Market your brand to stand apart

October 21, 2005

A brand is not just about a well-orchestrated campaign. It is about the day-in and day-out experience that patients have with your practice.

But what comes to mind when your patients think about your cosmetic surgery practice's brand? Do you even have a brand? Are you actively and effectively promoting it to current and potential patients?

According to Tom Downs, president of Thomas E. Downs and Associates, Indianapolis, the brand of a healthcare practice is "all about the patient's experience interacting with every aspect of your practice."

Importance of a brand

Companies in just about every industry struggle in today's economy to find new and different ways to distinguish themselves from competitors. Mr. Downs says the healthcare industry is no exception.

"Healthcare practices are especially susceptible to falling into the 'me, too' category and (being) viewed almost as a commodity with no real differences between practices, other than the personality of the physician," he says.

But in today's environment, in which physicians join a larger group practice which then could merge with another group, he says, "The brand becomes less about individual personalities and more about the character or brand of the practice as a whole."

According to Mr. Downs, physicians who understand the importance of branding are head and shoulders above the rest.

"Recognizing the need to establish a brand presence for the practice will place it light-years ahead of other groups in the marketplace," he says.

Discovering a brand

The first step is to identify your brand. To do so, Mr. Downs recommends partnering with a marketing agency that specializes in branding.

"Partnering with someone you can trust with your brand is critical," he says. "The typical surgeon has neither the time nor the expertise to try to accomplish it alone. An agency that truly understands brand development and is not just creating advertising is the key."

He points out that branding is not about logos or slogans and not just about an advertising campaign. It's common to confuse "brand" with "logo," but, Mr. Downs explains, "The logo is what you see; the brand is what you think."

A brand cannot be created; it is discovered. As an example, he cites the reputation that Maytag appliances have for needing few or no repairs.

"Maytag did not create that brand image and then hope it was true. In a world of sameness, they discovered that reliability is what set them apart in the appliance industry, and that is their brand," he says.

To help dermatologists discover their brand, he recommends that the practice go through a brand assessment - something he considers critical for successful brand development and launch - with its partnering branding agency.

The assessment includes comprehensive interviews of the physician, employees, patients and suppliers.

"These interviews reveal a lot about the core values of the brand, and discover the differentiator(s) that can be used to market the practice," Mr. Downs explains. "We also look at competitors and their approach to the market, so we can be certain to present a unique brand that is marketing a different message."

Being different is important because a brand "is a claim of distinction," Mr. Downs says. It's what helps consumers decide between two similar choices when making buying decisions.