Brands, Money, and You

A strong brand is the Holy Grail for marketers, and should be for physicians. A brand is a promise that the product or service will be consistent and reliable every time. And it differentiates the product or service from competitors. It is a means to more sales and to a premium price so everyone in search of revenue places a strong brand identity as Job 1.

A strong brand is the Holy Grail for marketers, and should be for physicians. A brand is a promise that the product or service will be consistent and reliable every time. And it differentiates the product or service from competitors. It is a means to more sales and to a premium price so everyone in search of revenue places a strong brand identity as Job 1. Branding does cost consumers more money — but may also make we docs more money, too. I’ll get to that later.

First of all, docs are consumers and just as psychologically and emotionally vulnerable to a brand’s appeal as anyone else. We may tell ourselves that there is a rational basis for choosing a brand, but reason, while necessary, is not sufficient. Going with a brand can make us feel better, studies show.

I personally try to avoid brands and celebrity-endorsed products when possible. My reasoning is that branding and endorsements often are on ordinary products with an enhanced price. And Tiger Woods, Jennifer Lopez, and the like hardly need my hard-earned managed-care money. And I am always surprised, perhaps naively, when I see how little it actually costs to produce said product. Especially surprisingly, high-end clothing or cosmetics. For many purposes, house brands and generics do just fine.

But branding can be very important to docs, too. What? You are above all that hucksterism? Not so. Most physicians rely, consciously or not, largely on the branding power of “Doctor.” Surveys consistently show that folks attribute competence and ethical adherence to that appellation and that trust makes what we do easier. It is our meal ticket, to put it baldly.

Because of the growing reliance on docs being employed, and the low local supply of some specialties, more and more docs have full schedules without any effort. So it would seem that branding is a non-issue for many.

But this is an unprecedented, rapidly changing medical-economic landscape that we live in and we need to look ahead and at least be aware of potential threats and opportunities. And of course branding is not entirely about money. Supporting our identities is important for professionally carrying on through tough patients and situations.

By now, most docs are aware of increasing patient reliance upon web reviews of docs. And docs need any kind of leverage that we can get in negotiating contracts, whether with medical groups or with insurance companies. Branding could become more important, not less so, in the future.

The alternative is to just remain a commodity, the dreaded “provider.” That is demeaning and works against our effectiveness with patients. Being a cog in a wheel may appeal to some, but it is personally expensive and option-limiting. Those are not good things.

If docs are going to do well for themselves and for our patients, we have to be aware of the wider economic and organizational context that we function in. We have to be aware of our competition and what the floating standards of care, service and reimbursement are doing. These are all quantifiable metrics folks, and therefore can be managed.

And they need to be reviewed annually, at least. If we are to do the best job that we can, to inspire hope in our patients and to add value to what the generic “doctor” offers, we have to be aware of what our actual personal brand amounts to and have a strategy to improve our communicated message. We weren’t taught to know about these things in our training, but there it is.