Branding Your Practice Does Not Need to Be Costly
Mrs. Jones enters the office of her new dentist and is surprised to find that there is no one else in the waiting room. If this were her old office, at least four other patients would be waiting for treatment. “Hello, Mrs. Jones,” says the receptionist, “and thank you for filling out your forms online. That’s going to save you about 15 minutes here. Please have a seat and help yourself to some refreshments. Dr. Johnson will see you in less than five minutes.” While waiting, Mrs. Jones has a drink and watches CNN. On the table in front of her, in a Plexiglas holder, is a reprint of Dr. Johnson’s four-color resume, which outlines his professional affiliations and achievements, schooling and a personal mission statement. Mrs. Jones reads that Dr. Johnson believes that creating beautiful smiles is his calling. Three minutes later Dr. Johnson emerges, personally greets Mrs. Jones and escorts her back to the chair where he will conduct his initial examination. On their way there, Dr. Johnson introduces Mrs. Jones to several members of his staff. When she is finished, Mrs. Jones leaves with a new toothbrush, floss and information on a procedure that Dr. Johnson has recommended for her. At the billing/appointment desk, paperwork is prepared in seconds by someone who is completely focused on getting Mrs. Jones back to her day as soon as possible. That night, Mrs. Jones replays the entire “Dr. Johnson” experience to her husband. The next day, she mentions it to her sister and to five people at her child’s elementary school.
What Branding Is and Is Not
This story illustrates several elements to the art of creating and maintaining a powerful brand, plus the payoff when a branding program is successfully executed.
Let’s break down this branding effort:
1) No one was in the waiting room because Dr. Johnson does not have a waiting room; he has a “reception area.” He does not make patients wait because he knows that long waits are the top complaint of healthcare patients in all specialties across the country.
2) Mrs. Jones was given the option of filling out routine forms online on the practice’s Web site. She elected to fill them out, send them electronically and save herself even more time.
3) Knowing that patients often come in harried, hungry and thirsty, Dr. Johnson’s staff keeps simple snacks, such as coffee, water, baby carrots and crackers, available for them.
4) Mrs. Jones was greeted by name when she arrived.
5) The resume was strategically placed to help Mrs. Jones confirm her choice of Dr. Johnson as her dentist. This will reap huge dividends as it helps establish the credibility of Dr. Jones, and will make patients more readily accept his treatment recommendations.
6) On Mrs. Jones’ first visit, Dr. Johnson paid special, personal attention to her.
7) Mrs. Jones spent just a few moments waiting at the billing/appointment desk, and left the office with free manufacturers’ samples.
The payoff of branding is what every healthcare practitioner yearns for: the instant, positive word of mouth that helps build a practice not just with more patients, but with the right type of patient.
Branding is not your logo, it’s not your slogan, and it’s not something that you hope everyone “gets.” Branding is all of these things, plus the creation of an experience that is meaningful to your patients. Branding is making sure that each patient has that experience at each visit.
Branding is not about you and how you are so good at what you do. Patients decide to come to you, as opposed to other practitioners, from an emotional point of view, not necessarily from a rational one. If patients like you, and if they like your staff, they will come back. And they’ll continue to come back (and will tell their friends and family) even if you have a rare lapse in service—as long as you apologize with sincerity.
The Cost of Branding a Naturopathic Practice
Unfortunately, the marketing departments at major worldwide corporations have the rest of us believing that a good branding effort takes a lot of money. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
Take a moment to review the office experience of Mrs. Jones. Add up the various hard costs of the effort and you will see that most of what matters in branding is free—a smile, a thank you, a personal greeting—and the rest of it costs merely a few dollars each week.
The cost of not maintaining a branding program, however, can never really be calculated. That’s because you will never know how many patients or referrals you did not get. Only when it is too late do some practitioners realize just how much more successful they could have been had they made just a little more effort.
Naturopathic care is still a question mark in the minds of many of your prospective patients. As a result, winning them over may take a little work when you first meet them, so be prepared and be patient.
Every Patient, Every Visit
How do you find out what really matters to your patients? It’s quite simple… just ask them. Ask them what you can do to improve your service. Even if they don’t offer any suggestions, they’ll be impressed that you care. You can also ask other (noncompeting) offices what they are doing to become and stay successful.
Once you start, don’t stop. Let your staff know what you are doing and why. Most of all, support your words by practicing what you preach.
Steve Smith is the Vice-President of Marketing at Practice Builders, the nation’s leading private practice healthcare marketing firm. To contact Steve directly, call 800.679.1200, Ext. 261.