The Value of Having a Brand, Not Just a Practice (Part 1)
By Linda Kaplan, MHA
Branding is one of the most important aspects of any business, large or small, retail or B2B (business to business). But what exactly does “branding” mean? How does it affect a small business like yours? And what are the most important things you should consider as you build and manage your brand?
A brand is a psychological, emotional relationship between your practice and your clients. Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It’s your purpose for being in business… it’s the why you are doing this and what you stand for. It tells customers what they can expect from your services – what they will experience during a visit – and it differentiates your practice from that of your competitors. It gives them a clear choice. It is an expectation of consistency in service from start to finish, each time someone does business with you.
Your brand strategy is how, where, when, and to whom you deliver your brand messages.
Defining your brand is like a journey of business self-discovery. It can be difficult, time-consuming and even awkward. It requires, at the very least, that you answer the questions:
- What is your company’s mission?
- What are the benefits and features of your products or services?
- What do your customers and prospects already think of your company?
- What qualities do you want them to associate with your company?
Think about it. You know from well-known brands what to expect when you do business with them: McDonald’s, Target, Nordstrom, Mercedes, Honda, Apple, etc. They have all created very unique brands with a very specific promise of what to expect every time you use their service or buy their products.
The same concept applies to your practice. You are providing an experience to a pet owner and/or referring DVM. What would you like that to be? Are you the low-price leader; the compassionate, service-oriented specialist; the expert in a particular technique, etc.? What is YOUR promise? What can a client count on to experience at your practice every time he or she does business with you that is truly unique? What feeling do you want a client to have when they interact with you?
A strong brand can give you the competitive edge you need. It can:
- Position you strategically in the marketplace
- Provide a focus for marketing efforts
- Unite the team around a common vision
- Create greater customer loyalty
- Allow you to attract the resources you need, such as talent and capital
- Be instrumental in developing strategic partnerships
- Act as a powerful tool for guiding internal decision making
- Make you less sensitive to competitive pricing and services
Keeping this in mind, it becomes easy to see that a strong brand is a powerful tool for all businesses – large or small, new or established.
Here are a few things to get your thinking started if you are considering creating, refreshing, or re-evaluating your brand:
- Know your audiences and what they want: Strong brands build meaningful relationships with their customers. To do this, you must know your audiences, their needs and desires, and their problems so you can offer them authentic solutions.
- Know your competition: Do you have a good sense of what you’re up against? What does your practice do better than that of any of your competitors? Do you know why a competitor is chosen over your practice?
- Know your business and what you stand for: How do you create a brand that is compelling to your audience? The answer to that lies in discovering and articulating your brand values – that is, the passion and purpose behind your company. What inspired you to create the business? What value do you offer your customers? What niche do you fill in the marketplace? What do you promise?
- Be willing to invest in professional marketing and design: You are experts at what you do and there are branding, marketing, and design specialists who excel at what they do. Together, you can make a powerful impact on your bottom line and your position in the marketplace. Don’t hesitate to partner with other professionals to bring your brand to life operationally, visually, and strategically.
- Have a clear understanding of what it is like to be a client at your practice: From the way your practice looks to the way the phone is answered to uniforms and the appearance of your team to the way a patient, pet owner, or referring DVM is taken care of from the beginning to the end of treatment… Do you know what that experience is like? Are you impressed? Does it reflect your brand promise? Remember, this experience is the core of brand building.
Think of your brand as a living thing and tend to it regularly or others will tend to it for you. As your practice grows and the marketplace evolves, make sure to check in on it regularly to analyze its relevance, and then adjust accordingly.
Read Part Two of our article on Branding where we explore how to bring your brand to life internally and externally.