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Building a brand in healthcare is a bit of a funny concept.  Not “ha-ha” funny, but funny that some practice owners simply don’t understand how important it is.  And whether you practice medicine, physical therapy, dentistry, optometry, or something altogether different, the importance of building a brand is all the same.

A brand is a promise.  When you deliver a product or service, consumers want to know 2 things: (1) what they can expect, and (2) how much it is going to cost.  Using those two pieces of information, the consumer can determine if there is enough value present to warrant the purchase (i.e. does what I can expect outweigh the price I feel is reasonable).  And while some will debate that the pricing/cost issue is less relevant in healthcare transactions that involve 3rd party payment, there is no doubt that in order for consumers to know what to expect when making decisions about where they receive healthcare, they have to believe in a practice’s brand – the promise.

Building a strong brand in your community can take a lot of shapes and forms.  From logo design/redesign to advertising campaigns to promotions, building brand recognition can be an expensive proposition.  The good news is that it doesn’t necessarily have to.

Remembering that a brand is a promise, a medical practice, dental facility or physical therapy clinic can build a successful brand simply by articulating a promise, and then delivering on it…over and over and over again.  Here are a few tips for building a brand without a corporate-sized marketing budget.

1. Craft a mission statement and communicate it to your consumers.  A mission statement often forms the essence of your brand as it speaks to your practice’s core identity, and what it is trying to do in your community.  Letting your consumers know of your mission is a good first step towards letting them know what they should expect from your practice.

2. Use scripts.  Ever notice that when you call your cell phone company you never talk to the same person twice but you always hear the same thing?  Without daring to suggest that your medical practice should be run like a cell phone company, there is definitely something to learn here.  The reason you always hear the same thing is because large companies have a lot to lose if their brand gets diluted by consumers not knowing exactly what to expect – so, they use scripts.  Believe it or not, the same is true of your small practice.  If your patients become disenchanted with just one of your staff, your brand can become tarnished because expectations are now in question.  Using scripts to better control (and refine) what is said by your front office staff as well as your providers can go a long way in protecting your brand by ensuring that your patients will experience consistent care no matter who they come in contact with.

3. Tell your patients what to expect.  Again, a brand is a promise, and what better way to communicate that promise than to get literal.  If I walk into a physical therapy practice and I see on the wall that I can expect to (1) wait no longer than 5 minutes past my scheduled appointment time, (2) always be able to get a call back from my provider in the same business day, and (3) always be included in the development of my own plan of care, I will know exactly what to expect and I will feel comfortable holding this practice to those standards.

4. Be nice.  Having a customer-service focus is one of the easiest and most effective ways to build a healthcare brand.  Healthcare is a service industry and the customer should be king (or queen).  If there is any part of your practice that thinks that it is acceptable to ever disrespect, insult, or ignore a consumer, you might as well throw in the towel now.  Just one staff member that doesn’t understand that it is their job to always be nice to your customers can quickly unravel any brand building you’ve done, no matter how much time or money you’ve put into developing and communicating your promise.

5. Be different.  Doing something different for your patients is a very effective way to build your brand in a short amount of time.  I’ve had a lot of cars and have bought a lot of tires throughout my life, but never have I had the experience with buying tires that I’ve had at Les Schwab Tires.  Every time I pull into Les Scwab I am greeted at my car door by a salesperson running out to greet me (that’s right, running – not walking).  This has made an immediate, lasting impression on me because I quickly realized that this company was different.  I’ve yet to receive services anywhere else where I’m greeted by someone running up to help me as I arrive.  My first experience with Les Schwab was 6 years ago and I’ve never bought tires anywhere else, and I don’t expect to.  Les Schwab is different in a way that focuses on me, and it makes me want to see them for my tire needs.  Implementing this same type of difference into a healthcare practice is just a matter of determining how you’re going to treat your customers differently, and then executing on it time and time again.

The importance of brand building in private practice healthcare is tremendous, and it doesn’t have to be expensive.  I’ve outline 5 simple methods for building your brand, and not one of them required a marketing dollar be spent.  In a nutshell: Figure out your promise, communicate it to your customers, and deliver on it – yes, it’s as simple as that.