August 6, 2018
By Michael D. Shaw
The invaluable Online Business Dictionary defines “branding” as: “The process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers’ mind, mainly through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers.”
Many years ago, it was considered unethical for professionals such as attorneys or physicians (as well as hospitals) to advertise. Instead, you were supposed to build a reputation, often by toiling as the low man on the totem pole in some sort of group practice. After a while, a more senior individual would die or retire, and you would move up the ladder, or–in frustration–you would leave to start your own shop, and very subtly inform clients/patients of this, hoping that they would move with you.
In the same era (before Medicare and the proliferation of group health insurance), people chose a doctor based largely on recommendations from trusted friends or relatives. As such, many physicians became active in all sorts of local community service organizations and engaged in networking–before it was called “networking.” Resources to determine quality of care were extremely limited, and it was quite a challenge to take any ownership of your own healthcare. You had little choice but to trust your doctor implicitly.
What branding that did take place then consisted mostly in carefully building a community image as the compassionate, all-knowing healer. A small number of savvy physicians did exploit media, but there were few outlets, and infrequent opportunities.
Fast forward to the present, and healthcare being controlled by third party payers. In some specialties, non-covered elective procedures can be offered to create additional revenue, but this is the exception. The more general business model is to ensure that you have a busy practice, so that you can see lots of patients and bill accordingly.
Fair enough, but why should a prospective patient pick your practice in the first place? Numerous websites offer suggestions regarding how to pick a doctor…
- Ask people you trust for a recommendation.
- Choose a convenient location, if possible.
- Check insurance coverage.
- Use available resources to check the quality and reputation of the office. Medicare’s Physician Compare tool; and these physician rating sites can be helpful.
- Cold call the office. You can determine a lot by the way your initial call is handled. How soon can an appointment be scheduled?
- Don’t be afraid to take that first appointment, and if you get bad vibes, find someone else.
Now, from the other direction, how should physician’s offices market their practices? That is, how can they create a brand? Physicians Practice details “10 Strategies to Market and Promote Your Medical Practice.” Most of these involve community outreach and treating the patients with respect and compassion. Healthcare Success gets more into the nitty-gritty of marketing.
We can generalize a bit, and also discuss how hospitals should market themselves. In April, 2013, Becker’s Hospital Review posted an interesting piece entitled “5 Retail Principles for a More Effective Hospital Market Share Strategy.” The article quotes John R. Thomas, CEO of Irving, Texas-based MedSynergies: “It’s time for providers to switch from the mindset of ‘What should we do?’ to one of ‘What do our patients need?’ when creating a strategy to boost their patient base.”
As to the five principles…
1. Emphasize convenience.
2. Identify and meet distinct local market needs.
3. Be proactive in patient outreach.
4. Adopt a customer opportunity perspective.
5. Disrupt the notion of “patient loyalty.” Patients and doctors face multiple pressures that could cause them to go elsewhere.
But, there’s at least one more component of branding, and that is creating a logo. Yes, this is important for any healthcare enterprise. A good medical logo can…
- Increase brand awareness
- Help build trust
- Make your office/clinic/hospital stand out from the crowd
I recently caught up with Janil Jean, Marketing Director for LogoDesign.net, and I’ll give her the last word:
“The most iconic healthcare organizations also have logos that are icons unto themselves. From Blue Cross to Blue Shield, from the American Red Cross to the white-on-blue H symbol for a nearby hospital, logos do more than denote a purpose–they connote a principle about excellence and integrity. So yes: The right logo is as important to the health of a medical practice or an insurer as it is to the services each provides.”