Maybe the last time you walked into a retail-based clinic, you did not see an MD. Maybe the same thing happened at your hospital outpatient clinic or an urgent care center. Physician "extenders" and advanced practice professionals, such primary care pharmacists, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants are winning the war on branding. They and their professional associations have done a good job branding their services while complacent doctors have not. What happened?
Doctors don't understand that branding a service, particularly one that is becoming more and more commoditized, is not like branding a product, such as toothpaste. There are four keys to branding a service:
1. Don't Mass Market to Your Target Market. Take a look at the doctor ads. They are filled with platitudes like "quality care," "personalized service," and "caring staff." I would sure hope so. But, marketing to the masses with platitudes is like a CPA saying "I can do your taxes." Instead, you need to "touch" your patients with highly targeted messages.
2. Focus On Relevance Over Differentiation. Most product branding is about cheaper, smarter, faster, better, compared to the competition. Service branding is about how I can solve your unique problem.
3. Worry About Growing Revenue, Not Market Share. Payer mix is an obvious difference when it comes to sick-care branding compared to product branding. As we all know, doctors don't make the same profit seeing all patients. Some, in fact, are loss leaders. Soon, all of sick care might be a loss leader.
4. Help Your People Be Your Brand. Particularly in sick care, your people are your brand, including the doctors. You are the product, not the doctor.
When it comes to these four elements, non-physicians are doing a better job than physicians and they are building brand equity. Take a page out of the FedEx playbook, and expect to see
• A genuine and defensible market position
• Improved external awareness, perception, and desirability
• The development of a collaborative internal culture
• Alignment and integration of all messaging
• Revenue growth
In the face of competition, substitutes and turf wars, doctors need to do more about their sustainable competitive advantage, particularly when it comes to practicing at the top of their license, building brand equity and innovating—all things that, up to this time, they have not done because they didn't have to.
Maybe then, they won't call you a provider any more, doctor.
Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at www.sopenet.org