All of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.
– Tom Peters
Branding. It’s not just for the likes of Porsche (There Is No Substitute) and Subway (Eat Fresh). Given the competitive pressures of aesthetic medicine, it’s something doctors need to do, as well. In fact, when you factor in the reality that patients have a hard time differentiating between providers in general, establishing a personal brand may be the best way to stand out from the crowd.
That’s the premise of a recent article in PRS Global Open, which discusses the value of using social media to establish, position and sustain one’s professional brand. “#SocialMedia for the Academic Plastic Surgeon—Elevating the Brand” may have been written with the academic plastic surgeon in mind but it’s equally relevant for those who are trying to connect, not with their peers, but with patients. Among the points the article makes:
Step 1: Establish your brand
As the authors note, “a brand can be defined as the total sum of all thoughts or feelings about a person or thing at any given time.” Branding, on the other hand, refers to efforts to shape or influence those thoughts or feelings in order to encourage a subsequent action. Once upon a time, that meant advertising, a set of one-way messages that sought to fix an image of a company in consumers’ minds; today, social media provides a more effective alternative that is better targeted, reaches further and facilitates the two-way conversations that consumers have come to expect.
To accomplish that goal, the authors suggest embracing the concept of “brand generosity” — the idea that a brand “should be out there adding good things to people’s lives and to the culture.” Doctors, of course, do that on a daily basis but the profession’s aversion to self-aggrandizement can muzzle the message. Creating and sharing social content that inspires, entertains or informs aesthetic consumers resolves the issue — it’s about their needs, not yours — which, in turn, helps establish you and your practice as an engaging, desirable brand.
Step 2: Position your brand
When doctors share their expertise — answering online Q&As, posting before and after photos, etc. — they help counter the misinformation that’s often found online, which also helps build a reputation for “thought leadership.” Positioning is the process of drilling down to determine what form that thought leadership is going to take. As the authors put it,
This is where “brand positioning” comes in — that is, the creation of the perception of a brand and the position that the brand holds in relation to other brands within the minds of the target community. In the process of creating your specific brand, you will make choices about creating content that frames your brand in a certain light—that is, positioning.
It could be a focus on facelifts or reputation for revisions or the warm welcome and empathetic approach you and your staff demonstrate. In a field in which there are many skilled practitioners and a multitude of approaches, positioning is all about letting potential patients know what differentiates you from the competition.
Step 3: Sustain your brand
Using social outlets to share your content amplifies its effect and allows it to reach a wider audience, provided, that is, they actually see it. The problem is that there’s so much available content from so many sources that there’s a good chance they won’t unless a) they find that they’ve found your content to be worth their time and b) you produce it consistently enough to sustain their interest. As the authors write,
The half-life of one’s brand in this new era of data exchange and ubiquity of messaging is short. To not only grow but also sustain one’s brand, the plastic surgeon must persist and echo her or his brand. This takes constant attention to the message and production of content that the community finds engaging.
Clearly, managing all of the above is more involved than simply buying an ad. But it’s increasingly important as consumers have more options, more information and more interest in engaging with the companies they patronize. And while they may not explicitly think of doctors as brands, their online inquiries, community conversations and post-procedure reviews are clear evidence that practices’ personal branding plays a major role in their aesthetic decisions. As Warren Buffet once said,
Your premium brand had better be delivering something special or it’s not going to get the business.