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By Andrea T. Eliscu, RN
Medical Marketing Inc.
Winter Park, FL
The brand image of names like Nike, Reebok, Coke, Pepsi, Lexus, and Mercedes that triggers an immediate response in your mind is entering the group practice world. It’s a trend that can mean the key to success for your group practice.
Quite simply, branding means developing brand-name identity or image positioning. It’s the process by which you establish and maintain the unique identity that triggers immediate recognition and (you hope) a positive image whenever your name is seen or heard. It’s also the type of mind awareness that predisposes patients and others to choose your practice over another.
Your brand is your personality. It can be a name, design, symbol, or mark which enhances the value of your practice beyond its functional purpose something that distinguishes it from others. Your brand makes a promise. A strong brand is trustworthy and possesses great value. It has meaning, prestige, and presence, and it helps confirm what is expected.
Over time, the added value that accrues from branding is referred to as brand equity. This includes such assets as consumer awareness, perceived quality, and willingness to purchase your product or use your service. In health care, this translates into a willingness to choose to be a loyal patient, to speak highly of a practice, and refer others for reasons of patient advocacy, concern, and clinical expertise.
Branding allows you to build awareness by creating a clear image and recognition for your group. It helps make your patients feel secure and confident that they have selected the right practice for their health care.
However, for a brand to be effective, users must be aware of it. They also must believe it provides a benefit that they want or need, and they must find its performance to be superior to other similar products or services. In short, users must develop a relationship with the brand which makes them feel good about selecting it and continuing to use it. The key to this is consistent, effective marketing.
If you position your practice as unique and as the answer to your patients’ needs, you must market your group’s image (brand) so patients, referring physicians and managed care payers will do business with you.
Is branding necessary in today’s managed care marketplace? Although it’s true that provider choices are often limited, that doesn’t mean branding can be ignored. In heavily competitive markets, it’s more important than ever for leaders to develop and sustain their unique image and identity their brand. This makes it more difficult for competitors to attract new market share by offering new products or services or perceived product or service improvements.
By raising your level of awareness with specific target audiences, you communicate who you are, what you stand for, and your commitment to serve your community. In addition, it is your responsibility to make sure that your customers recognize and can find you. The tools used to accomplish these goals include:
• development and use of a distinctive logo/graphic identity;
• development of community partnerships;
• alignment with power centers;
• patient education;
• development of one-on-one relationships with major employers;
• active involvement with business coalitions;
• development of positive relations with print, electronic and radio media.
Long-term, consistent use of these vital tools will help position your practice for long-term success through branding.
Research shows, for example, that the desire to select the best brand increases when a family experiences health care urgency. The brand of a community cancer center is not particularly relevant to a family under usual circumstances. But if a family member is diagnosed with cancer, that same family becomes much more sensitive as it goes "shopping" for the best brand available to them.
Branding is a lot about building trust between patients, physicians and other community leaders. Obviously, it’s important to maintain quality, service and access, but in addition, you must maximize on existing relationships and move beyond that to those things that matter most to your target audiences.
(Andrea Eliscu is president of Medical Marketing Inc. in Winter Park, FL, and is a Physician’s Marketing & Management board member.)