Branding is no small matter.
Brand strategy should not be an appendix at the end of a business plan or a footnote within your marketing strategy. Branding deserves upfront, company-wide attention, and it should be discussed regularly in the conference room, the exam room and the front office.
Those who have achieved any level of success in outpatient rehab therapy, and perhaps those who have learned from past branding mistakes, will testify to this.
Branding is so important because it is cut from the fabric of an organization. It is part of a company’s DNA.
And, it goes much deeper than the visual elements we often see in our day-to-day lives that represent brands – things like colors, logos, taglines and digital icons. It’s defined by our services, our integrity and our people.
As it pertains to the world of business – especially physical, occupation and speech therapy practice ownership – branding is at the most fundamental core of our existence.
In an effort to bring to the foreground some practical information that can help rehab therapy practice owners better understand and, hopefully, refine their brands, this article will discuss three fundamental topics related to branding, starting with a definition.
What Is a Brand?
At its core, a brand is simply a promise. All brands promise something, usually in the form of an expectation or an experience.
For a beverage manufacturer, the promise may be of taste or consistency. For an automaker, it may be a promise of safety or reliability.
For a rehab therapy clinic, the brand may promise an outcome or a specific patient experience.
Regardless of your individual promise, your brand can easily be tarnished when that promise is broken.
The beverage manufacturer that promises taste and consistency can be quickly toppled if a bad batch is released into the market. An automaker’s brand hangs in the balance of a poor safety rating or a major part recall.
And, the rehab therapy practice that promises excellent outcomes and a positive patient experience is at the mercy of each person within the organization who can break this promise in a single negative customer encounter.
Brands are often mistakenly defined within the context of logos, taglines, packaging or other visual or auditory means. Although each of these is an important representation of a brand, it is critically important to understand that, as promises, brands exist at the core of a business and not within the artistry of a creative graphic image or attractive website.
Though not uncommon, the company that invests considerable money, time and energy into developing creative visual representations of their brand still may fail to achieve a competitive advantage over the company that simply defines a promise that their customers believe in, then keeps this promise each and every day.
Where Does a Brand Live?
As a promise, a brand cannot be owned, nor can it be completely controlled.
Promises live in the minds, hearts and emotions of those to whom they are made – powerful domains that reside far outside the walls of the private practice.
This ubiquitous nature of the brand makes it highly susceptible to interpretation and virtually impossible to define in the same way for everyone to whom it is exposed.
The comfortable ambiance that you strive to create in your practice may appeal to many of your clientele, but not all. To those who appreciate your environment, your brand will have strong appeal. To the others, it may rest neutral or negative.
Knowing that a brand is different for each person encountered, it is imperative that measures be taken to bring elements of clarity and reliability to the brand – elements that have broad appeal and will fall generally positive on most patients, referral sources, payers … your community.
What Does a Brand Do?
Brands offer myriad benefits to the private practice rehab therapist, three of which are of specific relevance to the private practice owner:
1. Brands Influence Decisions
Brands are shorthand for what your rehab therapy practice represents, making it easy for customers to make decisions about the services you offer.
One of the most powerful tools of the private practice, the brand is what influences clients and referral sources to try you out for the first time, it’s what encourages them to come back again (or not), and it’s what causes them to speak positively (or negatively) about your practice to others both interpersonally and through online reviews.
By establishing a brand that has broad appeal to your patients, prospective patients, referral sources and even payers, your brand will likely influence decisions in your favor, resulting in increased customer loyalty and stronger revenues.
2. Brands Differentiate
In a struggle for recognition and loyalty among increasingly crowded healthcare markets, brands are what differentiate a rehab therapy practice.
In many ways, healthcare services – physical, occupational and speed therapy included – are a commodity. Rehab therapy services are present in most markets, and unless a service differentiation is communicated to the end-user, many of our services may look similar across practices.
Possessing a strong brand that communicates your unique values and encapsulates the fundamental essence of your practice is one of the few competitive advantages that can be maintained over the long haul.
The practice across the street may be able to purchase the same equipment as you, for example, but to replicate your brand would require much more. This would require that they embrace your vision, your values and your people, a feat that is virtually impossible in the presence of a strong brand.
3. Brands Create a Premium
In an era of altering reimbursement, there are few steps you can take to increase the price of our services. Branding is one of these.
While much of our pricing is dependent upon third-party payer contracts, a growing opportunity for physical therapy services exists in the form of private-pay rehab therapy services. In this free-market arena, rehab therapy services can be provided at rates accepted by the market – rates that are determined by the perceived value of the services provided.
This perceived value can be influenced through the presence of a clear brand that communicates and delivers high-quality, premium services.
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