Developing and Communicating Your Personal Brand

Cheryl Whitman, Founder and CEO
beautiful forever

Properly managed, your practice’s brand is likely to be one of your most valuable assets. A compelling and memorable brand can create the kind of patient loyalty that manifests itself as a preference strong enough to overcome intense competition and price differences. That level of brand-driven loyalty among patients that can also generate word-of-mouth referrals (and, in this Internet age, “word-of-mouse” referrals) which lead to profitable new clients as well as valuable repeat business.

Building and promoting a brand identity – known in the trade as “branding” – is a technique all businesses and individuals can use to effectively market themselves and their services. As a physician, your personal brand consists of how others perceive you and your practice, as well as the products and services you’re offering. Branding is driven not only by how you provide services to your patients, but also how you communicate all of these elements to your target audiences.

At beautiful forever, we have successfully demonstrated with our clients that branding begins with your office – your physical plant, your staff, and your personal “bedside manner” in dealing with patients and prospects. However, branding goes far beyond what you actually deliver. Branding includes your website and your social media web presence, your success in creating positive public and media relations (i.e., press coverage), and even your advertising. A decade ago, branding would have been influenced by your Yellow Pages ad as well, but thanks to the pervasiveness of the Internet (and especially your practice website) that is no longer a significant factor in branding.

Finally, your branding is driven by what your patients communicate to others. For example, although he’d innovated a new and now widespread laproscopic procedure, one successful west coast bariatric surgeon’s brand is defined more by the fact that one famous pop singer dedicated her well-received autobiography to him than by his reputation as a gifted innovator among fellow bariatric surgeons.

In the realm of branding, “perception is reality.” Patients are seldom capable of determining for themselves the objective professional skill and quality of a given physician. Rather, they determine who is right for them based on their perception of that physician’s personal and professional brand.

Regardless of how it is created, as a physician, your personal brand is very powerful because it sends a clear, consistent message about who you are and what you have to offer. A strong, authentic and compelling personal brand helps you become known for what you’re good at. It sets you apart from every other physician in your specialty, and a strong and positive brand can even position you as a niche expert, someone sought out by patients and prospects.

One of the quickest ways we have found at beautiful forever in working with our physician clients to jump-start the creation of your personal brand is to have the public identify you with that special factor by which you’d prefer to be known. What is that one thing by which you would like to be known?

Do you want to known as caring and compassionate? Or would you rather be known as technically proficient?

Do you want to be known as the best in your field in a certain procedure? Or would you rather be known as a gifted generalist who can “do it all?”

Your brand – how your target audiences perceive you – will either be one you consciously create, or one that is imposed upon you based on how you perform with your patients and how you market yourself. For most physicians, a consciously-created brand is far more powerful, and far more valuable, than one imposed on you by others.

So how do you go about creating a brand?

First, your brand must be based on measurable reality – it should be based on the kind of patient service that you constantly and faithfully deliver. However, your brand must also be something that is easily identifiable – a complex, carefully-nuanced “brand” will not be easily communicated or perceived. Instead, your brand should be clear, concise, and an accurate reflection of the physician you are.

Creating Your Brand
When it comes to creating your brand, you should begin by defining your personal and practice objective – who you are and what service you want to be known for.

Next, create your branding message. Begin, as Shakespeare said, with the idea that “to thine own self be true” – your branding message must be authentic. In addition, it must speak directly to your target market – it must be relevant to the people you wish to reach and to serve. Your brand is a promise of an outcome and a commitment to deliver on that commitment.

Patients respond when they can place their trust in your brand.

Having identified your desired brand, you should select the branding tools that will both communicate your message and reach your targets where they can be found. Does your prospective patients respond to word-of-mouth, or do they rely on the Internet for guidance? Do they respond to favorable press coverage or persuasive testimonials? Select the right blend of branding tools to convey your message.

This begins with your office – its location (are you on Park Avenue or Main Street?) – and with its design and décor. Your staff conveys your brand by the way they interact with patients and prospects, and you set the ultimate tone of your practice branding message. But beyond that, you need to make optimum use of your marketing and communications efforts. Do you offer discounts to build volume, or do you present an exclusive and “it may cost more, but it’s worth it” attitude of premium service at premium prices? All of these factors impact your brand.

Once you’ve defined your desired brand, you must consistently deliver on that brand’s unique promise. Your brand messaging must be clear, consistent, and compelling. Inconsistent brand messaging destroys the most important aspect of a brand – delivering a value promise your patients can trust

Only by focusing on, and consistently delivering, your brand messaging will you be able to build a positive and lasting brand that earns trust from your target audiences.

Five key steps beautiful forever has found that can be counted on to help deliver the brand you want to communicate include:
• Develop a great logo (including a color scheme and a look-and-feel for visual communications) – supported by consistent graphic standards – then display your logo and graphic standards prominently and consistently

• Put your key brand messages in writing, and make sure that every staff member delivers on your brand attributes

• Communicate your brand message in your website, in what your staff wears, how they answer the phone, your sales and advertising materials, promotions and special offers – every communications should reflect your brand

• Develop and use a tagline – a concise statement that captures the essence of your brand

• Deliver on your brand promise – make sure you’re consistent in every interaction with your patients

First Impressions
Your website is your introduction to most prospects, so be consistent in the images that you use. Ensure that they reflect and reinforce your brand. People will immediately get a feel for what you have to offer – you may have as little as 10 seconds to communicate that brand.

To assess your website’s visceral brand message, view your site through the eyes of a new visitor. If it does not immediately “make the case” for your desired brand message, redesign that website so your message and identity are immediately unmistakable.

Then make sure your office (and your office staff) reflects your website – from your building exterior and geo-location to the design of your lobby, your office will either reinforce or shatter your developing brand image.

Social Media
Building your brand using social media allows you to develop new – and strengthen existing – relationships, leading to brand awareness, reinforced loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing.

Your Social Networking efforts will be designed to lead people to your website, which is your front-line branding too. Before you launch a Social Networking outreach effort, make sure your website reflects your brand.

Social Networking is made up of “content” and “conversation,” and each is necessary to an effective campaign. Content tools include WordPress or Blogger blogs and YouTube video blogs, as well as white papers, case studies (i.e., testimonials) and even eBooks. Conversation includes posts on Facebook, Twitter and other discussion-oriented social networking sites, as well as posting comments on others’ blogs. Effective use of these tools will generate awareness, build interest and ultimately motivate a desired action – but improper use of these can prove disastrous. If you’re not comfortable with Social Networking, find an expert who can help transform you from a gifted professional in the real world of medicine into an online “subject matter expert” or even a “thought leader,” someone who others seek out for information on your areas of expertise.

Once you have your website in order and once you are creating memorable and valuable content, focus your conversation where it can be found by your target markets. Your success in Social Networking will depend on providing useful information and on developing relationships with members of your target audience. Those who think of Social Networking as another useful self-promotion tool will be sadly disappointed – let others sing your praises, but refrain from blowing your own horn.

At beautiful forever, one of our most important roles in helping our clients involves rebranding. Most physician practices have brands that “just happened,” without any conscious planning. The doctor provides services that reflect his or her style, the staff does the best they can (based on their personal skills), but without a lot of direction or leadership. The office location and décor “just happened,” too, and the website, the brochures, the ways they communicate with their clients are based on “I’ve got a brother-in-law who can do your website,” plus what the product reps provide to pass out. Success is a matter of luck, more than planning.

When such a client retains us, we advise them to start at the beginning and to re-invent themselves (with our help and guidance) to become the doctor – and the practice – they always wanted to be.

“The Beautiful Forever team was always eager to provide their valuable experience and expertise to help my practice grow and succeed.” says dermatologist, Dr. Oscar Hevia of Coral Gables, Florida, who successfully rebranded his image with a newly designed office, a new logo and website along with his own physician branded product line, Hevia MD Skin Science™ that has won numerous awards for their innovative packaging and design.

The steps we at beautiful forever have identified as the best way to succeed in re-branding include:

• Identify, very specifically, the brand you want to project for yourself and your practice – then take steps to start presenting that brand image to patients and prospects.

• Look at your location – the address, the physical dimensions, and most important, the look-and-feel – of your office. Everything that stands in the way of presenting the right brand must be eliminated, or fixed. If you’re locked into a long-term lease, this means providing an office “face-lift” and “make-over,” just as you’d provide to a patient, so that it looks the best it can, based on what you have to work with.

• Retrain the staff (and this can mean re-shuffling the staff, or even replacing people who just cannot fit with the “brand”) so that every staff member, in dealing with every patient or prospect, reflects the brand image you want to project.

• Start over with your website – replace somebody’s brother-in-law with a real professional who can make it reflect your brand, accurately and consistently. Then go a step further and retain an SEO professional to help position that website so prospects will find it, and retain a marketing and promotion professional (this is a service beautiful forever offers, so our clients don’t need to take this step) to get your website and your practice the attention you need to succeed.

• Start over with your patient hand-outs – brochures, forms, etc. – and with any proprietary products you sell in your office, so that all of them reflect your brand as well. Only use product brochures provided by reps if they reflect your brand – if they do not, create your own. Consistency is vital.

• Finally, work with past and current patients to encourage them to refer you new prospects – confident that your new brand image will not only generate new business, but that when your former patients understand who you really are (remember, your brand reflects reality), they’ll come back for more services.
If you first identify the brand you want, then create actions and images which reflect that brand, you will succeed in branding yourself and your practice, and will find this leads to more “qualified” prospects – potential patients who actually want what you have to offer. It is a process – it takes time and consistency – but done properly, it is the most reliable and effective marketing and practice-building tool in your arsenal.

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