Note: Our guest blogger this week is Dr. Ben Fung, a Doctor of Physical Therapy who is pursuing his MBA in Marketing at the University of Michigan. The Strive Labs Team is a big fan of his, and we consider his blog as one of the 21 PT Blogs You Should be Reading. You can catch up with him via Twitter @DrBenFung. Thank you for this post, Ben!
Branding is a high octane word. It’s exciting, energetic, and is typically met with exhilaration and enthusiasm. A resultant of marketing, good or bad – branding can create ripples with lasting consequences – good, and, bad. Historically, companies are willing to spend incredible allocations of resources to create, culture, or change their brand. Most firms that fail in this quest do so because their brand does not engage consumers. Additionally, most will fail because their brand fails to be visible to the mind’s eye of the prospective buyer. However, for the companies, organizations, and industries that recognize the importance of branding in a way that is visible and engaging to their consumers; the firms who own these brands, these are the companies whose reputations truly precede them.
Let’s begin with brand visibility; visibility is a brand image’s cognitive availability to the consumer in the time of need. While the time of need may range from moments to months, there still remains a point in time when a need emerges to strike a cognitive chord with a prospective buyer. It is at that time they imagine a choice product (or service). And, it is at this moment that the consumer defines that choice product’s brand image. The ease or difficulty the consumer has in forming this favored (or unfavorable) image defines a brand’s visibility. To test this, let’s just go through some word associations. Just for fun, I came up with a few to see if you and I come up with more or less the same conclusions:
• Starbucks = Coffee
• Chevron = Pricey (Gas)
• Arco = Cheap (Gas)
• Disney = Fun (for children)
• Disney = Memories (for adults)
• Six Flags = Thrill! (for teens)
• Six Flags = Danger! (for parents)
• Surgeons = Fix
• Dentist = Drill
• Optometrist = Lenses
• Personal Trainer = Self-Esteem
• Chiropractor = Crack
• Physical Therapist = ?????
If you are thinking along the same lines, you are thinking both visibility and brand image. I’m sure dentists want to be known for many other things, but, most of us probably think of that awful drill. While dentists certainly do far more than just drill teeth, that is the image the mind’s eye appreciates most out of all of the things dentists are capable of. When we think just a bit further, we think about all the other elements of dental care including cleaning, braces, prevention, education, etc. Now we’re getting somewhere!
To make a brand competitively visible, one must position the brand in a manner such that consumers imagine the brand in the time of need, as the dominant product (or service) to be hired surrounding the circumstance for where there is a job to be done. Starting here, does your brand catch the mind’s eye in the moment of need? Is it possible that your brand catches the eyes of your peers, but not your prospective buyers? If you’re like most companies out there, the answer is “Yes.” Most companies develop their brand in relation to their own perspective; what they feel they know about the market, how they see themselves, while projecting their values into what they feel the consumer are supposed to want. This is called the supplier’s perspective and it is a dangerous one to hold on to. A more productive approach is to focus on the situational factors across multiple market segments that would bring them through your front door. Those factors culminate into that moment of need where there is a task to be done – and – YOU are the one they are going to want to hire because they remember seeing your brand!
The other rather obvious aspect of brand visibility is the fact that consumers need to actually see, hear, or experience YOU to know that you are there. However, it’s not such an easy feat. The good news is that we can harness some principles from social psychology to supercharge your marketing strategy. Let me first pose a question: Why is it that just about everyone you ask will tell you that if you have a spine problem, you should go see a chiropractor? Answer: It’s because they are (or, rather were) EVERYWHERE. Chiropractors sent their junior partners, assistants, massage therapists, and office representatives to every corner of every open market, street fair, hoedown, family reunion, etc. they could find. They have attractive signs that typically incorporates the image of the spine, and, chiropractors tend to have slogans that reinforce the desire (implicitly, the “need”) for (frequent) spinal adjustment. This is taking advantage of the principle of exposure frequency. The more someone sees or hears about something, the more likely they are going to favor it – regardless of intellectual values. Therefore, it is of vital importance that people know your brand through regular exposure and link that exposure with the circumstance of consumer needs.
Another principle of we can borrow from is something called mere exposure. Mere exposure basically states that all things being equal, people are more likely to favor something they’ve only been scantly exposed to than that which they are being inundated with. Think about long winded commercials, do you pay attention? No! You tune it out as soon as you can or beat it by switching the channel. Now think about the “man your man could smell like” – did we all get it? Old Spice. Why do most of us know it? It’s because their commercials are quick, witty, funny, and don’t take much thinking. As such, we can reinforce exposure frequency with mere exposure. If you are likely to reach out to an audience who has never heard of you, don’t take long. Be quick, get the points across, skip the numbers, skip the science, skip the reasons – those things are boring. Buyers want to know “How much does it cost?” and “Is it going to get the job done?” THEN they might care about who does the better job. Afterwards, feel free to build on this exposure tactic with repetition, building such a presence where establishing the link between your brand and the need being met is inescapable.
Brand visibility. Be swiftly and meaningfully present to your prospective buyers; do it all the time, do it in their language, cater it to the situations they would find hiring you as most valuable. Brand visibility is all about consumer perspectives. Do this right and consumers can’t help themselves but think of your brand in all those situations leading up to and surrounding their moment of needing YOU.
It is here I must reluctantly mention that I’ve had this question posed to me multiple times as a marketing consultant. “What about cannibalization?” It’s interesting that there are physical therapists who are so terribly concerned that by elevating the profession’s industry brand, it will take their own sales away, stolen by the other PT down the street. If this isn’t you, just skip the rest of this paragraph. If you are indeed worried about competition within physical therapy practices, read on! So… let’s just pump the brakes and think for a moment. Healthcare expenditures in the United States is in the TRILLIONS! Is it really that reasonable to fear that your fellow PT across the street is stealing your patients? Cannibalizing your market share? Please, NO! As it stands, you are BOTH losing out to products, surgeries, and alternative clinicians. All physical therapists have infinitely more to gain by elevating our industry brand by organically growing our own individual brands in a unified manner. Please recall the list above, I could venture a guess to say most consumers would agree on the items but will struggle with defining PT. Therefore, it is incumbent on every physical therapist out there to help unify the profession’s industrial brand if we hope to drive our success to the next level. Anyway, enough of that!
Where of some opportunities for brand visibility? Well, gyms, martial arts academies, education systems of all types and for all ages, the radio, television, malls, health fairs, county fairs, street fairs, you name it. Being visible in these areas will be helpful in building the goodwill of your brand. Will you get many sales from this? You will, later… if you try to drive the acquisition of patients right then and there, people will probably see you as pushy. Your job in these situations is merely to get exposure. I can tell you that in Southern California, I’ve been seeing an increasing trend with sole proprietorships blossoming by partnering with health clubs, gyms, and mixed martial arts studios. There is a LOT of opportunity if you see it and approach it the right way. Brand visibility is a long term strategy. You must invest in it and believe in it if you hope that the public will buy it.
Consumer engagement: the meat of it. Engaging consumers can be difficult because many consumers want to be left alone. We approach, they shy away. We reach out, they ignore. Been there? Me too. The problem is that our mistakes still stem from what makes us excited as suppliers of physical therapy. We’re excited as clinicians and we’re geeks about human movement, health, physiology, etc. The consumer just wants the job to be done. They want to be healthy again. Speaking in terms of what makes the buyer excited is the first step to consumer engagement. This begins a two way discourse which goes above and beyond the information pumping aspect of advertisements. Sound expensive? Sure! As you will find, so is making your brand visible. Worried? You should be! Not of the costs, but rather, the consequence of not acting. After all, the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again expecting a different result. Satisfied? Keep up whatever you’re doing. Wanting change? Now is your chance.
As it stands, consumer engagement is an experience. It needs to include an element of goodwill by which you will very likely need to give out things for free. Whether its office knick knacks, free consultations/examinations, gimmicks, etc… you need to spend money to make it. And, you need to do it in a way where you demonstrate a genuine desire to add value to the lives of your consumers. Engagement needs to be done in a way where consumers feel they have just as much (if not more) say in your brand as you do. After all, they have far more influence in the position of your brand as you do – if they don’t buy, you are out of the market. Perhaps what drives us physical therapists most mad is the fact that engagement has so very little to do with science. It is done through relationships, conservations, community presence, and even political presence. Engagement is best done by impacting (or suggesting meaningful impact) toward people’s lifestyles. After all, why do personal trainers get such loyalty? It makes people feel better about themselves and therefore makes their lives better.
Consumers must be allowed to contribute to your brand in order for them to find it meaningful, valuable, and engaging. They take personal pride, relate to it, and it becomes a part of them if you allow for them to do so. It allows for an organic signature moment to be created, even if the nascent stages are filled with canned slogans. Remember how big of a deal Nike’s “Just do it.” was? Sure, it was theirs to begin with. But, now “Just do it.” belongs to everyone and everyone from that era still thinks Nike. By inviting consumers to be part of the club, they will feel as co-owners of the brand. This creates brand loyalty and elevates your brand equity. This also bring critical congruence to any discrepancies between brand image (how the consumers sees your brand) and brand identity (how you see yourself). If you are in the process of launching a brand or rebranding, iterative launch and learn campaigns are a wonderful way of growing the brand through the values of the consumer in a way which communicates the most desirable aspect of your brand. This allows for your brand to communicate an action, a product, a service, levels of quality, areas of reach, etc.; it can and should do so through a singular, very tangible construct – the job to be done, the need being met, the circumstance of desire, and the situational factors where your brand is to shine brightest.
Engaging consumers with a visible brand is a pinnacle of marketing practice. It is a difficult sauce to master and requires progressive revisions with lessons learned from each successive launching point. Perhaps the most important concepts for doing this is speaking the language of the consumer, making your brand available for mere exposure and frequent exposure surrounding the circumstances of consumer need, and creating a brand interface for which consumers are invited to become part of the club. As you embark on this journey, think upon situations and environment where physical therapy has never been present before – these are your prime opportunities.
When someone says, “No one’s done it that way before” – feeling threatened by the new… Do it! You could change the world. #innovation
— Dr. Ben Fung (@DrBenFung) October 29, 2014
Now, get out there! Get visible! And, engage!