The Image of Imaging: Creating a Powerful, Distinguishing Brand

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Lonnie HirschThe good news is that, in health care marketing, there is no need to be a commodity. The bad news is that imaging centers and radiology practices are doomed to remain invisible if they don’t differentiate. Without a meaningful message of difference and distinction, referring physicians, self-referred patients and the general public will see you as a commodity. You’re “vanilla,” if they see you at all.

Over the years we’ve spoken to thousands of imaging center executives, radiologists, physicians and providers of every professional stripe, and we have yet to meet a single one who thought he or she had a “plain vanilla” image or reputation. They all thought that their imaging center, hospital or practice was distinctly different and better than the competition. They could quickly and convincingly tell us something truly unique about their business model, their work, their technical/equipment superiority, their facility or some other feature. Unfortunately, in most cases, they didn’t focus their differentiation into a brand.

Brand vs Bland

The concept of branding is a bit vague for some people. There’s a tendency to think first about the marketing tools that communicate a brand. And while the tools are important, the definitions of branding that we like begin with core service values:

• "A brand is the total experience that a customer has with your product, service or company."
• "A brand is delivering on a promise ... consistently."

The “customer” is the individual physician who makes or could make a referral, the patient who is referred, the individual who self-refers and perhaps others, such as professional peers and the community at large. The recognition of how special you are—all that comes to the mind of each or any of these people—is your brand.

Why Should You Care?

People assume, either consciously or unconsciously, that the quality of a name brand product is better, so positive differentiation has tangible, bottom line rewards. In fact, there are seven reasons to communicate a strong branding message.

1. People prefer to buy brands because they reduce perceived risk. Consumers (physicians, patients, prospective patients) are likely to turn to a recognized name expecting consistent and high quality products or services. And they are highly likely to stay with and recommend a brand if they are satisfied with it.

2. People buy brands for status. Some people spend more for a product even though it is or is perceived to be more expensive. Think Mercedes and Rolex. While relatively few health care organizations or professionals are status symbols (think Mayo Clinic), some entities do achieve a leadership status in their community, region or specialty.

3. People refer more often and more passionately to a brand they like and trust. Truly great brands achieve near cult-level loyalty from some followers. Ask an iPhone owner about Apple or a Harley Davidson owner about motorcycles and expect a fervent response. Brand referrals can be deeply felt personal endorsements, to the exclusion all competition.

4. A professional reputation is built and accelerated though branding. While some organizations and professionals are sensitive about self-aggrandizing, an exceptional reputation doesn’t grow spontaneously. A proper and purposeful branding message actively shapes a professional reputation.

5. Branding targets and attracts the types of cases you want. Marketing isn’t about appealing to “everyone and anything.” And your branding message provides a focused appeal to attract those types of cases, procedures or patients that mean the most to the business.

6. Branding produces a competitive advantage. In a competitive and dynamic market environment, which means just about everywhere, your imaging center, hospital or practice needs to stand out in a positive and highly distinctive way. Superior brand recognition means you stand out in comparison to all others.

7. A branded organization will be worth more than a non-branded business. For the reasons we've listed a branded health care entity will often do far better economically than a non-branded one. And when it's time to sell, merge or exit the business, a great reputation and proven, ongoing marketing system will command a stronger value.

In health care in general, and the imaging industry in particular, effective branding is about the entire experience and relationship the business has with the people (physicians and patients) that it serves.