Branding your practice is far more about core values and a business plan than a fancy new logo or a flashy website. By John Burfitt
Ask most people about the branding of their practice, and the immediate response usually involves detailed explanations about logo designs and letterhead colour choices.
Which is where so many are going wrong, according to brand strategist Debbie O’Connor of White River Design. “Your logo is not your brand, but rather a symbol to help people visually recognise your business,” O’Connor says. “Your brand is about your promise, commitment to that promise and every single interaction and experience your customer has with your practice. It starts from the moment they look at the website and phone in, all the way through the consultation and when the bill is presented. Connection, experience and reputation is what branding is all about.
“Before you even think about talking to a graphic designer, work out a plan and strategy. If you don’t have that in place, it’s hard to create a brand that resonates.”
Branding involves the complete customer experience, the way you communicate with them, your language and tone, how their expectations are met, and how you do things to create a memorable experience. It also stems directly from your brand personality, your purpose and your core reasons for being in business.
It was Amazon founder Jeff Bezos who in 2012 stated: “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” O’Connor says his comment made the powerful point that branding applies at every level of a business and is not something that starts and finishes with the marketing department.
“Understanding your business strategy is essential in helping develop a brand that’s going to position you ahead of your competitors, create loyal customers, repeat business and more profit,” she says.
“Sometimes the best thing is to step outside your business and look back in as a customer does. Acknowledge what their experience is when they engage with you. Your brand is about setting an expectation with the customer, how you deliver upon that and the impression that creates.”
Unique selling points
From the branding work she has done with a number of veterinary practices around Australia, O’Connor has noted one consistent theme.
“They all seem to compete on what they do, but never really focus on how they do it or the parts that make them unique, and so that makes it challenging for them to stand out,” she says. “They’re all speaking the same language, saying the same things to the same audience, and nothing about what makes them unique compared to the others. Nor do they appear to be speaking directly to their customer.”
Sydney brand consultant Zoe Sabados calls herself “a brand nerd” and says her approach is to “help a business fall in love with what is their purpose as a business”.
Sabados describes the four stages of branding. “First, there is the core reason why you’re in business, followed by the visual identity of what the business actually looks like. That’s followed by the tone of your personality, how you communicate and all your content. Lastly, and probably most important, is the customer experience of your business, from start to finish.”
“A strong brand embodies trust, especially when you are dealing with pets as they are such an emotional part of families.”—Caroline Ucherek, managing director, CJU Medical Marketing
Despite her clear outline of the various stages, Sabados admits some practice owners have proven resistant to this kind of introspection. “I’ve had business owners say, ‘Oh that’s all too airy-fairy’, but these are the building blocks you need to be clear about in the beginning if you want to have benefits in the long term,” she says.
The owner of a cat and dog, Sabados says she found herself in the role of a ‘picky consumer’ when she looked for the right practice for her pets. She paid close attention to the branding of each clinic.
“I’m always looking for which vet practice ‘gets’ me, as that’s ultimately what all customers want,” she says. “They want an emotional connection with the brand, to know the business owner understands their problems with their pets and knows what is needed, and that it’s a good experience at every stage of dealing with that vet.
“It’s about what is it that makes this practice stand out from the others. It’s also about what makes me as the customer want to keep coming back.”
Dr Lindsay Hay of Sydney’s Baulkham Hills Veterinary Hospital believes practice owners need to be more aware of their branding than ever before, due to the dramatic changes in the marketplace.
“Most of those big corporate practices have spent a lot of money on branding, so if an independent practice is nearby, it has to be conscious of providing an alternative experience that differentiates it in terms of branding,” Dr Hay says. “This is where independent practices can find they can compete well in terms of client loyalty and personalised service, but also in establishing employee loyalty and retaining regular staff.
“That can be a strong point of difference when people see familiar faces at the independent practice, as opposed to an ever-changing roster at a corporate practice. That value in terms of branding can be powerful.”
Matthew Muir is the director of All Natural Vet Care, the first dedicated vet practice in Sydney to offer an integrative approach to mainstream veterinary services with alternative and complementary medicines. Dr Muir says it has been the focus on the clear difference between his practice to others in his local area that has been the basis for their branding.
“Our brand reflects our point of differences and highlights our strengths,” he says. “It’s also about identifying a consistency in our philosophies. Brand positioning also keeps us as a team motivated to work towards our vision.”
One important lesson about branding, adds Caroline Ucherek of CJU Medical Marketing, comes down to the value of trust. “A strong brand embodies trust, especially when you are dealing with pets as they are such an emotional part of families,” Ucherek says.
“Trust has a value and should increase revenue because you are building brand loyalty. If your client has previously had an experience with your practice that showed them they could trust your team, they’re coming back. That kind of loyalty leads to increasing revenue.
“That takes dedicated effort, and that approach to branding has been well thought out, set up and implemented. It’s also branding that does pay off.”