It’s 10 a.m. and you’re craving a cup of coffee. Right across the street, all lined up in a row, are Tim Hortons, Starbucks and McDonald’s. Which do you choose – and why?
I have presented many seminars and workshops where I start with this “coffee choice” scenario. The Tim Hortons devotees choose to go there because they associate the brand with convenience and serving a good cup of coffee at a fair price. For the Starbucks crowd, they are fine with paying a little more for a premium cup of coffee. They get an experience which helps them boost their own image simply by carrying that iconic white and green cup around town.
McDonald’s is usually the loser in my audience opinion poll. People comment on how it is a very good cup of coffee, convenient to get and you can’t beat the price – especially when it’s free. But even with the McCafe experience, people still associate McDonald’s with “Would you like fries with that?” It’s a prime example of the power of branding – and how “brand perception” can really make or break business goals.
While the coffee business these days is very competitive, so is the world of optometry. Let’s face it: In most cities, you don’t have to look too hard to find an optometrist office. Dr. John Eye Doc Doe, Main Street Family Optometrist and Optometry on Main, like the coffee shops, are situated there in a row, competing for your attention.
Now more and more optometrists are realizing that an effectively branded practice is a key component to their success. Branding is a crucial tool when launching a new office, growing your existing practice or getting your practice ready to deliver a larger sale price when it comes time to retire.
What is a brand?
It’s the personality your practice would have if it were a human being. It’s what people think of when they hear your practice name or see your logo. In the consumer’s eye, the expectation is for you to provide great care on the clinical side of things. Do you project the image of a progressive-minded practice and what is your patient experience? Effectively branding your practice is about effectively communicating who you are as a practice to set yourself apart from the competition.
Ignite your practice brand
Just like you want a strong foundation to build your home, you want a strong foundation upon which to build your marketing. After all, everything you do to market your practice is an extension of your brand. There are three key areas to consider to effectively brand your practice:
1. Your name
Just using your name to identify your practice does very little to tell people anything about what you are as a practice. It also says nothing about where you are located, the type of services you provide or anything about the patient experience customers can expect. Cobblestone Family Optometry immediately speaks to the young families living in the Cobblestone Plaza neighborhood. Also, today communities comprise a mixed cultural diversity and keeping last names out of the practice name also keeps the practice culturally neutral.
2. Your logo
It’s important to have the right look for how your practice name is presented. Just like the Apple or the Nike swoosh, you want a logo that your customers will associate immediately with your practice and thus be able to share the emotional reaction to the brand.
3. Your website
Nowadays, many buying decisions including healthcare choices are made on the Internet. Your brand must translate well on your website. Image is everything here. Even if you start off with a very simple splash page, be sure that it is in tune with your brand positioning. You can always add to the website as the practice grows.
Your brand is an important asset
When you buy a new optometrist chair, the day after this hard asset is installed in your office it begins to depreciate. When you invest in a professional approach to branding and nurture the brand with good marketing, you have an asset that will appreciate and play a very significant part in the overall success of your practice during its lifetime.
Getting your practice started
With many doctors whom I meet, there are infinite ideas for how they want to launch their new practice. While it’s great to have ideas, investing in your brand should always be the first order of business. Focusing on a brand will allow you to make a good first impression, connect with potential new customers and create an immediate emotional response.
Your brand needs to flow throughout the practice. The colours on the walls and style of uniforms must reflect that personality. The look needs to be consistent from the sign out front to the furniture in the waiting room and treatment rooms.
Growing your practice
With a strong brand in place, you have a head start with your marketing. Your marketing will be more effective if people can immediately associate your brand with something. If we placed the Apple logo on a coffee cup, people would automatically expect great quality and be prepared to pay a little bit more for it. Leverage the equity that you have established with your brand to move your practice forward. Be bold. Along with direct marketing, look for opportunities to team your brand with other like-minded brands in the community.
Branding is also a great motivator for your staff. When a team is on board with a common goal, they will represent and reinforce the values of your brand from the greeting on the phone to their interaction with patients in the office.
Customer loyalty comes from consistently delivering on the promise of your brand as well as keeping current. Styles change, but with an established brand you don’t have to reinvent yourself all the time. Starbucks recently freshened up their logo, but it was just a tweak. The logo is still instantly recognizable. Over time you can choose to update your logo or refresh the office interior while still keeping your brand association intact.
Realizing your optimal practice sale price
When the time comes to sell Cobblestone Family Optometry, having that brand is like staging a home for sale. It makes it easier for potential buyers to see themselves owning the practice because they see the practice’s personality, not yours. It’s not only an easier transition for the new optometrist, but for the patients and staff as well. It will still be the familiar Cobblestone Family Optometry.
Brand recognition doesn’t happen overnight. If you are planning to sell your practice, you should plan this well in advance. For the best sale price, one needs an investment of $10,000.00 for a complete professional branding package, as well as some solid marketing programs. This branding and marketing should be executed for at least three years before listing the practice to get the strongest return. I’ve discussed this approach with some of Canada’s leading practice brokers and they agree that well branded practices are better positioned to sell more easily and for more money than a poorly branded or unbranded practice.
Your brand is your lifeblood
Your practice is a business with a life and your brand is the blood that pumps through it, keeping it strong. In order to keep that business healthy, you have to manage your marketing well – and that starts with your brand.
Dan Pisek is the owner of Full Contact Marketing, which specializes in health care practice marketing. He can be reached at 1-800-728-6651 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org