American Association for Physician Leadership

Strategy and Innovation

Branding and the Medical Practice

Leslie A. Hack, MBA

June 8, 2019


You should know what your practice offers, how you are perceived, how you would like to be perceived, and whether you have the people and processes in place to provide the experience you want your patients to have before embarking on any branding effort. Branding is more than a logo and a website. It is everything that your customers and potential customers (i.e., patients, caregivers, referral sources) experience with you that ultimately drives them to continue to do business with you. You must consider every touchpoint when embarking on branding. Think of McDonald’s as the gold standard. Whether you like what they do or offer doesn’t matter. McDonald’s is dedicated to their brand in product, service, facilities, and marketing. When you think of a McDonald’s, an image, a product and an idea of service all come to mind, even if you’ve never been there. This should be your ultimate goal.

Branding has become innate. A University of Michigan Study showed that children as young as three years old recognize the branding of products such as a Coca-Cola soft drink.(1) (We are bombarded with brands in daily living. Whether it is the clothes we wear, the food we eat and drink, or the way we communicate, we have learned to make subconscious decisions based on branded products and services. In a world where patients have access to more information than ever to help them decide who they want for their medical provider, branding medical services is no longer a commodity—it is a necessity.

Branding 101: Perception is Everything

What comes to mind when you think of industry giants such as Target, Nike, or Starbucks? You may positively associate Target with low prices or perhaps negatively with long check-out lines. When you think of Nike, did you see the Nike swoosh in your head? Or were you reminded of Tiger Woods and his famous personal fall from grace? Did you associate Starbucks with drive-through flavored coffee? Or do you have negative connotations about high pricing? For better or worse, brands elicit some sort of emotional response when you hear or see their names or logos. That should happen when the name of your practice is printed or announced. What feeling do you want someone to get when they see or hear the name of your practice? More importantly, what are patients saying about your practice when they see or hear its name?

The American Marketing Association defines brand as a “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.”(2) For healthcare providers, it is important to take this definition of brand a step further. You must recognize that your brand is a direct representation of who you are as a physician and the services offered by your practice. Your brand sets the expectations (positive or negative) of what a patient’s experience will be like. When you successfully brand your practice, you create a desired perception in the mind of the end user. Ultimately, you are answering the question “Why should I choose your practice?” Building a brand takes deliberate and skilled effort. You don’t necessarily need the budget of a major company, but you do need to be strategic and dedicated to the effort.

Branding 101: Answer these Six Questions

Successful branding takes consistency, time, and patience. You should have solid knowledge about what your practice offers, how you are perceived, how you would like to be perceived, and whether you have the people and processes in place to provide the experience you want your patients to have. Before you embark on any branding or marketing efforts you should ask and answer the following questions:

  1. Can we define/describe our customers (patients)? The one-size-fits-all notion of providing healthcare is obsolete. The practice that continually assesses and plans for changing population needs will be the most successful. Furthermore, it is no longer just about age, sex, and ethnicity. You must consider things such as socioeconomics, cultural backgrounds, and religious diversity. When you drill down to the specific needs of your patients, you will be able to provide a branded service that is memorable. You might consider offering evening and weekend appointments for a population that mostly works during the day; offering specialized weight-loss services and a fully equipped environment for a population that is overweight; or providing support services and specialized waiting areas for a population in which many patients requires a caregiver. Understanding your unique audience allows you to be targeted and, ultimately, more cost-effective with your business planning and marketing efforts.

  2. What do our customers want? In today’s healthcare marketplace, it is more important than ever to have a clear understanding of not only who your target audience is but also what they’re after. People no longer have the time or the energy to waste searching for medical providers, and they certainly do not want to go to multiple providers if they don’t have to. Convenience—both in finding you and in scheduling—is the top priority. Ninety-two percent of 650 healthcare consumers in a 2018 Black Book survey said that improving the patient experience should be a top priority for medical providers. That is up from 72% in 2017.(3) A survey conducted by Harris Poll in 2016, on behalf of Salesforce, found that 59% of all patients with health insurance, and 70% of millennials, say they would choose a primary care doctor who offers a mobile app for patients over one that does not.(4) You cannot rely on general survey statistics, however. You should have a good handle on what it is that your specific patients are looking for. Are they looking for innovations and efficiency? Is it evening or weekend appointments? Is it more female providers? Do they want the ability to schedule an appointment or pay online? Know what your target audience wants and appeal specifically to their needs.

  3. What do our customers think of us? Do you have any idea of how your existing patients perceive you? Are you consistently asking them, in multiple formats? Do you offer patients and caregivers paper and online surveys? Are you asking them for their opinions in person through small focus groups? Or just when they’re at the desk checking out or during the appointment? Is someone on your team tasked with checking review sites? According to a Customer Experience Trends in Healthcare Study conducted in 2018, 81% of patients will still go online to read and review sites after being referred to a physician, and 74% of physicians will choose one physician over another due to a bad review.(5) The customer survey is one of your most powerful branding tools. The results tell you what you are doing right and provide real-time information regarding issues and concerns that need to be addressed. If you cannot answer the question “What do our customers think of us?”, stop any and all marketing efforts and invest your time and effort in this area.

  4. What is the patient experience like? Do you know what it is like to go from start to finish when experiencing an appointment with your practice? Have you ever attempted to book an online appointment or call in to your practice on the phone? Do you know what it is like to park at your facility or physically wait in your reception area? Conducting a Mystery Patient evaluation can provide invaluable and impartial information. You hire a Mystery Patient who fits your target demographic and have that person mimic the online and phone scheduling experience with your practice. He or she also visits the practice to evaluate parking, signage, waiting areas, and front desk personnel. The Mystery Patient also visits two of your competitors and does the same things there. The results are invaluable when determining if branding is consistent from an experience perspective. Recommendations for branding efforts usually include improved accessibility online, by phone, or via text messaging; enhanced facilities; and convenient payment mechanisms.

  5. Are our employees aligned with our brand? You can’t put icing on a loaf of bread and call it cake. The same goes for branding. If you roll out a beautiful new logo and tagline, and put the effort into redesigning the website and adding new features such as online appointment scheduling and bill pay, but your team members aren’t on board with providing an improved experience from the minute your customer interacts with you, you’ve wasted your time and money. Involving team members in the branding effort is imperative. Your team must have the tools and processes in place to carry out a customer-first effort. Have you included your dedication to customer service in job descriptions? Is your branded effort relevant in policy and procedure manuals? Do you have customer service standards? Consistent branded experiences occur when all team members fully understand and are supported in their role as brand ambassadors.

  6. What differentiates our practice from others? Another way to ask this question might be, “What is our Big Idea?” Here again, you must do your research. Do you understand what is being offered by your competitors? Do you know what is needed by the community you serve? And, remember, online appointment scheduling, interactive accessibility, and social media education are minimal requirements. Additionally, patients expect respectful and caring staff, improved scheduling and wait times, pleasant facilities, and other amenities. How do you take their desires a step further so that your practice stands out? Is it a service that you offer? Is it the way that you deliver it? Do you highlight amenities that no other practice features? Some examples include: a practice that offers total men’s health services; a plastic surgery practice that focuses only on eyelids; or an imaging facility that provides bagged lunches to women who get mammograms over their lunch hours. You can differentiate your practice when you can deliver on a service or amenity that is so memorable that patients will tell their friends and family members how great or different it is.

Branding 101: Planning and Consistency Lead to Success

Building the brand for your practice should reflect on your answers to the questions just discussed. Everything that you do, whether it is in your business planning, marketing efforts, or team building should be reflected in how you define your brand. Excellent branding can be felt in the patient experience and seen throughout all your materials and touchpoints. Market penetration does not happen overnight. You should have a written plan and a budget. Having a written plan not only provides a roadmap and timeline for identified tactics but also provides an avenue for measuring results. Planning improves consistency. Consistency leads to positive impact and a quicker road to long-lasting brand awareness.


  1. Bryner J. Even a three-year-old understands the power of advertising. Live Science. March 9, 2010. .

  2. Zinkhan G, Williams B.The new American Marketing Association definition of marketing and advertising assessment. American Journal of Public Policy and Marketing. September 1, 2007.

  3. 19 Recent healthcare tech start-ups attract instant consumer appeal, black book survey. July 9, 2018. .

  4. Salesforce 2017 Connected Patient Report. Salesforce Research. .

  5. Customer Experience Trends in Healthcare Report. 2018. .

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