Shaz Memon gives his four steps to changing the branding of your dental practice.

There is so much more to choosing a name than how well it rolls off the tongue. As Prince Harry and Meghan Markle recently discovered, everybody has an opinion about titles – and not all of them supportive in the choices made.

The naming – or renaming of a dental practice, if you are an existing owner – presents challenges beyond placating family, honouring tradition and shrugging off the critics.

Indeed, the pitfalls are many and you ignore your patients’ views at your peril. If you move too fast to refresh your brand or speed through a renaming journey without a nod to your biggest supporters, you run the risk of confusing them and, in the process, sending them elsewhere – lost without the luxury of instant recognition.

You may also alienate those with whom you’ve built up trust if they feel they have been wrong-footed or side stepped. Transparency is everything and engagement key, especially if you enjoy healthy on-going communication with your current patient base.

Few of us welcome change and, in a dental setting – an environment where relationships are nurtured over time and with a core business that thrives on familiarity and loyalty – this is particularly so.

When changes are made, many patients comment that ‘it’s not the same place anymore’ or ‘its not what it used to be’.

However, apply my four steps to a patient-engaging approach and you will create a name that will not only resonate with existing patients, but will also secure their loyalty and may even boost business.

First of all, I advise that you sit with the initial thought for a while until you can dedicate time to the name-changing process. For limited companies, whilst it’s a lot less complicated than applying for a deed poll to adopt a new handle for yourself:

Legalities for Ltd companies

There are, of course, legal ramifications to changing the name of any business – the details of which you can read here if you are a limited company or looking to form a limited company ­– www.gov.uk/make-changes-to-your-limited-company/company-name.

Ltd company check

You can check for existing registered company names in the UK and name availability here – beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company-name-availability. Whilst no two businesses registered at Companies House are permitted to have the exact same name, if you are truly set on one that already exists elsewhere, you may wish to consider registering it in a name slightly different to the one you use in your branding.

Social media

Do some groundwork before settling on a fresh brand. Check whether the name already exists and if so under what variants? A good tool to check if your name is available on social networks is knowem.com.

There is no harm in choosing variants of your business name if it is registered on a social media platform already. Though using a tool like this may help you realise if patients are likely to get confused with other brand names that may already exist.

Trademarks

Assess the competition and not just in your immediate locality. Dentistry is a small market; so do try to avoid duplication wherever the similarly named dental practice might be located. Remember, too, that the business name you’re choosing may not necessarily be that of a dental practice.

Domain name registration

I’d also suggest securing the .co.uk and .com domain name before settling – www.ukreg.com is a great tool for this. If you cannot secure both names, at least one of the two would be good to register.

Evolution

You should also consider the rationale behind the name change. A name change might be brought about if the practice is branded after a previous principal eg Smith Jones Practice, or if the practice has a particularly bad reputation and you want to disassociate yourself from its past.

Have you outgrown the name by expanding, developing into new areas of dentistry or facial aesthetics. A name change might, therefore, be bought about if you wish to add the new speciality or key treatment to your name ie ‘XXXXXX Dental Implant Centre’, ‘XXXXXX Dental and Cosmetic Clinic’ or ‘XXXXX Dental and Facial Aesthetics’.

Perhaps it no longer reflects your practice ethos, or is not sufficiently different from other practices with a similar name, which could be creating issues for you regarding your identity and profile online.

So, how will your new name distinguish you? How will it reflect your brand story? How will it be incorporated into any new design and signage? How does it sound when said out loud? Are there any inappropriate word associations or unwelcome acronyms that can be created from the new name?

Worth noting is that when choosing a name, it is also beneficial for Google SEO to include your practice location and the word ‘dental’ or ‘dentist’. Whilst not vital, this will give a slight advantage over a brand-only name.

What emotions are evoked when people hear your practice name? Patient feedback can really help so do tap into their thoughts about your brand. Curate the answers and bear their perceptions in mind.

Do revisit your USP, too – you need to differentiate and create a strong name that is memorable, unique and meaningful about your dental practice. And, of course, it needs to be easy to spell!

Four steps to a patient-focused name change

These letters can be sent out two to three weeks apart.

Letter one (the ‘warm up’) – tell your patients that you have made upgrades to the practice. Talk about an investment in new equipment, a redesign of the interior or a development in treatment protocols thanks to new skills and staff training. Perhaps you now have more of a focus on orthodontics or have added facial aesthetics to your treatment menu. This first letter should reassure patients that you are a forward-thinking practice willing and able to invest in their future care.

Letter two (the ‘drop it like it’s hot’) – this should outline to patients the rationale behind a name change. Explain that that you no longer feel the existing name of your practice reflects who you are or what your brand delivers to them. Invite them to send in suggestions. This stage makes patients feel ‘involved’ and ensures nobody will turn up for an appointment confused by any sudden changes of which they’ve not been pre-warned. Remember, you are asking existing patients to unlearn old branding and start afresh. They have invested in a relationship with your practice and will need to understand the reasoning behind any changes you make.

Letter three (the ‘your opinion matters’) – announce the two names you have shortlisted and invite comment. As well we know, feedback (positive and negative) is helpful in shaping the direction of any business and this letter will again make the process seem inclusive. Some principals already know at this stage what name they want to choose, but just need further re-assurance. Again, these steps are designed to keep the patients on side and to avoid any surprises when logos, signage, uniforms or the look and feel of your practice website changes.

Letter four (the ‘coming out’) – this last stage will be the announcement of the name that was chosen and a ‘thank you’ to all those who participated in the process. Asking patients for feedback on any area of your business is important if you want to be seen as an open practice that is good at communication – and keeping them in the loop when choosing a new name is no different. It is quite simply good dental marketing and, whilst you may already have your heart set on a new name, this process underpins the essential trust that should already exist between you and your patients. It’s a great practice builder and avoids any unnecessary destruction of relationships.

If you follow the four steps above, you will minimise loss of patients that feel the practice is no longer what it used to be (assuming the practice has a great reputation), or it has changed hands and that the treatment delivered may not be the same anymore.

Finally, be confident in the name you choose. Inevitably a new name requires a whole rebranding of the business that should be timetabled to happen at the same time online as well as at the practice. Of course, you may wish to engage the help of a dental marketing company to help you achieve this, leaving no font unchanged.