Is Your Brand an Experience?
The importance of the “how” in branding for physical therapy private practice.
By Benjamin Barron, Pt
In the eyes of the health care consumer, outpatient physical therapy is increasingly being viewed as a commodity rather than a specialized service or experience. In other words, many of your potential customers believe all physical therapy is the same with little to no differentiation in training, outcomes, service, or compliance. The same belief holds true for referring physicians, hospital networks, and insurance companies. In this type of environment, it becomes imperative that business owners and leaders find innovative ways to differentiate their business from their competition and prove value to their customers. One way that private practitioners can do this is by creating a branded experience that sets you apart.
Your brand is not simply your logo, business card, and website. Jerry McLaughlin said it quite well on Forbes.com1 when he stated, “Your ‘brand’ is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name. It’s everything the public thinks it knows about your name brand offering—both factual and emotional. Your brand name exists objectively; people can see it. It’s fixed. But your brand exists only in someone’s mind.”
Perhaps the most important part of that statement is the idea that your brand is an individual’s perception. This presents both an opportunity and a risk. The key is to have the intended brand concept match what the consumer perceives and experiences.
When patients come to your practice, they expect that you and your clinicians are well trained and will help them recover. If this occurs, you have only met their baseline expectations. To develop an enthusiastic fan and a loyal patient, it is critical to somehow exceed their expectations. One way to do this is to provide marketing content that clearly tells the story of who you are. The other is to deliver on an overall legendary experience from the initial contact to discharge and beyond. If you are able to do this in a regular, repeatable, systematic fashion, you can develop and build a brand that will differentiate you among your referral sources and from your competition.
Providing an unparalleled experience doesn’t happen by accident. Think of Disney or the Ritz-Carlton, which pride themselves on creating a “wow” effect for each of their customers. This all starts with leadership providing a clear vision of who they are, what they do, and how they do it better.
Your customers will likely make assumptions about your company (and your brand) before they know anything about you and certainly before you become aware of them. Often, they will look to one of two major external resources: the internet and trusted friends and family members.
Your social media content, the number and quality of online reviews, and your website are the primary means by which potential patients might first start to realize that physical therapy is not a commodity and determine if your brand is what they are looking for. By doing our own research, we learned in nonrural areas that up to 50 percent of physical therapy customers are making the decision of where to seek services based on their research on the internet.
Business coach Chris Smith of the Campfire Effect stated at Ascend 2016,2 “Patients can figure out the ‘what’ pretty quickly. What they’re more interested in is the ‘how’. How can you help me? But they don’t want you to be the only one to tell them; they want social proof!” This means that your digital presence has to go beyond stating that you provide physical therapy for fill-in-the-blank diagnosis using fill-in-the-blank techniques. Your patients want to know what to expect in terms of the experience, and they want to hear about it from your previous patients. Testimonials are key, not just on your website, but on your Google location page, on Yelp, on Facebook, and on every other channel that your customers may be utilizing.
Assuming these prospective customers find your digital presence to be a fit for their needs and they decide to become a customer, they begin comparing their expectations to their actual experience from the very first interaction with you. As Dennis Snow says, “Everything Speaks.” How your staff answers the phone, the amount of garbage in the bin, and the music playing in your clinic all create an environment and an impression. It’s up to you to decide what you want this experience to be, relate this to your team, and hold them accountable. Consider how your children’s experience at Disney would be if they saw Mickey Mouse with his fake head under his arm smoking a cigarette.
The work is just getting started once you have determined what you want your brand to look and feel like. Training your team and consistent monitoring are the key to successful brand execution. Patient satisfaction surveys are simply not enough to monitor or differentiate yourself. Just about every outpatient physical therapy practice in the United States will have satisfaction scores of 95 percent or higher. What you need is a system and a tool that is automated, has no selection bias, and provides you with real-time data on the patient experience that allows you to congratulate your team, provides constructive feedback, and identifies the customers who will shout your praises from the rooftops.
Some organizations utilize the Net Promoter Scale to determine exactly how likely your patients are to recommend your services to their friends and family. Sometimes referred to as the only number you need to know in business, asking your patients “How likely are you to recommend ABC Physical Therapy to your friends or family?” will give you more data on a patient’s perception of your brand than anything else. Even better, by using email automation systems, you will be able to get this data in a systematic, nonbiased fashion to get a true sense of your team’s ability to execute on your brand vision.
The final step in this process relates back to Chris Smith’s idea of “social proof.” By identifying your promoters as those who score you as a 9 or 10 on the Net Promoter Scale, you can reach out to these people to see if they would be willing to speak about their experience. There are many ways to both capture and capitalize on this content: Facebook reviews, Google reviews, and video or written testimonials. The most important part is that this is done in a systematic, repeatable fashion.
Once you develop your brand concept and train your staff, utilizing your most powerful customer service experiences is vital to propelling your brand forward. By allowing and leveraging past customers to both shape and influence your consumer experience, you continue to better your brand’s position for the future. It is this positive perception, and this improved brand position, that will ultimately bring more potential customers into your practice and convince potential patients and referring physicians in your community that physical therapy is definitely not a commodity.
1. Jerry McLaughlin. What is a Brand Anyway? Dec. 21, 2011. Forbes.com. Accessed November 2016.
2. Chris Smith. The Campfire Effect. Ascend Conference 2016, webpt.com/blog/post/3-key-action-items-from-ascend-2016. Accessed November 2016.
Benjamin Barron, PT, is a PPS member and practices at ProEx Physical Therapy and Collectivity in New Hampshire. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.