Winning Brand


Better branding for a sustained competitive advantage.

By Mike McTague, PT, DPT, OCS

In the competitive market of physical therapy, private practice owners and managers are trying to differentiate themselves from their physical therapy competition. In any competition, your goal is to win, and quite often other physical therapy practices in your area are trying to win the same way you are. You likely have the same service offerings of manual therapy, exercise, balance programs, and so on. If you are one of the lucky ones to have a successful business in a market where competition is scarce, you likely won’t be alone in that market for long. Other competitors will want a piece of that market.

But competition isn’t always bad—it can even be a good thing as it creates better business strategies and focus. Here’s why:

  1. It creates innovation. You won’t have success if you are like all of your competitors.
  2. It improves customer service, since you may be competing for the same customers.
  3. It minimizes complacency or mediocrity.
  4. It forces you to understand your core market. If you are targeting a specific geographic location, which is very often the case with physical therapy, your competitors will force you to understand your market’s population better.
  5. And last, it fosters education. Understanding what your competitor is doing well will help your business understand what works and what doesn’t.1

So if you understand competition is inevitable, and competition has its benefits, how do you beat them, and not only how do you beat them, but how do you beat them over the long haul? When you are attempting to grow a business, stability is important. You want stability for your employees, your customers, and a comfort and understanding that your business will be around for a long time. This has significant value for operational confidence. This operational confidence is called sustained competitive advantage.


So, sustained competitive advantage . . . how does an organization get it and how does it get it fast? What it takes is a hard look at the business and its brand. What is the brand? Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells your customer what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitors. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be, and who the customer perceives you to be.

McKinsey & Company is a world-renowned global business consulting firm that produced a ground-breaking article in 2003 called “Better Branding”; its goal was to really drive home the concept that in order to beat your competition you have to know how you are different and what really matters to the customer. A tool for this process has been called the Ante diagram.

This tool is used to analyze (1) how relevant your services are to the customer, and (2) how different those services are from your competition. In order to focus this business analysis, you have to determine who your “customer” is, and this should be more widely defined than the customer who is simply “buying” the service. Physicians, medical practitioners (those that refer to physical therapy), are customers. They aren’t buying, but they are utilizing the services for their patients.

Also, for better or for worse, insurance companies are customers in an insurance-based practice. An insurance company cuts a check to a contracted facility or business that has seen a patient who is insured by that insurance entity. Now, do we shape our clinics and build business strategy to appease an insurance company? The answer to that is usually no. But we do follow insurance guidelines, and at times a patient will choose a practice because of its contract with an insurance company. So the insurance company is a customer.


In the world of workers compensation, the employer is also the customer, and our role here in rehabilitation and physical therapy is to get that injured worker back to work as quickly and safely as possible. On the financial side, every day that injured worker is out of work, that company is losing money—as that employer is likely still paying a portion of that employee’s salary while they are out of work. Our goals are to get that patient back to work safely and to reduce the financial burden on the employer.

With this better understanding of this variable customer base, let’s take another look at the ante framework as it applies to a physical therapy private practice with the focus on the patient as the customer.

Antes (features that are important to the customer or patient yet not unique to the market): location, licensed staff, cleanliness, and convenient hours. All of these are important, but your competition will likely have these as well.

Neutrals (customers don’t care about these traits and neither does your competition): American Physical Therapy Association Private Practice Section (APTA PPS) membership might be placed in this category. This is not to say membership involvement and supporting our professional organization are not important, but it may not have meaning for your customers. This chart and strategy force you to look at what is important to the customer. Patients don’t care about our association membership. We should still all be active and contribute but for other important professional reasons.

Fool’s Gold: This is my second favorite section because it really pushes a business owner or manager to move past their own biases of “if it’s unique and important to me, it will be important to the customer.” For example, a specialist certification or an alphabet soup credential such as FAAOMPT (Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapy) would qualify in this section. I know some of you are thinking that this is such a prestigious designation, demonstrating advanced knowledge and years of direct mentoring under an expert, and these professionals are the true specialists in the orthopedic physical therapy. Patients and customers often don’t care about this distinction. In the years I have been practicing, I have never heard from a satisfied patient that they will recommend all their family and friends to our business because I have an advanced certification. It’s unique, but the acronym is not important to them. Here’s the key: The acronym is not important, but the training is. This advanced training will hopefully create an amazing experience and superb outcome for that customer, and that will be what creates the enthusiastic fan.


Drivers: Last and, most important—and likely the hardest to understand—are the drivers. Drivers are what every business needs to be focused on to sustain a competitive advantage. Drivers are traits of your business that are both unique to the market and important to the customer. This is where clinical excellence created by the clinical specialist should be placed. Amazing customer service is something that can also be a driver. And I say amazing, because being courteous to a customer is average customer service. For example, always using the customer’s name when you address them for the first time and walking a patient out to the car with an umbrella when it’s raining. Those are examples of amazing, not average, customer service.2

So as you analyze your business and build customer-based strategies targeted at beating your competition, remember your brand and your promise to the customer should be focused on what’s important to them and not what’s important to you. Check your biases at the door. Focus on those drivers and you’ll have a winning brand.


1. 5 reasons why competition is good for you. Accessed May 1, 2016.

2. Aufreiter N, Elzinga D, Gordon J. Better branding. McKinsey Quarterly. November 2003. Accessed November 2016.

Mike McTague, PT, DPT, OCS, is a team leader at Texas Physical Therapy Specialists in Austin, Texas. He is also a faculty member in Evidence in Motion’s Executive Program in Private Practice Management. He can be reached at

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