How to build your brandthrough staff, office, and location

Aug. 1, 2008
For a dental practice, the business of branding is not a set-and-forget proposition.

by Stewart Gandolf, MBA, and Lonnie Hirsch

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: branding, branding message, success in branding, patient experience.

For a dental practice, the business of branding is not a set-and-forget proposition. Achieving success in branding is all about consistently delivering on a promise of an exceptional patient experience. Unfortunately, some of the most important elements that make or break the branding message can be neglected.

"Branding" brings to mind the practice logo, tagline, and brochure. To be clear, these things help speak the practice branding message. But the full impact of branding is not just a matter of what you say in your latest series of newspaper ads. It is a matter of what you and your staff express to every patient … with every visit. The experience must fulfill the promise.

Alignment: from the inside of the practice outward → How often have you been drawn into the "fabulous" or "outstanding" expectations of an advertising campaign, yet when you actually saw the product it did not compare with the promise of the ad campaign? The disappointment is hard to forget, and the negative attitude is even harder to overcome.

Because branding is the entire experience your patients have with you, your staff, and even the physical environment of the practice, it's best to understand that branding begins with the proper alignment of everything about the practice from the inside outward. Your brand has to be clearly understood, believed, and delivered by the owners and staff of the practice, just as much as you want it to be understood and embraced by the target audiences.

Staff is the front line → Branding is an emotional connection between the practice and the people it serves. It is the staff and employees who are the main conduit for making that people-to-people connection … from the first phone call, to the initial visit, to the chairside conversation. If your staff isn't buying your branding message, then your patients aren't going to get the message or the experience that you intend. Without their buy-in and commitment, your branding will not succeed.

Some things to review:
Train the staff in the branding message. Let everyone in on the goals and reasons why they're important to the practice, to him or her, and to the patients. Be absolutely certain that everyone understands what the branding message means to the public and look for new ways for the staff to "walk the talk."

Recognize and reward positive behaviors. Encourage the day-to-day expressions that communicate a positive and helpful patient experience as part of the branding message.

Bring branding to hiring and the organizational culture. Look for ways to develop your own staff talent that demonstrate the right attitudes. Hiring and retaining the right people inspire a positive environment.

Demonstrate by leadership. Show and lead by example, and encourage everyone to lead others in the process.

Your physical location has a message → When a new patient passes through your doorway for the first time, he or she gets an immediate message about your physical environment. If your office offers a benign message of an unremarkable office, your branding message has failed to differentiate. Worse, of course, would be for the physical message to be negative such that the patient does not want to stay or return.

Consider the neighborhood/location. A practice that wants to communicate an upscale branding message may be sending the wrong message if the address is wrong. Choose the practice location with marketing considerations in mind.

Consider the building appearance. Long before the patient has a chance to see your wallpaper and carpet, he or she will see and make judgments about the office building or physical plant. In selecting a location that's consistent with your branding message, understand what the patient will be seeing and associating with your practice.

Look closely at your office interior every day. The new patient sees everything for the first time, but unless you deliberately work to offer a fresh perspective, you may fall victim to not seeing what's really there. Habituation is that deceptively simple form — after a period of time — of no longer responding to stimulus. In other words, if we see a worn sofa every day, we no longer pay attention to the idea that it's worn.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA, and Lonnie Hirsch are cofounders of Healthcare Success Strategies, and two of America's most experienced practice marketers. They have worked with dentists for a combined 30 years, have written numerous articles on practice marketing, and have consulted with more than 3,000 private health care practices. Reach them by calling (888) 679-0050, via their Web site at, or via e-mail at [email protected].

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