Making your mark

shutterstock_215930758Create a brand that leaves an impression in the market and with patients and watch your practice thrive, says Simpson Burgess Nash

Brand building can be a powerful growth strategy for businesses of any size – large, medium, or small. The key is to understand what it is you do best and to use brand awareness to communicate that message repeatedly across your target market.

The time and resources spent building brand awareness can be very rewarding. It can help to:
•    Position your product or service in the marketplace
•    Differentiate your product or service from those of your competitors
•    Create positive associations in the minds of potential patients
•    Gradually reduce marketing expenditure
•    Ultimately increase revenue
•    Create a distinguishing mark.

Carry a message

When farmers brand sheep they use an easily recognisable mark to distinguish their animals from those of other farmers. In the same way, when you brand a product or a service, you use a name and/or mark to distinguish it from those of your competitors.

Thus, the first principle of branding is that your brand name and/or mark – whether it is a word, a phrase, a letter, a symbol, or even a sound – should be:

•    Uncomplicated
•    Distinctive
•    Easy to recognise
•    Easy to remember
•    Carry a marketing message.

The brand also has to carry a message into the marketplace. Its full function is not just to distinguish your product or service from those of your competitors, but also to convey its superiority.

What is it about your product or service that is special, or even unique? Why should a potential patient choose you rather than one of your competitors? What is the target market or market segment for your product or service? What need does your product or service meet? What benefits will the patient experience? What statement are they making to others by using your product or service?

The answers to these questions will help you to define your brand identity. The secret is to create a simple marketing message that conveys your brand identity and then to attach this message to your brand name and/or mark.

Establish an identity

Your choice of words, graphics, colours and even fonts can be crucial in determining the overall effectiveness of your brand, and you might want to seek professional assistance in this area.

It is important to research your brand carefully before launching it. It is important to:

•    Make sure your brand name/mark is not already in use and does not infringe any intellectual property rights
•    Check that your brand name/mark does not have any unfortunate connotations in your target market
•    If you will be trading overseas, make sure your brand name/mark translates well into the language and culture of the countries in which you will be trading
•    Build brand awareness.

Once you have established your brand identity, the next stage is to start building brand awareness. Basically, there are four stages:

1. To begin with, your brand has no presence in the marketplace
2. Gradually, consumers begin to associate your brand with a particular product or service class
3. Eventually, the consumer recalls your brand without a visible or audible prompt of your brand name/mark
4. Finally, your brand is virtually equated with the product/service class.

Perhaps not every business can expect to reach the fourth stage, but most should be able to set the third as a marketing objective.

Building brand awareness is about repetition. Whatever methods you use – be it print, radio, TV advertising, mailshots, sponsorships, branding pens and mouse mats bearing your brand name – the important thing is to establish as conspicuous a presence as possible in your target market.

Refreshing your brand

Brands are fickle things, susceptible to changes in fashion and perception. Recently, for example, some seemingly robust brands in the UK clothes trade have found themselves sidelined through failing to anticipate changes in fashion or allowing themselves to be wrong-footed by overseas competition; and few of us will forget how a famous jewellery brand lost its glitter overnight through a careless remark by the managing director!

Thus, brand building should be a continuous, fluid process. Although one of the key features of successful branding is consistency – conveying a consistent message and image to the marketplace – it is also important to let both the message and the image evolve and adjust to changes in fashion, perception, and so on. If managed well, brand building can be a significant driver in the growth of your business.

Lasting impression

For marketing to be effective, whatever the size of the business, it is important to work to a plan. The purpose of a marketing plan is to match the particular strengths of a business – price, quality of service, reliability, innovation – with the requirements of its customers, and to use those strengths to set the business apart from its competitors. A good plan – broad in its scope but specific in its ambitions – should cover, therefore, a number of areas.

It should assess, honestly and realistically, the strengths and weaknesses of the business, and measure how those strengths and weaknesses play in the marketplace and are perceived by existing and potential patients. It should map out the general contours of the marketplace, identifying areas of change (price, technical innovation, new competitors, new customer purchasing trends), and detailing how those changes may affect the business and how any opportunities may be exploited.

Also part of the plan should be a detailed profile of the patients the practice already has and those it is looking to attract, setting out what they require and how the business may best meet those requirements. Other elements of the plan may involve separating out the requirements of various sorts or groups of patient, and pinpointing any gaps or niches in the market that the business could fill.

Use the plan to establish ways of identifying potential patients and the means of reaching them (advertising, direct mail, trade shows, the internet).

Signed, sealed, delivered

Examine, too, the level of customer service the business provides – retaining existing patients can be as important as winning new ones, if not more so. And investigate ways of developing a closer business relationship with those customers that provide the business with its largest profits.

A plan provides the opportunity to appraise the services or products the practice is offering, comparing them to those of competitors and judging whether they are performing well or whether they need to be improved or completely overhauled.

Similarly, scrutinise pricing policy to determine whether products or services are priced competitively or whether price is secondary to other considerations such as quality or innovation.

The plan should set meaningful, realisable goals, along with the amount of time and money the business is prepared to invest in achieving those goals, and it should include a means of measuring how successful any marketing activities have been.

Most importantly of all, it is vital that any marketing plan be updated and reviewed on a regular basis.

Simpson Burgess Nash chartered accountants is based in Manchester.

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