By Glenn Bryan, GrowthMatrix, Inc.

Successful clinics have strong brands.  And strong brands don’t just happen – they are built over time with focus, consistency, and hard work.  But what does it mean to be a strong brand and how does one build a strong brand?  Strong brands are those brands that are distinct when compared to other competing brands.  They stand out – not based on fluff and meaningless promotions, but real substance found in the patient experience.  And strong brands are built through the process of positioning.

An important element of branding your clinic is a concept called “positioning.”  How your patients think, feel, and emote about your clinic as compared to all other health care providers is your brand position.  In this article, I want to explain the positioning concept and its influence in the interpretation of your brand image so you can begin to think more strategically about how you are constructing your clinic’s brand image.

The first thing to note about positioning is that it occurs “in the minds of your patients.”  In other words, your patients are the ones that create your brand position.  It doesn’t matter what you think, what your staff thinks, or what your spouse thinks – all that matters is how your patients think.  And it’s more multidimensional than just how they think about you.  Positioning encompasses thoughts as well as feelings, emotions, experiences, etc.  It is really everything that surfaces when your clinic comes into consideration by your patients.

The second thing to note about positioning is that it is “relative to your competition.”  The thoughts, feelings, and emotions that your patients have about your clinic are referenced against what they think, feel, and emote about your competition – which includes all other health care providers.  It’s this concept of positioning that allows patients, and prospective patients, to make judgments about your clinic – which helps them make decisions about visiting, or continuing to visit, your clinic.  These judgments are made on both tangible and intangible factors.

The third thing to note about positioning is that you can influence your patient’s positioning process by carefully matching your clinic experience to the desires of your target population.  The process still occurs “in the minds” of your patients, but you control many of the inputs that go into that process.  And you control those inputs through your clinic experience, not through your clinic advertising.  This is why I always remind you that marketing is more about creating an experience than it is about advertising.  Experience influences position which influences brand which influences loyalty.

Examining your Positioning 
To begin your examination of how your brand is positioned you may want to utilize the following process.  Take the time to list out three groups of your competitors:  direct competitors (probably other local chiropractic clinics), secondary competitors (probably other alternative or holistic health care providers), and tertiary competitors (probably MDs and other traditional providers).  Take your time developing this list as it may have been some time since you last considered what other health care alternatives your patients are considering.  As you know, the lines between your practice and other health care providers has blurred lately as more providers offer more “nontraditional” services.  Keep that in mind as your identify and categorize your competition.

Now that you have this list, you should attempt to understand how your clinic is being evaluated as compared to these competitors.  There are many ways to accomplish this – ranging from highly quantitative to a more subjective assessment.  If you’ve never done this before, then a simple and subjective approach will be very beneficial.  Start by spending time, just by yourself, wrestling with this process.  Then give the same assignment to your staff to get their input.  At this point, it would be good to get out the white board and have an office meeting to discuss everyone’s input and arrive at a consensus.

Next, bring together a cross-section of your patients ranging from new arrivals to multi-year loyalist.  Be open with these patients that you are seeking to understand better how patients “really” think, feel, and emote about your practice – as compared to your competition groups.  My guess is that you’ll be a bit surprised what your patients tell you.

Please note:  Sometimes it’s wiser for you to have someone else facilitate the discussion among your staff and your patients.  Outside “eyes” can sometimes see more clearly than inside “eyes.”

Next Step
At this point, you should have a better understanding of the distinctive factors that patients use to differentiate your clinic from the competition.  From here, the next step in positioning your brand is to design these distinctives into every facet of your business.  To build strong brands, it is important to establish these distinctives into the experience that patients engage in when they interact with your clinic.

Although the design phase is critical to building a foundation for your band and establishing it for a long-term perspective, it is beyond the scope of this article.  We’ll come back to this design phase in a later article.

Positioning for success involves positioning your brand to be distinct among an increasing number of look-alike health care providers.

ACOM Health