Making an Impression
A Dentist’s Guide to Practice Branding
By Naomi Cooper
Branding is often described as the art of simultaneously being well-known and well thought of. David Ogilvy, known as “the Father of Advertising,” once said of branding, “You now have to decide what ‘image’ you want for your brand. Image means personality. Products, like people, have personalities, and they can make or break them in the marketplace.”
So what is branding? It’s simply the personification of your practice.
Determining the Practice’s Brand
Perhaps the first question to ask is what the name of the dental practice should be. Is the dentist’s first name, middle initial, and last name, followed by his or her credentials, the answer? Perhaps not. What works for a young dentist just starting up a solo practice in a suburban community may not apply for a group practice in a big city with multiple dentists; for them, using this type of naming scheme might make them sound more like a stuffy law firm than a dental practice.
And regardless of whether the owner of a given dental practice is 45 or 65, it is actually quite important to consider whether the name should include the doctor’s name. One question to ask is how important it is to make it easy for an eventual partner or successor to step into the practice. Even if retirement is not in the 5-year plan, imagine if a sudden illness or disability forced the unexpected—and unplanned for—sale of a practice.
If a buyer has to not only gain the trust of his or her newly acquired patients and hope that some of the residual affinity toward the outgoing owner somehow gets transferred, but also has rebrand the practice, change the sign on the door, design a new logo, print new letterhead and business cards for the whole dental team, and design a new website—it is a lot of extra responsibility.
Just like the reception area should be appealing to patients regardless of age or gender, the practice’s branding should, theoretically, be conducive to adding an associate into the practice, and it should ideally be adaptable and turnkey for prospective buyers. If another practice being considered for purchase has a more universally applicable brand, there is a potential inherent advantage, in that the brand not only suited the seller—it also suits the buyer, and is potentially more valuable as a result. After all, a brand is only a sellable asset if it is a transferrable asset.
For some, the transition consideration is critical in selecting a dental practice brand. For others, it is not important, at least in the present tense. There are a host of reasons why it might be advantageous to maintain the doctor’s name as part of the practice name, and an equal number of rationales to creating a brand distinct from the doctor’s identity.
Some dentists have names that are incredibly difficult to spell or pronounce. Other names may have a history in the local community. Some dentists have family members active in local politics. A dentist may come from a long line of doctors and dentists and have a family name known for carrying on that legacy. Female dentists may change their names mid-career because of marriage—or divorce. Either way, it is important to make the practice’s brand a conscious decision rather than just continuing with what has been done in the past based on habit alone.
Crafting a Brand Image
A great first step is taking the time to consider, perhaps for the first time on a conscious level, what an individual practice’s true “brand persona” actually is.
Daniel Boorstin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, sociologist and historian, once wrote, “an image is not simply a trademark, a design, a slogan or an easily remembered picture. It is a studiously crafted personality profile of an individual, institution, corporation, product or service.”
When reflecting on the image that your practice projects in the community, there are several considerations. Is the practice high-tech, with all the latest and greatest equipment? Or is it more family-friendly and relationship-oriented? Is the practice located in a prestigious medical–dental building in the heart of downtown, or in a newly renovated storefront on Main Street? Are most of the patients young families or retirees? Is the practice located in a working-class urban area or a wealthy suburban community?
Making a list of adjectives and adverbs that describe the practice can also be highly useful in determining its brand persona. The more specific the better; it is best to stay away from words like “quality” and “friendly”—attributes that almost every dental practice aspires to, at least in theory. Rather, considering what is truly unique and special about the practice is the true goal of the exercise.
Delivering on the Practice’s Brand Promise
AT&T sells phone service, but they do not advertise phone service. They advertise relationships. Coach sells handbags, but they advertise a luxury lifestyle. Do they deliver on those promises? If they want to sell their products, they had better deliver on their promises.
The first question every dental practice owner has to ask him or herself is: What is your brand promise?And the very next question should be, can you deliver on that promise?Being true to who you really are is the key to branding and marketing your practice. If a practice’s branding is authentic and organic, it is unlikely to unintentionally break promises.
Once an honest assessment of the practice’s true personality has been conducted, it is easy to start imagining the differences in what your patients would come to expect and what your brand has to deliver as a result.
No Screaming, No Tricks
Leo Burnett, an advertising industry pioneer named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, once said, “If you don’t get noticed, you don’t have anything…the art is in getting noticed naturally, without screaming or without tricks.”
The branding question is one of the most important challenges for any dentist looking to attract new patients and hoping to help existing patients more readily accept treatment. When it comes to marketing in general—and branding in particular, what many dentists object to is the brash, flagrantly self-promotional nature of what they have historically seen in the marketplace and have come to associate with the genre.
However, it is critical to separate flashy tactics and an over-the-top sensibility from the concepts of marketing and branding in and of themselves. Every practice can choose how to brand itself and in the long run, how to best represent that brand through its marketing and advertising efforts. In the words of David Ogilvy, “Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image.”
It’s your image, so make sure it represents you—well.
About the Author
Ms. Cooper is the president of Minoa Marketing, a dental marketing and social media consultancy based in Los Angeles, California and also also serves as the chief marketing consultant for Pride Institute. Naomi has more than 15 years of marketing experience, including a decade-long track record of helping dental practices and dental companies to achieve their marketing goals. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.