Practice Branding and Marketing
To the early pioneers, “branding” was simply putting a mark on your livestock, identifying them as your own. As your animals mixed and merged with other herds, your brand was the key to retaining your share.
Fast forward a century or so, and “branding” has a very different meaning. It still has its roots in ownership and identification, but the term has evolved to cover a range of concepts related to identity, marketing and promotion.
So, in a modern context, what is a brand and how does it relate to dentistry?
In a healthcare context, a brand is the emotional and psychological relationship you have with your patients. It is how your patients see you, and how they engage with your practice.
Why brand your practice?
Branding your practice yields both internal and external benefits. Externally, you create an identity that resonates with patients. Your brand becomes a statement of your personality and vision for patient care and helps form an emotional relationship with patients.
That’s important because most people don’t buy products and services logically, they buy with their emotions. Given the choice between providers offering identical treatments, the way your brand resonates with potential patients may be the deciding factor.
Within the practice, your brand serves as an internal compass of focus for you and your staff. If you clearly brand your practice, you have an understanding of what you are about and a self awareness that dictates your actions. Your brand should set the tone for the way you deliver patient care. Is it conservative and refined, or playful and friendly? Decisions about marketing your practice are made in alignment with the brand. Over time, you build a stronger business identity as the brand itself is recognised in your sphere of influence.
So Where Do I Begin?
Key to creating a successful brand is taking the time to examine your motivations for setting up your practice. This is often called the discovery phase. The discovery phase sets out to clarify exactly what your brand should represent and usually takes the form of a series of questions such as:
- How did you get to where you are now?
- What are your short and long term goals?
- What do you think you can do better than other dental providers?
- What will be your point of difference?
- What do you think your competition does well?
- What do you think your competition does poorly?
- Describe your ideal patient and ask yourself what would make them come to you?
Taking the time to go through the exercise of answering these types of questions often reveals opportunities you may not have thought about for your target market. The discovery process also helps isolate motivations and personality traits that can then be used to form the basis of a brand identity.
Your logo is not your brand
Although logos are not brands in and of themselves, they are the most common visual representation of your brand. A brand’s logo, colours and visual style becomes a consistent touchpoint in both internal and external communications and it should convey the core values of the brand.
Consistency is Key
To effectively grow and establish a brand identity, consistency is key. Most successful brands have a series of rules developed around the usage of their associated imagery, logo, colours and type treatments. This set of rules is called a Brand Style Guide and it dictates the correct usage of your brand from a visual point of view.
The premise is that every time anyone encounters your brand, the consistency reinforces your brand values, building recognition and familiarity.
Marketing Your Practice
Effective marketing is the result of having a clearly defined message, knowing your audience and how to reach them, and executing the communication in a way that motivates them to take action. One off marketing activities seldom generate sustained growth.
To gain market share, marketing activities should follow an overarching marketing strategy.
A good marketing strategy will not be changed every year, but may be revised when your strategies have been achieved or your marketing goals have been met. Bear in mind that you may need to amend your strategy if your external market changes due to a new competitor or new technology, or if your products substantially change.
Identify your business goals
To develop your marketing strategy, identify your overarching business goals, so that you can then define a set of marketing goals to support them. Your business goals might include:
- increasing awareness of your services
- becoming an authority in your chosen speciality
- reaching a new patient base or growing an existing one.
When setting goals it's critical to be as targeted as possible so you can effectively measure the outcomes against what you set out to achieve.
A simple criteria for goal-setting is the SMART method. Goals should be:
Specific - state clearly what you want to achieve
Measurable - set tangible measures so you can measure your results
Achievable - set objectives that are within your capacity and budget
Relevant - set objectives that will help you improve particular aspects of your business
Time-bound - set objectives you can achieve within the time you need them.
A clear list of business goals that follow the SMART methodology will give you a framework on which to base your marketing strategy.
Research your market and identify their needs
By identifying information about your potential patients such as where they work, what they read and where they look at advertising, you can improve the strategies you use to attract them. Basic demographic information can be obtained from various sources online (a good starting point is the Australian Bureau of Statistics website).
Profile your competitors
In a competitive market, it is important to know what your competitors are doing and how they are delivering their services. By researching as much about how they are conducting business as possible, you may be able to identify opportunities to capture segments of the available market.
State your marketing goals
Define a set of specific marketing goals based on the business goals you listed above, making sure your goals are practical and measurable and have defined timeframes.
Develop Strategies to support you r goals
Now that you have a better idea of who you are trying to reach, and what they need, you can develop strategies to work towards your intended goals. The individual marketing activities will vary depending on your target market and their needs but by following a strategy, each activity can leverage off each other to create momentum.
Marketing activities should be scheduled in a marketing plan which contains details about each activity including costs and resourcing implications. A typical marketing plan covers 12 months of activity and is reviewed or renewed in accordance with the marketing strategy once it has been completed.
Marketing your practice is not rocket science, but to do it well, it takes planning and clarity of purpose.
There is of course no magic bullet for getting the right message to the right people at the right time, but armed with the necessary background information you will greatly reduce any wasted effort and resources.
The 5 Ps of marketing
The 5 Ps are a set of recognised marketing tactics, which you can use in any combination to satisfy customers in your target market. The 5 Ps are controllable, but subject to your internal and external marketing environments. Combining these different marketing tactics to meet your customers' needs and wants is known as using a 'tactical marketing mix'.
Product refers to what you are selling, including all of the features, advantages and benefits that your customers can enjoy from buying your goods or services. When marketing your product, you need to think about the key features and benefits your customers want or need, including (but not limited to) styling, quality, repairs, and accessories.
This refers to your pricing strategy for your products and services and how it will affect your customers. You should identify how much your customers are prepared to pay, how much mark-up you need to cater for overheads, your profit margins and payment methods, and other costs.
These are the promotional activities you use to make your customers aware of your products and services, including advertising, sales tactics, promotions and direct marketing. Generally these are referred to as marketing tactics.
Place is where your products and services are delivered. Access for customers to your services is key and it is important to ensure that potential patients can find you. If you are starting a new practice, finding the right business location will be a key marketing tactic.
People refers to all of the staff who work for your business, including yourself. When you provide excellent customer service, you create a positive experience for your customers, and in doing so market your brand to them. In turn, existing customers may spread the word about your excellent service and you can win referrals.