Different is Better Than Better

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Sally Hogshead

How to grow your practice without changing who you are

By Sally Hogshead

Why do patients respect some physical therapists more than others? Why are some practices consistently busy, while others flounder? We have yet to see how political and economic happenings will affect health care. But one thing is clear: To gain patient respect, referrals, and all the buzz that will have your practice thriving, you need to stand out. You need to fascinate your clients.

We are more active than ever, so the demand for physical therapy is at an all-time high. And the market is on it. As of this summer, physical therapy was the fifth most popular professional degree—and even higher (fourth) for women.1 My recent search for physical therapists in Orlando resulted in over seven pages of results (and that’s just within city limits). So what can a therapist with stellar credentials do to stand out from the crowd? How can your practice avoid getting sunk in a culture of commoditization?

What Great Brands Already Know

In my early twenties, I discovered the field of advertising and instantly fell head over heels. My personality felt custom built for this profession: the creativity, the hallway brainstorming, the opportunity to create pop culture and invent taglines from a handful of ordinary words.

In my second year in the business, I was the most award-winning copywriter in the country. I opened my first advertising agency at age 27 and went on to become a global creative director for major brands. I led my clients to broadcast billions of messages through campaigns for brands like MINI Cooper, Nike, Godiva, Coca-Cola, and BMW. I studied every great agency, devoured books and magazines, and honed my craft so that I could develop new ideas for my clients. Advertising and I had a torrid affair for more than a decade.

Along the way, I learned how communication is received and interpreted, and which types of messages stand out in a crowded marketplace. My experience in advertising taught me how to look at words and ideas through the eyes of others, and identify what others value.

I learned “how the world sees you.”

Advertising isn’t about what a company wants to say. It’s about what the market wants to hear about, talk about, and buy. When companies don’t listen to what consumers need and want and value, their message will fall flat, and they can damage their own brand.

Brands know that having a great product or service means nothing if nobody buys it. The same is true in the commoditized realm of health care.

  • Boasting the longest list of certifications from the most enviable institutions means nothing if nobody knows about it.
  • Having the most friendly team is worthless if nobody comes through your door.
  • Developing high-tech treatment plans to increase patient recovery is a useless effort if no one’s listening to your story to begin with.

So how can you boost your practice’s Yelp reviews and get your name to pop up on Facebook recommendation requests? Better still, how can you possibly do all this without lowering fees? The answer might surprise you.

The truth is, when you’re determining how your clients see you, it’s usually not about strengths and skills. It’s about how you are different.

I spent four years studying high performers, the winners in each industry who deliver top results. The key finding? High performers develop a “personality specialty” of some kind. Just as a restaurant has a specialty dish, or a personal trainer has a specialized regimen, the top achievers focus on their specialty personality traits.

You already have a specialty. It defines how you are different than everyone else in your office, or in your field. Instead of focusing on your “strengths,” focus on differences.

Different Is Better Than Better

In health care, it’s good to be better, but better to be different.

Different doesn’t try to turn you into something else, or require a new skill. Different allows you to highlight the singular traits you already have within you. You aren’t necessarily better than your competition. But you do have built-in qualities that allow you to rise above the competition.

As conversations become more compressed, and the marketplace more crowded, you need to know how others see you and respond to you. Rather than just knowing your strengths, you need to identify your differences and learn how to use them even more.

The best part is, you don’t have to change who you are. You just have to become more of who you are.

The first step is identifying the traits of your personality or practice that set you apart and fascinate your clients and associates. The word fascination comes from the ancient Latin fascinare, “to bewitch or hold captive so others are powerless to resist.” Fascination is the most powerful force of attraction, drawing people into a state of intense focus.

In my research, I learned that there are different communication styles that people use to fascinate their listeners. I call these our Fascination Advantages. Each of us naturally depends on one or two of them most often. When you’re using your primary or secondary Advantage to send a message, you’re tapping into your highest value—what makes you different.

Let me give you some quick examples.

If your primary Advantage is innovation, you’ll want to share the story of the breakthrough technologies you are bringing to your patients. Maybe you have incorporated a varied treatment plan that incorporates aquatic therapy and traditional Chinese medicine. On the other hand, if your primary Advantage is trust, you may want to focus on the fact that your family’s practice has been in the community for over 60 years. Physical therapists whose primary Advantage is passion are most comfortable nurturing relationships with their clients. Physical therapists who are passionate about their work use a personal touch or emotional connection to grow their business.

Each of us will use these Advantages in ways that suit our unique stories. The secret lies in discovering the personality traits that set you apart, and then infusing your brand with messages that support your special value. You will be presenting a more authentic you, requiring less effort and leaving a more memorable impression.

Remember: It’s good to be better, but better to be different.

Different is better than better

Sally Hogshead is a New York Times best-selling author and world-class branding expert who discovered a new way to measure how people perceive your communication through the Fascination Personality Test. Before researching the science of fascination, Sally rose to the top of the advertising profession in her early twenties, writing ads that fascinated millions of consumers.

Copyright © 2017, Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. All Rights Reserved.

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