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Why Your Practice Branding is Off-Center—And What to Do About It

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Red "Brand" text with red arrows coming out of it at different directionsAn unintentional byproduct of healthcare reform is the increasing number of physician practices that have the wrong branding message. Or worse, they have no branding at all. Consider this example:

Mysteriously, the well-considered branding message and competitive edge of a physician practice was somehow "disconnected." In our consultations, the doctors and staff believed that the day-to-day practice operation was normal. Just another work-a-day world…slightly overflowing with urgencies and…you know…the usual.

But digging deeper, it turns out that the practice brand—which was on-point only a year or so ago—had drifted off-course mainly due to external change factors at work around them. In short, their marketing plan, branding message and advertising thrust was based on old—and now invalid—assumptions.

This medical practice desperately needs to rethink its branding—what makes them distinctly and competitively unique—and to make adjustments that bring them back on course. Think of it as a "back to the future" exercise that examines the marketing environment of yesterday, today and tomorrow in search of your sustainable competitive advantage.

Your edge is a unique value proposition—it what you offer, how you offer it, what makes you special to a specific group of patients. (You might have more than one target audience.) It might be found in your experience, expertise, specialized skill, unique capabilities, unique technology, the way you relate to patients.

The core of a unique selling proposition is found at the intersection of what you do extremely well and what your desired audience values highly. It's not always easy to find those crossroads, and it's even more of a challenge when much of the marketing landscape is shifting.

That little thing called healthcare reform...

In fairness, the practice of medicine has always been a dynamic creature. Gradual transformations are a constant factor, and the evolutionary path of the past few hundred years has largely been for the better. But in the past two years the changes in the American healthcare delivery system have been rapid and wide-ranging…and probably unequaled in intensity.

Not to sound overly dramatic, but all that we label as "healthcare reform" has impacted virtually every physician practice, medical group and healthcare provider in the nation. And, with increasing frequency we discover that the branding assumptions of a physician practice have been left behind. Although every practice situation and marketplace has unique characteristics, here are four critical areas that have likely changed recently and need to be reevaluated before you can discover (or reconnect with) your competitive edge.

  • Business Roll-ups: Who owns and operates healthcare delivery in your marketplace? Chances are you didn't miss the fact that doctor-owned medical practices are a shrinking slice in the pie chart. Medical practice mergers and hospital mergers and acquisitions are up. What to do: You may be well acquainted with the business and financial consequences of these shifts, but—armed with a list of who's-doing-what—consider how this changes the competition for market share and new business. Exactly who is competing for the patients you want (and need) to attract, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • Roll call: Who are your professional colleagues and what are they doing today? You may think you know what's going on with your fellow healthcare providers in town, but…maybe not. It's tough to be well informed via lunchroom conversation alone.What to do: Put individual names on paper. Focus on competitive practitioners and significant referral sources. Make a few phone calls. Ask around. Rub elbows at meetings. It's highly likely that many of your fellow physicians have gone solo, formed a group practice, joined or left a hospital, launched a concierge practice, switched the partner mix, moved (near or far), become full-time academics or researchers or… retired or died.
  • The Empowered Patient: How are you tracking their needs and expectations? The typical patient of only a year or so ago is different from the patient you'll be seeing today. Patients are increasingly empowered by social media, online resources and the systemic push for patient-centered delivery.What to do: Take the time to ask patients about their expectations and listen actively. Via conversations, surveys and follow-up activities, you might discover for example, that patients would greatly appreciate the ability to make appointments online or to see lab results via the Internet. Devise a system or office routine that provides timely feedback and regular involvement with patients on an ongoing basis.
  • Thoughtful Introspection: Have you translated your internal changes to patient benefits? The work-a-day world is a busy (read: "insanely frenetic") place. And new policies, procedures, staff duties and a hundred other things have been instituted, adjusted or discarded in the continuing effort to make practice operate more efficiently.What to do: Look beyond the office walls and consider how your internal changes increase value to patients. As one example: your new electronic medical record (EMR) software produces a single page summary of each visit—specifically intended as a helpful reference to be given to the patient. Often it is usually unexpected, appreciated, patient is better informed and reinforces instructions and compliance.

These five areas—business structure, professional colleagues, patient needs, and internal changes—are not the only things to consider, but they are among the top influence factors that could have pulled your physician practice branding message off-center.

Look at them critically, impartially and in detail. And for more on this subject and how to move to the next steps, see Creating a Powerful, Differentiating Brand for Your Healthcare Business or Practice.

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