Becoming a Meaningful Brand was previously published in Canadian Vet, May / June 2011.
As a veterinarian, is there a zone where your energy and interest peaks because of how you feel about a type of service, circumstance, or challenge?
Have you noticed how others respond to you when you are in that zone? It often sets the stage for loyal relationships, doesn’t it?
The question is, how could anyone gain this insight, for themselves and perhaps even by themselves, without the benefit of this deep engagement?
Through your professional brand.
That’s not to say that once you’re set up with a name, a logo, a tagline, and a marketing program, everyone will understand the value that you offer, sight unseen.
For starters, what they know will be limited by what you’ve decided to share.
Consider an analogy outside of the clinic. Let’s say that you’ve been chatting for five minutes with a couple of people that you met at a party. What would you expect to have learned about them? A little about the job, the home, maybe there’s been a purchase of a new car or a vacation is
That’s typical right?
On very rare occasions, however, people will share on a whole other level, because of timing or in response to a certain dynamic. Someone starts talking about a book that was particularly evocative and you immediately connect, in a profound way. All within the same five minute period.
What changes? Instead of boredom setting in after a mostly forgettable conversation, you walk away with just a little bit of a bounce, feeling connected.
Think of your name, logo, tagline, and marketing program as opportunities to do just that but with your desired growth market.
Understanding doesn’t depend on time or the number of words exchanged but rather how directly you express something meaningful to your audience.
The first rule of branding: know yourself
The first and often biggest hurdle to developing a meaningful brand, for veterinary and other professional practices, is fear. Fear of sharing the whole truth about our professional selves.
We tend to share what we think our audience wants to hear and what we expect will keep the most doors open to opportunity.
There’s a wide spectrum of guarded behaviour; even when we don’t hide our truth completely we bury it so that it’s not the first thing people learn about us.
Remember, you have about 5-7 seconds to connect with prospects. If you don’t come right out with a compelling message about your clinic, you will most likely lose their interest and you may not get a second chance.
But facilitating connection isn’t about sharing everything. It’s about focusing on your core values in the sequence in which they matter to you.
The second rule of branding: don’t hold back your vision
Once you’ve carefully considered what gets you in the zone, you can start
making decisions that will allow you to focus on that area of your practice.
You might decide to redefine your target audience, your service offering, or some other aspect of your practice. At first it might seem like closing doors to opportunity. But how many doors do you really need to keep open? Ultimately, you would be focusing on the ones that really count. This process will facilitate growth and loyalty with your desired growth market, which is a far easier way to build a practice.
How will you know if your vision is making an impact?
When there’s no substitute for your brand. People will wait for you if you’re not available. They will travel to see you if you move. Of their own accord they will spread the word, tirelessly.
The third rule of branding: express it, clearly
Sometimes a big vision is carried forward in practice but the brand and marketing programs are disconnected from it. The really inspiring work that actually takes place either doesn’t get expressed or isn’t done justice. Instead, the visual identity seems to exist, just for the sake of it. It doesn’t embrace the job of representing your clinic.
Other times, a vision involves a subtle nuance, though equally profound. The subtler it gets, the easier it is for the message to get lost.
Either way, the art is in the delivery and you can facilitate this process by taking these fundamental steps:
- Learn how to evaluate and work with a marketing professional to effectively and creatively express the most meaningful aspects of your brand.
- Build consistency across your marketing program. Resist the temptation to reinvent your positioning statements and visual identity from website to brochure to newsletter. In marketing, repetition builds familiarity and trust rather than boredom.
- Before committing, test your brand and marketing program to gauge whether or not it makes the desired impact with your target audience.
- Maintain a nimble attitude that will enable you to finetune your brand, as appropriate, in response to new opportunities or changes in your business environment.
The fourth rule of branding: deliver on your promise
A brand is essentially a promise. It’s a promise to your clients, your patients, your employees, and most of all to yourself. This promise doesn’t take breaks; from the most intense treatments to the most casual of conversations, great brands continue to deliver.
The moment you break your promise, people tend to share their displeasure with, on average, eleven of their closest friends!
It’s abundantly clear that when it comes to the fourth rule of branding, to some extent, your fortune lies in the hands of others. It’s a risk but it can also be an opportunity. Your customer’s experience depends on your team’s commitment but the single most important factor influencing this commitment is you:
- Hire people who share your vision.
- Take the time to build your brand internally by sharing your plans, inviting input, and reinforcing the role everyone plays in achieving this vision.
- Don’t assume that you will get the results you want. Develop a training program to ensure that you do.
- Show your appreciation in a manner that takes into account what motivates each individual on your team, whether it’s a simple thank you, a group outing, or other form of recognition.
Branding is a process
Becoming a meaningful brand is a process. It accounts for making, expressing, and delivering promises aligned with your vision, your values and the way you wish to practice. How far down the road has your brand travelled? Are you ready to take the next step?