As a physician or healthcare provider, you are, no doubt, focused on clinical knowledge, patient care, and all that goes into providing the best outcomes for your patients. While you focus on the healthcare, is anyone focusing on your practice’s healthcare branding?
What do you want to be known best for? How do best convey that message? And how can you build trust that will lead patients to you and your practice naturally?
As a former anesthesiologist who took care of whomever the surgeon or emergency room sent his way, I have no idea. Fortunately, there are people and agencies that can help you when I can’t.
Sliman M. Baghouri, the author of today’s post, is the branding director and co-founder of unnus.com, a healthcare branding agency. He coordinates branding strategies for healthcare clients, ranging from practices and hospitals to pharmaceutical companies. Sliman is the host of unnus’s Care Frontiers Podcast and an author at unnus digital magazine.
4 Easy Steps to Kickstart Your Healthcare Branding Strategy
With the rapid surge of healthcare brands, patient choice has expanded. This expansion of choice forces medical businesses to enter the competition ring and start brawling for acquisitions, price-cutting, and the patient’s short attention span.
However, what if we could break through all of this noise? What if we could create the irreplaceable? Let’s go through the 4 pillars that craft an uncontested medical brand. A brand that is timeless and future-proof.
1) Trust Creation
Research has shown that almost all of our decision-making happens in the limbic system, the part of the brain involved in our emotional and trust responses. Moreover, Harvard professors say that 95% of our buying-decision are based on unconscious urges, the biggest of which is trust.
Trust is a big driver for all of our decisions. But when it comes to healthcare, it is particularly so.
Neil Rackham, author and sales expert, illustrates how different products/services require different selling methods depending on how big the buying-decision is in his book, SPIN Selling.
In one chapter, the author describes an experiment in closing.
A photography store had two different counters—one for small purchases (movie, cheap lenses) and one for the premium products (Digital SLR, expensive lenses).
At the small-ticket counter, the sales staff used high-pressure closing strategies with success.
At the high-ticket counter, a different team took a more trust-infused, low-pressure strategy, also with great success.
After that, the store had the reps teams switch counters.
And the reps who were accustomed to twisting arms failed—hard.
The closing techniques that worked well on small purchases backfired with customers considering bigger items.
Meaning, as the decision size increases, the sale becomes more and more about trust.
As you know, trusting a provider with your health or your loved ones’ health is not a small decision to make. And because the decision size when choosing a healthcare provider is big, the patient choice will rely heavily on how many trust signals they received from you.
However, many medical brands disregard this simple fact: communication with would-be patients or the current patient base should build trust.
How many times you’ve seen an ad message for a hospital or private practice goes like this:
- “State of the art medical equipment.”
- “Data-driven approach to healthcare.”
- “Complete care suite of services.”
- “Cutting edge healthcare technology.”
- “Affordable healthcare costs.”
While such feature-oriented messages would work in other industries like fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) or other commoditized products, it’s ineffective in healthcare.
The problem with the above communication method is that it assumes that patients choose based on rationality and assessment of features, which is simply wrong. Again buying decisions in such serious matters as our health are not rational. No one would choose a provider they don’t trust, even if they have the fanciest medical tech stack or cheapest practice in town.
Start With The Why
In his book, Start With The Why, Simon Sink refers to this messaging as a What Message (WM). A message that describes what the service is and its features.
What Messages are perceived by the neocortex, the part of the brain that’s responsible for logical reasoning. For example, when you’re buying a pen, a What Message (a message that emphasizes the features) will work great, and you’re probably going to assess the pen’s features before you buy it. That’s because the decision size is small, and trust isn’t needed that much to lubricate the sale.
However, another type of message that seems to be more effective is Why Messages (WYM): Messages that are trust-signaling and carry a high sense of purpose behind them. Because why Messages are emotional and speak directly to our limbic system, they are 10x more impactful.
Here’s an example of A WM vs. WYM:
1) Hospital Pitch (What Messaging):
“We’re healthier™, we offer the best healthcare services to our patients at affordable costs, want to join in?”
2) Hospital Pitch (Why Messaging):
“What good is a healthcare service if it’s not safe? Our hospital was founded based on safety. Because we know that good health begins with safe communities. We’re Healthier™; we offer the safest healthcare services in town. Want to join in?”
Trust-oriented messages are the first pillar of great medical brands and should be prioritized over the ever-growing dry communications.
“Trust is the ultimate shortcut to a buying decision and the bedrock of modern branding.” ― Marty Neumeier.
2) Establishing Communication Frameworks
In an age where people are information-rich and time-poor, every brand is fist-fighting to get in front of your would-be patient. For the first time in history, competition doesn’t come from direct competitors, indeed, but from the market clutter.
Experts estimate that the average person encounters between 6,000 to 10,000 ads daily. All from the same sounding brands, providing the same sounding offers with the same sounding voice.
Patients are bombarded by endless ads, marketing messages, and uninspiring pitches. This clutter of communication forces our brain to deal with vast irrelevant information the only way we know how—by blocking most of it out.
Despite the plethora of opportunities to reach the patients, we’re finding it hard to communicate effectively without distortion, noise, or the need to think too much about it.
So how can we reach patients and send our trust-inducing messages in a way that goes through intact—crystal clear and potent? The answer is straightforward: we need to change our communication approach in a way that’s consistent, digestible, and inspiring.
And this is where Communication Frameworks (CF) come into play. CFs are a set of systems and communication guidelines that differ from regular ways of communicating with patients. The goal of these frameworks is manifold:
- To reach patients with consistency.
- To ensure that messages are meaningful and impactful.
- Make the communications easily digestible.
- Build rapport and create trust with patients.
CFs act as the compass from which the brand communicates. These communication guidelines will direct every touchpoint the patient interacts with. From the first time booking an appointment until the treatment plan is over.
This communication method will shrink the “psychic distance” between healthcare brands and the patient-base so that relationships can begin to develop. It’s a great way to ensure that everyone is on message and vibrating at the same frequency.
3) Measuring Your Brand’s Success
The ‘bussinessification’ of healthcare and the infinite marketing metrics have shifted our focus from important. We’re now obsessed with acquisitions, ROI, annual revenues, and colorful charts. While such metrics have their place, we must mention their shortcomings.
Projecting any medical facility quarterly sales is essential; however, in doing so, we leave ourselves vulnerable to other deficiencies.
Healthcare marketers start optimizing the best ways to get patients at the doors, and acquiring patients becomes more important than keeping them. Current revenue streams are prioritized, and the ultimate goal is to project revenues in the short term.
This model’s most inefficient aspects lie within its disregard for the patient and the lack of long-term brand building. But if we’d like to build sustainable medical brands, we should reroute our attention to more meaningful and sizable measurement units. Units that put the emphasis where it belongs—on the patient.
Instead of solely focusing on profit, we need to add Patient Satisfactory States (PSS) to our business equation. PSS is a set of key factors that aim at tracking metrics related to the level of attachment the patient has towards the brand. Metrics including but not limited to:
- It measures the satisfaction level of the patient with care services.
- It measures the patient excitement of the service and their willingness to recommend the brand to others.
- It measures the patient attachment to the brand, its staff, and the care providers.
- It measures how much the brand is contributing to the patient’s growth and support. This metric shows any positive impact on the patient’s life due to their interaction with the brand.
- It measures to which extent purchasing decisions are made based on the attachment to your brand rather than the price, convenience, or regardless of the alternatives.
Unlike the profit-oriented approach to measuring a healthcare brand’s success, this measurement method provides us with unmatched insights into the business’s long-term sustainability.
Studies have shown that a 5% increase in loyalty can mean a 95% increase in profit over a customer’s lifetime, and only a 2% increase in loyalty is equivalent to a 10% cost reduction. This goes to highlight the importance of such intangible factors.
Factors like this are at the core of the most successful and loved brands. Brands that empower their stakeholders and, in doing so, guarantee their success trajectory.
4) The Internal Brand: Unifying Silos with a Purpose-Driven Culture
Healthcare businesses commonly split their organizations into hierarchical levels to achieve maximum efficiencies. Still, these divides lead to confusion, anxiety, and distrust as employees work at cross-purposes, taking refuge in functional silos instead of a collaborative environment.
Such an ecosystem will lead to a lack of communication between departments. As a result, employees go about directionless without understanding their work’s impact or even why they do what they do. Creating a reaucratic environment where work overshadows purpose and the spark of inspiration will fizzle before reaching the patient.
According to studies, one of the main reasons for high nurse turnover rates in hospitals is the lack of an environment that rejuvenates and motivates the nursing workforce. RNs suffer from a lack of role clarity, and so does the whole team. This issue could severely hinder the organization’s performance and hurt the brand’s bottom line.
To combat this, healthcare brands must instill a high sense of mission in the organization and build purposeful environments in which people thrive and feel valued. Brand purpose gives the organization a true north to head towards. It provides the employees with a reason why they should join the same cause the brand is trying to fight for. The leadership team should gather the whole team under one shared vision and solidify why the organization exists.
Letting go of the rigid, spread-sheet-driven processes will provide a refreshing start for the whole business and catapult the brand to the next level—a level where efficiency and innovation are predictable rather than accidental.
Building an Effective Healthcare Branding Strategy
Flourishing brands are always built on trust. Trust plays a big role in healthcare as it’s a serious matter to the patient. And thus, patients are more receptive to authentic messaging from medical brands more than feature-driven communications.
Not only that, but in an overly saturated industry, healthcare brands should direct all of their touchpoints with frameworks that ensure consistency and the effectiveness of the communications.
The two elements, Trust Creation and Communications, are the external part of the brand. And they are at the forefront of any medical business.
However, the internal parts are just as critical: the first of which is Success Metrics. And they are the key indicators for business performance. High-performing medical brands prioritize the patient and base their success measurements on patient outcomes, not the bottom line. Consequently, making the profit more dependable and long-term focused.
The last internal aspect is ensuring that the organization is gathered around a shared understanding of its mission. This way, the staff can deliver on the brand’s promise to the patient, and operational efficiency is almost always increasing.
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