It’s time for health care to think about itself in a new way.
There was a time when “doctor” was a brand in and of itself. Not very long ago, your doctor was the person who’d taken care of you and your family members for most of your life—maybe because he was referred
by a friend, or because they were the only doctor in town. When your prospective patients think “doctor,” who do they see? A patient, older man with a comforting bedside manner—maybe with whiskers? A lab coat, a cold stethoscope, and a request to say “Ahhh”? Or maybe just a long afternoon spent on the insurance website or telephone, trying to figure out who and what will be covered?
Now, who do you want them to see when they think “doctor”? Well, you, of course, but how exactly do you want them to see you? In today’s ever-diversifying health care world, branding is more of a consideration than it’s ever been. Patients aren’t just patients—they’re consumers, and you can no longer expect lifelong patients “just because.”
The patient’s experience—and how they view you and your services throughout—needs to be planned end-to-end. How do they find you? What do people say about you? How do your marketing, your online presence, and your social networking represent you? Is the message you’re putting out cohesive, clear, and reassuring?
Whether you’re an independent provider or a large, corporate health care chain, the basic approach to building your brand is the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re refreshing your existing brand or building one from the ground floor, you have to ask yourself the same questions.
Consider the larger strategy.
A brand isn’t just a mark on a soda bottle. Perhaps especially when it comes to health care, a brand is a reflection of your values—of where you are now, and where you’re going tomorrow. Your brand strategy needs to encompass everything from the ethereal to the very real—from the feelings you want your brand to evoke to the channels you use to express your messages. You have to understand how your ideal patient makes health care decisions before you form a brand around them—and your brand is at least as much about those future patients as it is about the ones you have now. Your brand is the support structure for your future plans—not the end plan in and of itself.
Don’t forget your internal audience.
Your brand strategy will never get off the ground if you don’t get buy-in from the insiders. A true brand will touch everyone within the organization, and will be expressed by everyone from the CEO to the janitorial staff. The entire organization must be aligned in goals, approaches, in beliefs and in values. A marketing team can come up with the best brand, the most sensible approach, and the most sparkling content strategy imaginable, but if the people you count on to embody and deliver these things aren’t all-in, then change is impossible. Yes, impossible. No matter the size, organizations are supported from the inside.
Define what makes you different from others.
Care is more patient-centered than ever before. It follows that your marketing should be, too. Your brand is about your patients, about what you offer them that no one else can. Your key differentiator isn’t the new diagnostic machine or the lattes in the waiting room, and it’s not a bulleted list of services. Ultimately, these are not the things that encourage fierce loyalty or generate word-of-mouth. Brands are about what your patients want, but they’re also about what you represent—which, especially in the case of health care, should be a very “human” experience.
When it comes down to it, your brand shouldn’t be about what you do. It should be about what you do for them.
Reflect simplicity and clarity.
The best brands—no matter what sort of experience, service, or goods they represent—are about simplicity and ease of use. McDonald’s, Apple, Google, Walmart; okay, they’re not all “good” for you. But in the end, these brands are not about cheeseburgers or looking up celebrity birthdays faster—they’re about experiences that are streamlined, easy, and accessible. This is what health care brands need to do—dissolve some of the worry, confusion, and anxiety around finding and using the best health care. Your brand and branded materials can reassure patients and their families by reflecting a natural and straightforward process.
Put your values in the visual.
The patient-as-consumer wants the same things as the consumer-as-consumer. They want convenience. They want to know that you care. And they want to feel that you’ll go the extra mile for them. These are your values—but how do you express this to someone who’s not yet set foot through your door? Your brand, and the marketing you develop around it, should serve as a visual overview of what you stand for. Whether it’s a brochure or a website, a billboard or a Facebook page, be sure the image you’re projecting is confident, innovative, trustworthy—and in line with the brand you’ve developed.
You can’t be all things to all people, but you can be exclusively you. So what is it about you that will resonate with your community? What experiences are you offering that will truly engage patients—both the ones you have currently, and those you hope to attract in future? Good branding is about empathy. It’s about putting yourself in their examination gown and thinking through what experiential elements—tangible and intangible—would help you see the experience in a different light. Let’s face it. Not a lot of people are ever going to like going to the doctor. But they can like the doctor. They can like the overall experience. And they can like how good they feel when they’ve made the right choice in providers. And if your brand is good enough, they might even “Like” you on Facebook. And that’s when you know you’ve really done it right.