The power of your brand

shutterstock_129551462Gary Anders, managing director at DPAS, discusses why brand matters for dental practices.

A brand is a combination of the visual, emotional, rational and cultural elements that customers associate with a product, service or organisation. The power of the brand was first recognised in the ‘Mad Men’ era of the 50s and 60s, when burgeoning advertising agencies sought to exploit new media and a post-war public became willing participants in a growing consumerist society.

The growth in inter-personal communication capabilities has added to the penetration of brands’ values and if we think about some of today’s world-leading brands such as Nike or Apple, we automatically conjure images of what these brands mean to us. Whether that be the empowerment encapsulated by ‘Just Do It’ or the stylish simplicity of the black and white , when we see or hear these words and icons, the brand identity, which is so engrained in our consciousness, means we automatically assign positive (or negative) associations with it.

This is one of the reasons why the world’s leading brands are so careful about aligning themselves with celebrity endorsement. Such a strategy often works well so long as the celebrity is representing and living out the ‘brand’s values’ – but stray from the straight and narrow and those guardians of the brand can be very unforgiving, as Tiger Woods discovered when he so dramatically fell from grace at the end of 2009.

Your brand within dentistry

But a brand is more than a logo, a strapline, a celebrity face or an advertising campaign and cannot simply be manufactured. A brand is the product of the millions of experiences that an organisation creates for its stakeholders, its customers, employees and communities, and is the result of the emotional response that each of these groups develops from their personal experiences.

It is not enough to package a product and service and put a worthy statement around it – an organisation has to live and breathe its brand values every day and communicate these to its audience during every interaction.

So how is this relevant within dentistry? We all recognise that in our industry we have some well-known global brands that dentists have come to trust and rely on. But from the biggest to the smallest, every business has a brand and whether you like it or not that also applies to your dental practice. Your practice’s brand is the sum of everything it is, says and does. The question therefore is not whether you have a brand, but whether you are in control of it.

What is your brand?

Branding, particularly in the healthcare professions, is about communicating trust and encouraging patient loyalty, all of which provides the foundation for a solid business. But branding goes way beyond treatments and interior design, it applies to every aspect of the patient’s journey. How you interact with patients before, during and after an appointment, the surgery layout, the personnel responsible for talking with patients, cleanliness – in summary it is the total patient experience and every element needs to be defined by the brand values you are trying to create.

Practices can learn some important lessons from larger dental businesses that have spent millions developing and maintaining their brand identity and simply by following a few strategic signposts, you can develop a brand that differentiates your practice in the market.

Understanding your brand is an important first step, but it is an ongoing process. Discovering the things that are most important to you and then making sure that these factors are ‘lived out’ through the ways in which every member of the team communicates with patients is vital. Then you will find that as time goes on the values of your business become more deeply embedded, and become second nature to the members of staff who have come on the journey with you.

Developing your brand

Typically you might start the process of brand development by asking the team what they feel are the inherent values of the practice. This could then be supplemented by patient involvement via a survey. Combining this information will enable you to identify some key areas that define the type of practice you want to be and what you stand for. From this you must work with your team to develop practical ways in which you subliminally demonstrate the practice’s brand through your interaction with patients and the wider community.

DPAS Dental Plans is well-known as being an administrator for ‘practice-branded dental plans’ and is aware of the importance of practices having their brand uppermost in the minds of patients. The value of a practice’s individual brand has always been recognised at DPAS, which is why our plan administration services sit very much in the background when it comes to patient-facing communication. In our minds, patient liaison is very much a role for the practice and we do everything we can to help our practices build and maintain the supremacy of their brand and not ours. In this way we help to create a valuable and ultimately saleable asset for our dentist customers.

Many businesses invest a huge amount of resource in developing a brand and then think the job is complete. In truth the task is never finished and the most important thing an organisation can do is to keep on questioning itself and its stakeholders so that its brand evolves with the business and keeps pace with its changing aspirations. Taking your team on the journey with you is a vital component of success, and those practices with the healthiest brands are those in which the whole team understands its role in delivering the brand to new and existing patients every day.

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