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. In an age when 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 brands and think about how they can stand out from the crowd.
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. Good branding isn’t about what colors your logo uses (Figure 1) or how flashy your website is; it starts with patient experience.
Take time 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 anything else?
- What are the most frequently asked questions your office staff has to answer about surgical procedures? About insurance? About appointments?
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, 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.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE AND YOURSELF
First, consider whom you’re serving. Keep in mind the needs and desires of your prospective patients when building your practice brand. What do they want a doctor’s office to look and feel like? 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 procedures, the risks, surgical outcomes, and the like?
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 (see the sidebar “Know Thyself”). 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 provide 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. 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 effect on how patients perceive you and, by extension, your practice. As the saying goes, “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.
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.
TAKE A THOUGHTFUL APPROACH TO DESIGN
Upon hearing the word design, many people think of architecture, graphic design, or the consumer products we use every day. But design is all around us. Nearly everything you come into contact with—from the newspaper you read in the morning with your cup of coffee, to the coffee cup itself, to the Keurig machine used to prepare it—has been designed.
Design is not limited just to the products we use; it also applies to our experiences. Have you ever attended an incredible concert? Design, in part, was responsible. Have you ever had a terrible experience at the DMV? Design (or lack thereof) played a part.
Design helps us translate the world around us by making unfamiliar experiences easier to comprehend. This is especially important in the medical field, where the average person may be confused about the medical situation he or she is facing, the treatment options available, and what the process of care will look like. You must also factor unique circumstances into the design of your patient experience.
TELL YOUR STORY
Good branding is all about telling an authentic and consistent story. Applied to design, this means that every aspect of your practice must tell the same story. It is a well-understood principle in the design industry that the function of any given object should inform the design of that object. Applied to your practice, this can be done in many ways. If the goal of your website is to attract new leads through content generation, a blog would be an important component. If you want patients to spend a minimal amount of time in your waiting room, then focusing on staffing and patient wait time would be a vital piece of your practice design. Although many physicians don’t think of designing the experience of being in their office, many do consider the design of their website, their business cards, and their marketing. Let’s take a look at some of those elements.
There are certainly best practices when it comes to designing a website with your patients in mind (see the sidebar “Smart Web Design”). We have all visited websites that were hard to navigate, didn’t perform well on mobile devices, or didn’t seem to have the information we were looking for.
Remember that less is more. The simpler it is for patients to find what they are looking for, the better the experience they will have on your website and the more positive they will feel about your brand.
SMART WEB DESIGN
Take time to assess how your practice is measuring up against brand benchmarks you’ve set.
- Make sure your website is mobile-friendly
- Organize information so that it is easy to locate, both within the website and in the top navigation
- Ensure that visual elements and typography are organized in a clear visual hierarchy
- Ensure that all graphics, images, and other visual elements are consistent with your branding, including having a similar color scheme
- Implement clear calls to action so that the patient knows what to do next (ie, is it idiot-proof?)
- Make sure your website’s content easy to understand. If your homepage is filled with medical jargon, you may scare people away. Focus on the benefit to your patients, not on the complicated medical procedures you use to get them there.
Your website is arguably the first and most integral component of your marketing. Chances are, it is the first place that many patients will go to find information about you. However, your marketing channels are a much more comprehensive picture of your practice. Below are some questions to ask when making a holistic assessment of your marketing.
- Are you taking advantage of the different platforms available, or are you marketing via only one channel?
- Is your messaging consistent across all platforms?
- Are you considering the different audiences you are catering to on different platforms? Facebook and newspaper advertisements may be effective media to reach older audiences, but are you attracting the younger crowd on Instagram?
- Is your branding visible and consistent across all marketing efforts?
- Is your advertising measurable? You cannot expect to just throw your marketing out there and hope something sticks. If the most aesthetically beautiful ad that has ever been made doesn’t drive sales, it’s not good marketing; you must have a way to measure the results and make adjustments if necessary.
If you’ve been to one doctor’s office, you’ve been to them all. They’re filled with uncomfortable chairs that cram people together like sardines, old mangled issues of Newsweek and National Geographic on a coffee table, and more than a few patients silently praying that someone doesn’t take the seat next to them. That is the typical waiting room. It is not well thought out. There is no intention or personality. Your appointment is an obligation, not a delight. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Design prompts the question, “Do I want my practice to feel like every other medical clinic out there? What can I do to make this experience unique and memorable?” What if you could make your patients’ visits the most enjoyable part of their day? Of the two waiting rooms shown in Figure 2, which would you rather sit in?
Not only is thoughtful design important when it comes to your website and marketing (digital and otherwise), the design of your physical practice is just as important. As Swartz noted in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, “Poor design may cost you patients.”1 Here are some elements of your physical practice to take into consideration.
- What is a patient’s experience from the moment he or she walks in the door? Do you have a policy in place that dictates how a patient is greeted, establishes what steps he or she must take before being seen for an appointment, and sets goals for average wait time?
- Are your business hours competitive?
- What is your office forms policy? Do patients have to fill them out in the office, or can they complete them online before their visit?
- Do you play music in your waiting room? If so, what type?
- Do you have an option for patients to pay online?
- What is the furniture in your waiting room like? What magazines are on the coffee tables?
THOUGHTFUL DESIGN MATTERS
Thoughtful design takes into account the experience of a product and asks “Why?” to nearly every aspect of that interaction. It may seem silly to so carefully consider all the fine details; you may even be wondering, “Does this even matter?”
Yes, it does. Think of your last visit to the Apple Store. Every Apple Store is, more or less, exactly the same, from the overall layout down to the floor. Next time you visit the Genius Bar, look down: The flooring in all 450-plus Apple Stores worldwide is identical. Not only is it blue sandstone; it all comes from a single family-owned quarry outside of Florence, Italy.
It is important to consider the fine details of your patient experience. If the surgeon down the road is overlooking it, that is an opportunity for you to set yourself apart.
Although many physicians may only think of their logo or their website when they think of design andbranding, good, thoughtful experience design is much more than that. By taking a holistic approach to your practice design, both in the digital and physical realms, you will be able to provide patients with a more thoughtful, consistent, and authentic experience.
ANATOMY OF A GOOD MARKETING STRATEGY
To use marketing to your advantage, you must start by reframing your mindset about marketing. A basic marketing plan follows the framework below.
- Begin with an overarching story (your “why”).
- Develop a specific message about that story (“how” you do “what” you do).
- Analyze the following factors (the “what”): segmentation of your audience, differentiation of your product (price, service, or benefits); and communication of that message. The four primary ways to segment your audience are by geography (regions, states, cities); demographics (age, lifecycle stage, gender, income); psychographics (social class, lifestyle choices, personality); and behavior (occasions, benefits, user status, loyalty status).
The five main ways to differentiate your offerings include product differentiation (different features, performance, or style and design); service differentiation (speedy, convenient, or careful delivery); channel differentiation (the channel’s coverage, expertise, and performance); people differentiation (hiring and training better people); and image differentiation (strong and distinctive image that conveys a product’s benefits and positioning).
I hope I’ve given you some food for thought and that it helps you create or enhance your own practice brand.
1. Swartz J. The doctor’s office: poor design may cost you patients. CMAJ. 1989;140(3):320-321.