When you hear the word “branding,” you probably think about companies that sell a product: a car manufacturer, a clothing retailer, an electronics company, and so on. Branding is certainly important to these types of businesses, but did you know that branding is just as important for a medical practice? Your practice is also a business, and you need to treat it like one if you want continued success.
Before we get into branding strategies for medical practices, we want to clearly define the difference between “branding” and your “brand.” For a medical practice, your brand is the way that patients perceive your practice–what they think about and the sentiments they associate with your practice. Branding encompasses the communications and strategies your practice uses to influence patients’ perception of your brand. You want patients to have positive and accurate perceptions of your practice’s brand, so an effective branding strategy is critical to the long-term success of your practice.
When you think of branding, you probably think of things like logos, mission statements, brochures, and other marketing materials. While these items should be included in your branding strategy, they aren’t the only elements you should focus on if you want to create a truly effective brand for your practice.
An effective branding strategy for a medical practice encompasses all of these elements:
1. Your Specialties and Services
What does your practice do well or better than other practices in the area? What do you want your practice to be known for? If you want to stand out, you need to set yourself apart from other practices by focusing on the best things your practice has to offer. What those things are will be unique to your practice. Maybe your doctors have special training in a new, cutting-edge procedure. Maybe you offer state-of-the-art technology that can’t be found at other practices in the area. Maybe your practice offers services that make appointment-scheduling easier for patients, like online scheduling, extended hours, or the ability to fill out forms ahead of time.
Whatever those things are (and there might be several), there is a good chance that there are patients out there looking for those exact specialties and services. Therefore, it’s important that you are aware of where your practice excels before you create your branding strategy.
2. Your Facilities
When patients walk into your office, what will they see? Is it consistent with the way that you want patients to see your practice as a whole? For example, a pediatrician’s office should look child-friendly and unintimidating. The office of a concierge-style practice should convey a sense of luxury. A practice that boasts cutting-edge procedures and equipment should have decor that matches. Old, outdated, worn furniture doesn’t exactly go along with the way that you are trying to brand your practice. At the same time, they don’t really want to see the equipment that the doctors will use to perform the procedures they need–that can be a little intimidating. The idea is to create an environment in your office that matches the way that you want patients to see your practice.
The way you describe your practice in your marketing efforts will create certain expectations in the minds of new patients. If they arrive at your office and your facilities don’t match those expectations, they may be left wondering if your practice really is what it claims to be. It’s all about consistency throughout the entire experience.
3. Your Doctors and Employees
How do your doctors and employees interact with patients? Are your front desk employees welcoming, helpful, and friendly to patients? Do your doctors take the time to fully explain diagnoses and treatment options with patients? Do all employees conduct themselves in a professional manner? All of these things matter when it comes to how patients perceive your brand.
A patient could be completely satisfied with the outcome of the care he or she received at your office, but a rude or negative interaction with one of your employees could make that patient hesitant to return in the future. Patients want to feel that they are being taken care of from the point when they first schedule the appointment and all the way through the treatment process. This is why customer service skills are so important for employees to have. Medical Economics recommends regular training and education for practice employees to make sure that employee attitudes and actions are consistent with the way you want patients to see the practice.
4. Patient Experience
All of the three elements above tie into the patient experience. Beyond that, patient experience really describes the whole of the interactions the patient had with your office. Do your patients leave your office satisfied with the care they received? Did they feel that the doctor really listened during the appointment? Did they feel that the wait time was appropriate? If you keep your patients happy, they will be more likely to recommend your practice to others.
You can do your best to stay true to your brand, but your brand ultimately depends on what your patients think. If you aren’t giving them the experience they expect, you are doing your brand a disservice. That doesn’t mean you have to try to guess what your patients want. Ask your patients to fill out a patient satisfaction survey after the appointment, and monitor your online reviews on sites like Yelp, Healthgrades, and Vitals. These reviews and surveys will give you a better idea of what patients want and whether you are on the right track.
5. Your Visual Branding Elements (Logo, Website, Brochures, etc.)
As we said earlier, those visual marketing elements are an important part of your brand. The right visual elements will be easily-recognizable to your patients. The key is consistency. For starters, your practice should have a logo that you can use on all of your marketing materials. Work with an experienced designer to create a logo that matches up with your branding and looks professional. Your website, business cards, signage, brochures, and any other marketing materials should have your logo.
These visual elements should also convey the same feeling and message that you want patients to experience when they come into your office. For example, it might be difficult for patients to see your practice as “cutting-edge” and “modern” if your website looks like it hasn’t been updated since 2005. All of the components of your branding strategy need to align with each other if you want patients to perceive your practice in a certain way.
You can create the brand you want for your practice if you remain consistent in your efforts. It may require constant work, but the payoff is a brand that your patients believe in and trust.