Establish brand identity to unleash your practice’s potential

May 1, 2014

Ever recount your favorite Super Bowl commercial with a friend after the big game? Or see the golden arches and think about a burger? And who would have thought the silhouette of a fruit would be synonymous with the rise of a smartphone? Well, behold the power of brand identity.

 

Melanie Palm, M.D., M.B.A.Ever recount your favorite Super Bowl commercial with a friend after the big game? Or see the golden arches and think about a burger? And who would have thought the silhouette of a fruit would be synonymous with the rise of a smartphone? Well, behold the power of brand identity.

How often do you think of your practice “brand”? For most of us, the answer is probably not often. Two years ago, I thought a lot about this question as I opened the doors to a new practice and finally put my MBA to the test. Brand identity plays a foundational role in the marketing plan, economic growth, and community awareness of a practice. For a physician, determining the meaning of their “brand” is key to unleashing the full potential of his or her practice.

Brand identity encompasses the vision of an organization as well as its culture, products and associations. Brand identity is your communication to the outside world, and the basis as to how you are perceived by others. Tom Rohrer, M.D., partner at SkinCare Physicians of Chestnut Hill, Mass., echoes this principle. Over their 14 years of practice, Dr. Rohrer notes that their practice mission and vision have not changed.

“We build consensus and make decisions that are unanimous and good for the practice,” he says. Their mission to provide unparalleled dermatologic care is encapsulated in “shorter mantras that are easier for all of us to remember on a daily basis,” Dr. Rohrer says.

Building brand loyalty

According to Tracy Drumm, vice president of IF Marketing, the most important brand associated with a medical office is the physician (and their staff). 

“It is ultimately up to the individual practice to define their identity, or you ultimately let your patients and market define it for you. Practices best positioned for success proactively decide how they want patients to feel when they come to the practice and how they want to be remembered,” she says.

Fredric Brandt, M.D., founding director of Dr. Brandt Dermatology Associates and creator of an eponymous skincare line, recognizes the value of fostering the patient experience.

“We’ve tried to stay true to our mission of providing the highest grade products with in office benefits for home use,” he says.

Building strong brand loyalty requires some introspection. What do you value? How is your practice positioned compared to others in the community? What makes the physician(s) or practice unique? Who do you wish to target?

For new practices, asking these questions early on builds a consistent brand over time. For established practices that have not considered brand equity, Ms. Drumm suggests refocusing on what the market (i.e., the patient) needs in order to best strengthen brand identity to the intended audience.

 

Next: Setting the foundation 

 

Setting the foundation

As a new solo practitioner, I had the good fortune of developing brand identity simultaneously with other initial steps in opening a dermatology office. For example, as the architect of my website, I composed the mission, vision and guiding principles for my practice. This not only communicated to patients my practice culture, but also created the building blocks for my brand. Creating a practice name flowed from my vision. Art of Skin MD and the accompanying logo represented the art of medicine, my passion for dermatology and the credentialing of a specialized and board-certified physician.

Mature practices desiring to improve brand identity can still perform a similar exercise, re-evaluating the values and culture of the office and following a checklist to ensure that branded practice materials related to the practice are consistent and on message. Busy practices may elicit the help of a practice consultant to aid in this process. Many practices use a hybrid approach.

Tina Alster, M.D., founding director at the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery, used an outside consultant only for logo development.

“Otherwise, all creative work has been performed in house under my direction,” she says. Dr. Alster tailored her brand identity over more than two decades to reflect the expanding field of laser surgery in medicine and her practice.

When a strong brand identity is established, all aspects of the practice reflect these values. Marketing materials complement the website which is a reflection of the clinical space and the clinic’s work culture. A seamless transition occurs between virtual presentation of a practice and the reality of the clinical experience. Consistent branding is achieved when patients express that the office “felt” like the website.

So how often should brand identity be re-evaluated? The answer depends on the practice, but revisiting practice tenets is key. Drs. Brandt and Rohrer report monthly review of branding and the practice mission, while Dr. Alster reappraises the brand mission upon hiring new associates “to keep things contemporary.”

The take home is this: Change in the practice landscape is inevitable, but a strong mission and vision is the key to an enduring brand identity.

 

Read more marketing and branding blogs by Dr. Palm