Creating A Clear Brand Identity For Your Practice

brand-identity

Creating a clear brand identity is fundamental to developing a strong brand. The brand identity is what you want your patients to experience. It represents the ideal delivery of the brand proposition, and as such, is the foundation for a differentiated brand position.

The Difference Between Brand Identity and Brand Image

Brand-Identity-ChartBrand identity and brand image are often confused. The brand identity represents the ideal experience you believe your best patient would like to receive, the image is what patients perceive and actually experience. In other words, your practice’s image is created in the mind of your patient; it is their interpretation of all the messages, images, ideas, and sensations that are associated with your brand. The closer your brand image is to your brand identity the better you have been able to establish the ideal meaning with your primary patient audience.

When establishing a new practice, you have the opportunity to create an ideal brand identity to guide how you train your staff and how you use communications to position your brand. If you have an established practice and want to formalize and refine your brand, you need to first understand your current brand image. A short survey of your staff and patients can provide valuable insights on what your practice image is. Once understanding your practice’s current image, you can develop messaging strategies and staff training that brings the brand delivery closer to the ideal identity.

A Meaningful Brand Identity Begins With the Patient
A strong brand fulfills the specific needs of it’s target audience better than any other alternative. Respecting and understanding the physical and emotional needs of the patient allows you to craft a brand identity that is both relevant and resonates.

The dental practice brand your patient chooses makes a public statement about what the patient values, as well as satisfies an emotional need the patient may have. If you choose to specialize in pediatric dentistry, the public expression of the parent’s selection of your practice may suggest he/she wants only the best possible care for their child’s dental needs. The internal or emotional reason for selecting your practice is the reassurance and personal satisfaction of making the best possible choice in care for their child.

If you have an existing practice and want to strengthen your brand appeal, think of the needs of your ideal patient–the patient that receives the most from your service and is the most profitable. When launching a new practice, profile the type of patient you would most like to help. Think about the demographics as well as the socio-economic status of this group. Visualizing both current and prospective patients will allow you to develop an appealing brand vision and proposition for your practice.

A Strong Brand Vision Provides Ongoing Direction

The brand vision is the desired state you are constantly pursuing for your practice. The vision should be a description of the future state in terms of the essence of the benefit you would like for your brand to deliver. It should articulate a realistic, credible and attractive aspiration for the brand or a better state or condition for your patients.

The vision for Ford Motor Company is an example of a good vision. Henry Ford’s vision was to “build a car his own workers could afford to buy.” At the time, automobile affordability was the biggest obstacle to category expansion. Today, times have changed, but the Ford Motor Company continues to strive to build the best, most affordable automobiles on the road.

An example of a bad vision was the one that NASA first developed, “To be first to put a man on the moon.” Once NASA achieved that feat, the logical question was what’s next? A better vision might have been the one created for Star Trek, “To go where no man has ever gone before.” The Star Trek vision is both aspirational and directional. So the vision needs to guide the ongoing value you seek to provide your patients. Once you are able to articulate your practice’s vision, you are ready to develop a brand identity that delivers this essence or meaning to patients in an ongoing and purposeful way.

Dimensions of Brand Identity
A brand’s identity can be divided broadly into tangible and intangible benefits.

Delivering tangible benefits with excellence are critical to establishing a strong image during the first 12 to 18 months of a new brand launch. Intangible benefits are established over time based on the consistency of the experience. Intangible benefits include the personality and relationship you and your staff establishes with the patient, and how these dimensions engage the patient on an emotional level.

Delivering Tangible Benefits
The positioning of your practice is the first step in delivering tangible benefits. Positioning represents the unique benefit your practice brand brings that no other brand brings to a specific patient type and within a specific category of practice.

Category Association. The category you have defined for your practice (general dentistry, cosmetic dentistry, pediatric dentistry, etc.) is the first thing you want to clearly establish for your practice. The category establishes your brand’s relevance to the patient. Companies that introduce new products or services into a marketplace want to own all of the benefits associated with the category. For example, Kleenex brand tissue, is synonymous with facial tissue. Google is synonymous with online search. If you choose to specialize in pediatric dentistry, your brand communications as well as your decor will set expectations and anticipation of the experience associated with that category of dentistry.

Quality Association. Quality is one of the most important attributes for creating brand equity. The quality of your dental work is delivered not only by the quality of dental care, but also by how you create expectations of the outcome and any follow-up you might have with the patient after the office visit. The higher the perceived quality of your dental work, the stronger the brand image and the price-value perceptions the brand will establish early-on in the brand’s lifecycle.
Importance-of-Tangible--Intangible-Benefits

Service Association. The mannerisms of the staff and your professionalism in providing care will communicate the quality of service your brand offers. For example, are you or your staff readily accessible if the patient has a problem? And what quality of response do you provide when called? e.g. advice over phone, emergency appointment, etc. Follow-up calls to see how the patient is doing after an office visit also provides cues that reinforce a patient memories of the quality care and service your brand delivers. High service levels, like high quality, are fundamental benefits that will define your practice while you are working to build intangible values for your practice.

Delivering Intangible Benefits

Intangible benefits are created through consistent performance over-time.

Brand Personality. The brand persona or personality is one of the most effective way to establish relevant intangible value. Think of the kind of person you would want your office to exemplify as the first stop toward creating a brand personality for a new practice. How does that person behave? What is the tone of their voice? What are their mannerisms? Are they passionate, friendly, creative, caring, etc.?

If you have an existing practice, ask employees what type of famous person they believe would best describes your practice. The important part of this question is not necessarily what person they associate the practice with, but rather why they selected the person. They why will give you the characteristics that best helps define your practice’s personality.
Brand Culture. A brand’s culture is an important part of its DNA. The culture represents the values of your practice, as it is a source of inspiration and energizes the brand. Culture defines important intangibles like being patient-centric in behavior, being respectful, delivering the highest level of professionalism. Patients may not be able to express the importance of your culture to their loyalty, but it is important. Chick-fil-la has a very strong brand culture. When you make a request of anyone of their staff, the response is always “My pleasure.” They have a culture of not only providing great service, but delivering it with a great attitude. What types of behaviors would you want to be associated with your brand?

Brand Relationship. Do you desire to have a close relationship with patients? Do the majority of your patients need a closer, more nurturing approach to overcome fears associated with dentistry? Some patients may like a close relationship, while others are happy with a more distant, but professional relationship. The relationship felt between customer and brand is often a major differentiating factor in service industries and often leads to referrals. And, a close relationship with some patients may begin with online communications, especially younger web savvy ones. What is important is to determine what type of relationship you desire to have with patients and consciously select communication approaches and train staff to cultivate this type of relationship naturally.

Brand Symbol. A strong logo and associated color can be an excellent way for your practice to deliver memorable, intangible meaning. The Apple computer logo is taken from the story of Adam and Eve and the bite from the apple represents the fruit from the “tree of knowledge.” Likewise, the Nike swoosh signifies speed and is taken from Nike the winged Greek goddess of victory. Color can also become an important association for your practice symbol. Maybe the most famous brand associated colors is that of John Deere green. If you having an existing practice, can the practice name be modified to include a symbol to reinforce the image you desire to have with current and prospective patients? If you are starting a new practice, creating a distinctive logo is a great opportunity to deliver important intangible meaning right from the start.

Summary
Developing a clear, purposeful brand identity takes some thought, but is the most effective and efficient way to create the type of brand image that will attract the best and most profitable patients to your practice. Plus, a strong brand identity is critical to differentiate your practice and create a foundation for extraordinary long-term growth and profitability.

Jim Cobb

Jim Cobb is the President and CEO of Howard/Merrell, a full-service brand development company. He has over 30 years of experience developing business and brand strategies for both consumer and B-2-B companies. His clients have included Johnson’s Baby Products, Kimberly-Clark, Stihl, Scott Paper, ReSound Hearing Aids, BB&T Bank, Bausch & Lomb, BASF and Georgia-Pacific. Prior to joining Howard/Merrell, Jim worked for Exxon, USA managing dealer marketing. Jim received his BS degree in Business Administration from Barton College and his MBA from the Babcock Graduate School of Management at Wake Forest University. 

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