients. By articulating what sets you apart from your competition, it can also force you to think about important internal and strategic issues, such as your practice vision, immediate and long-term goals, and professional values.
Your Brand becomes a trusted messenger for your practice, much as your mail carrier is for the USPS. You are favorably predisposed to hearing and considering whatever is being offered. As mentioned, it also helps “immunize” against adverse publicity or experience.
Branding Begins at Home (or the office)
It may surprise you to learn that creating your Brand Identity is actually the second phase of your practice’s brand-building strategy. To successfully portray your practice to your audience, you must first establish what comprises your individuality, in other words, your identity.
Although in marketing terms “identity” is commonly understood to mean the visible symbols of an organization, product, or service, it consists of much more than just a logo, name, tagline, color(s) and type style. These elements are merely the outward expressions of an organization’s core identity, which will, ideally, represent all your practice hopes to stand for. And to identify the practice’s Core Identity, it must identify and express its Core Benefits.
Your Core Benefits are all the positive and important experiences your patients have come to expect from your practice. Opportunities for practice differentiation are limited only by your imagination and commitment, and include the following:
|Needle-less Anesthesia||Patient Comfort
|Digital Radiography||Less Radiation/Able to View Images ‘on screen’|
|Laser Dentistry||Reduced Risk of Infection
Reduced Healing Time
|Snap-On Smile tm Lumineers tm||Cost-Effective Alternative to Other Cosmetic Procedures; Reduced Loss of Healthy Tooth Structure|
|Brite Smile tm Zoom tm||Whiter Teeth Fast|
|Invisalign tm||Straighter Teeth Without Embarrassment|
|Mercury-Free Fillings||Prevents Contaminants|
|No Wait Policy||Convenience|
|Specialists On Staff||Convenience|
Note: create a table similar to this as part of your practice identity exercise
Here’s a Template for you to use in defining your practice’s core values (just fill in the blanks):
OUR PRACTICE’s core values are ___________, __________________, and ____________________. These are values worthy of a great practice, and we believe should serve as anchor points in every decision we make. Our core values provide us with a means of not only guiding, but also evaluating our operations, our planning, our communications, and our vision for the future.
Another great way to differentiate is by creating for your brand a benefit that is “off-core”. What you are looking for is a benefit that is intuitively important to the consumer, but not (yet) generally associated with dental practices in general. An example of off-core differentiation is the commitment at the heart of the strategy of practices, which support Dentists’ Climb For A Cause or some other worthwhile cause, or that offer ‘spa dentistry.’ Still another example is illustrated by the dental practice of Steven Rinaldi, DDS whose Massachusetts-based practice hosted an art gallery in the practice, featuring the work of grade school students. Students’ artwork was hung throughout the office. 180 people attended the showing. This one Event directly resulted in new families joining his practice, notwithstanding the fact that the activity bringing them together had nothing to do with dentistry!
Additional opportunities for off-core differentiation include: education focusing on the links between oral and systemic health, nutritional counseling (e.g. eliminating free radicals through supplements), and diagnosis of risk factors for cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes
Note that today’s off core benefits may become tomorrow’s core benefits: an illustration of the process of brand extension.
In this way, successful brands enjoy “immunity from imitation” because they have created a community based on more than simply delivery of quality dentistry.
Positioned For Success
The next step in branding your practice is crafting your practice’s position. Your position is a kind of abbreviation for all that makes your practice unique within its service area. The goal is to distill this into two sentences, one beginning with “To” and the second with “We are.” For example, our company’s Positioning Statement is:
TO : Private practice dentists in the United States wishing to maintain or accelerate the growth
rate of their practice
WE ARE : The nation’s most experienced full-service dental patient marketing and
communications firm emphasizing transparency, accountability, value, and flexibility,
which constantly strives to exceed our Health Partners’ (Clients”’ expectations
Armed with your Identity and Position, meaning you have identified your one to three core messages, you are now ready to develop your Professional Identity System , which is the outward expression of your Brand.
Key ingredients of your Professional Identity
When developing or revising your professional identity, be sure to keep the following in mind:
People tend to use “shorthand” to summarize and deal with all the external stimuli, so don’t expect people to retain or share detailed descriptions about your practice.
To cut through the communications clutter and leave a memorable impression, one must jettison the ambiguities, and oversimplify the message. This is especially important for clinicians to “get” because so many of them feel the need to explain in minute detail everything about a given procedure, their credentials, expertise, etc. The goal is to lay claim to a single quality, attribute or benefit that no one can – or will – dispute. Examples include: “ouchless” for Curad, “safety” for Volvo, and “fewer cavities” for Crest toothpaste.
Think for a moment about your days in high school. Do certain personalities stand out most in your mind? Do you associate a long, detailed, and subtle description of these kids? Or are your memories a tad more succinct e.g. The Brain, The Jock, The Nerd, The Dork, and The Bully? Right or wrong, fair or not, one of the keys to a successful brand is memorable simplicity. Good, friendly, clean, safe, caring, and comfortable (or perhaps some combination of these) is the “best” you should hope for.
Be certain to apply your brand consistently across all expressions of it as, only through repetitive and consistent exposure of your brand will it achieve and maintain what is known as mind share, that is, retention and recognition by your target audience. Just consider how many times you need to see the same TV commercial before even knowing what they’re selling, and you’ll get the idea.
As you choose the final form for your professional identity, be sure to address such seemingly mundane, but nevertheless important considerations as:
Logo Dimensions: Will it fit everywhere e.g. available signage, website, direct mailings, etc.? If it is too detailed, longer than it is wide, etc. you may have problems placing it where you want it
Color Choices: Be sure color choices are consistent with those with which you presently associate your practice. Select colors that are commonly available, and easily reproduced by your printer.
Backgrounds: Be sure for example, that the colors you have chosen for background on your website, walls in your office, signage, etc. do not “wash out” parts of your professional identity
Access To Artwork: Be sure you have a strategy for storing, accessing, and editing your artwork, as well as resolutions suitable for both print and web applications.
Designers, who are given carte blanche to create your identity, may not give necessary consideration to such ‘real world’ matters as noted above, which can result in a costly, and even unusable, design. Sometimes very important considerations are “hidden in plain sight.” This occurred with a client whose current identity, while professional, failed to make explicit reference to the fact he is a dentist: people we asked thought he was an attorney, accountant, or M.D., but not a dentist. The best prevention for this is to ask people, ideally, those not related to dentistry, to look at your professional identity during its development.
Delivering On The Promise
When your brand succeeds at causing your audience to perceive it as being in alignment with their beliefs, the result will be a desire to join your community, in other words, to make (and keep) their appointment and accept treatment. Once they join, your challenge is to keep them.
Be aware that every time the following occurs, your audience is forming an impression of your brand:
- The manner in which an incoming and outgoing phone call is handled, both during and after office hours
- What patients hear when placed on hold, and how long they are kept on hold
- The time it takes to answer the telephone, and how it is answered.
- The appearance of the Reception Area
- Wait Time
- Handling of insurance, billing, and other paperwork
- Treatment Presentation
- Professionalism, Attitude, and Enthusiasm of the Team
- The appearance of the practice (treatment and reception, lavatories, exterior) and Team
These impressions over time build identification with a certain perception or perceptions that are not only retained by the one who experiences it; they are also communicated to others. Note too that a person will share good news with a few people, and bad news with many. This illustrates the “ying yang” of branding in that the brand generates interest, retention, and positive expectation, your practice experience reinforces these sensations, and viewing the brand reminds the patient of the positive experience. The circle is complete.
Certainly, the quality and consistency of the service you deliver will determine the extent to which your brand may be trusted to supply the promised benefit(s) to current and prospective patients. Only solid business management, and interpersonal and clinical skill can guarantee this. Until a branding strategy is firmly in place, the rest is, at best, a well-kept secret.
Issues 8, through 10 introduce the keys to establishing and maintaining a successful web-based dental marketing strategy.
AIM DENTAL MARKETING
Daniel A. ‘Danny’ Bobrow,