Welcome to our guide where we will demystify branding for dentists and walk you through practical steps to develop yours today!
I find that most dentists, especially at the early stages of their careers, tend to have very little to weak grasps on the concept of branding. I mean, they understand its effects — they know they either prefer Coke or Pepsi and they’ll love to death any and all songs by Queen when they only really know Don’t Stop Me Now and Bohemian Rhapsody — but they rarely know how to take advantage of, for themselves, the magical aurora of branding.
Without further ado, let’s dive in deep and take a look at this complex concept.
In a Nutshell
- Customers today are oversaturated with information.
- Trust is the key to have your brand break through the noise.
- Brand: An individual’s gut feeling about a company.
- Brands serve to differentiate you from the crowd.
- Proper differentiation happens when Authenticity is aligned with Aesthetics.
- Finding your ideal tribe:
- Understand your “Why?”
- Identify your ideal customer
- Figure out their desires
- Deliver your unique offering
- Determine their mores
- Align your values and turn up the volume
- Apply these branding concepts to your touchpoints.
A Brief History of Branding
When did branding emerge as such an important factor?
Since ancient farmers began branding livestock to signify possession? Since artists began distinguishing their paintings with a signature? Or more recently, since the mass production of iconic products such as the Model T?
In fact, branding has been prevalent throughout history, even when mammoths were being hunted. Yet, why didn’t we witness giant brands like Coca-Cola or Mercedes? In short, branding has never been as important, as accessible, and as powerful as it is today. You’ll understand more as we go on.
During the 18th century, in order for you to practice dentistry, you would have to educate yourself with the only available sources which were maybe 4 textbooks. Then, with no notable certifications available or any real public knowledge of your services, you could apply the latest theories, such as teeth worms causing tooth decay, or offer to implant ivory in a patient’s jaw.
Even with the introduction of formal dental training and universities, there was no practical way of competing for attention in this new “dental industry”. The first commercial radio broadcasting station would not appear until 1919, approximately 100 years after the first dental school. Yet, word of mouth was probably still sufficient as marketing.
Now, in the age of the internet and social media, there is practically no barrier for getting the attention of potential customers. While in the past, you may have been rejected at the door ten times by a major radio station’s secretary and the only way to access the head honcho was ambushing him in the elevator, nowadays, you can reach him in ten seconds on Twitter. Further, the same distribution platforms that giants such as Nike and General Electric used to reach billions of views, responses, and referrals (YouTube, Twitter, Yelp!) is open to any dentist FOR FREE!
However, this brought up an issue: The audience has become information-saturated. There is so much noise in the market that people are now too busy to consider every one of them. In just 2017, graduates from dental education programs amounted to 6,238, up from 5,957 the year before. You are competing with every single one of them to capture the attention of your potential customers.
Breaking the Noise, Winning the War
So, how do I break through the noise?
Well, let’s play a game of Would You Rather? Assuming that each of these choices have equal opportunity costs, I want you to choose one over the other.
Would you rather:
- Drive a BMW or a Lexus?
- Eat Chipotle or Panda Express?
- Wear Armani or Burberry?
Whatever answers you chose, you chose them because you have a certain level of trust with the company, restaurant, or product. You trust them to deliver better (subjectively) than the other, for whatever reason you engage with them. In this case, it may be your preferred taste in cars, food, and fashion.
Developing this level of trust with your patients — whether it’s your ability to comfort them before an operation, perform world class services, have great customer service — must be the basis of your brand. This will organically lead to repeat customers, great word of mouth, and raving reviews.
Trust is how you break the noise and win the war.
What’s a Brand?
So, how do I develop this trust that you speak of?
Well, reader, I’m glad you asked! This is where your branding comes in.
Coca-Cola, the Nike Swoosh logo, Invisalign’s invisible aligners. Do these constitute brands?
Brands are NOT the identities. Brands are NOT the company’s logos. Brands are NOT the product or service. Paraphrasing Marty Neumeier’s definition,
Brand: An individual’s gut feeling about a company.
Let’s break this down. Your brand is not what you tell everyone it is. It’s determined at the individual level by your audience. Further, at the individual level, we’re all emotional beings no matter how rational we try to be. Emotions will be the primary source of our decisions. An dentist’s brand is therefore “made” when enough individuals arrive at the same emotional gut feeling.
As an dentist, you cannot control your brand. The only control you have is your engagement with the individuals where you can influence their gut feelings by communicating qualities about yourself or your practice. This process is called brand management.
If branding is so important today and the only control we have is our communication with the audience, it’s obvious that every aspect of our communication must be meaningful. Later on, we will identify exactly where you are communicating whether you know it or not and how we can optimize your message.
Properly Different = Authentic + Aesthetic
You don’t want to be merely unique; anyone can be unique with a gimmick. You want to be radically authentic whenever you or your practice engages with your customers.
If you are truly authentic, you are automatically unique because no one has lived your life and has had your exact experiences. The trap is attempting to be someone or something you are not, whether it’s when you’re talking to your patients or creating a Facebook display banner.
If you can truly own yourself, you will be infinitely more effective than trying to be someone else. I believe in you! So do you ❤️
Hate to say it but, we’ve been conditioned by society to behave a certain way and fit a certain mold. So, you’re not gonna just wake up one day completely authentic. It’s a process you have to habitually engage in until if becomes your default source of communication. But don’t worry! You’ll get there if you continually operate from a place of great purpose.
Finding Your Purpose
I recommend that all dentists identify their unique life purpose at the beginning of their careers.
Authentic brands have purposes larger than respect, leisure, and profit. If you truly internalize your purpose, your actions change and you operate in alignment with your authentic self. This is getting a bit “out there” yet I could go on about the importance of knowing your life purpose so instead think something like Simon Sinek’s, Start With Why, TED Talk which I highly recommend watching.
When I used to work with people to find their life purpose, it usually took around 3 hours of one-on-one work and I still didn’t think that was enough. This is not even close to serious life purpose identification but I find that it’s a suitable start.
3 Questions to Purpose
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- Why does it matter?
Your Why? must be extremely compelling for your audience. Luckily, they usually are. If you don’t have a Why?, then you must seriously consider this before moving on or your brand will have no foundation to develop on. Daily live out your Why? and soon, you’ll be an expression of pure authenticity.
The concept of aesthetics is a bit more straightforward. Assuming that, through brand awareness strategies, we’ve successfully captured the attention of the audience through authenticity, we have another half of the battle to win.
Imagine in your Facebook feed, you come across a story that your friend shared. The story is about a Beverly Hills dentist who, finding no fulfillment in his material possessions, traveled back to his third-world home country where he started a foundation giving free dental care to the needy. You’re struck by his authentic story and inspired, you go deeper to help out in any way. Clicking the link, you’re taken to the foundation’s website. Immediately, out-of-tune heavy metal blasts through your speakers, the logo looks like a child’s drawing, and there is no identifiable color palette. This dentist communicated authenticity but, without masterful aesthetics, failed to properly differentiate.
Aesthetics must be applied to every aspect of yourself from your website, to how you dress, to the customer services your staff provides, to your practice’s name, to your logo. Be proactive about developing your aesthetics and truly become a discerning dentist in every aspect.
You learn the rules to break them. Master your medium and then break out into the novel.
The New Era of Tribes
We’re at the forefront of a paradigm shift in marketing. Our society’s members are having more of their basic needs met and, as a result, individuals are less concerned with the features of a product than the identification with the tribe that engages with it. In other words, we care less about the functionality and ergonomics of our chewing and care more about what having a perfect row of teeth says about who we are.
In Tribes, Seth Godin identifies the new tribe as a group that is “founded on shared ideas and values”.
With the conception of the internet and resulting social media, tribes have been strengthened by the connective power that social media allows through facilitating communication among the individual tribe members. Mediums like Twitch and Reddit give people a sense of community completely online. Combined with other technologies, people have the opportunity to join as many tribes as they want. Consider something as simple as the journey to a dentist’s office.
You identify with a certain tribe based on how you dress to visit the dentist. You identify with the performance and practicality of the BMW tribe when you drive over or the efficiency and low costs of joining the Uber tribe. You identify with paying for a premium when you choose the most reputable, awarded, or costly dentist; or vice versa.
This empowerment of the individuals is a double edged sword. While it now provides a stronger potential foundation for tribes, by empowering the individuals it also means that the individuals can change their tribal allegiance at their whim.
What this means for you, dear dentist, is that you must develop your brand so that it engages with something deeper than just the type of service you provide and how it makes people feel. You must offer an identify to your followers and continually manage this identity so that you do not fall out of favor.
Foundations for Your Unique Tribe
In The Pumpkin Plan, Mike Michalowicz stresses the importance of starting growth as niche as possible.
The trick isn’t to find the biggest possible market where noise is thickets. The trick is to narrow down and find those ideal customers and then stand up for them and look after their wishes. They will be driving the conversation in their communities. They will initially ask themselves “What will sharing this information say about me?” which will naturally lead to “Do I believe in the values of this dentist/dental practice?” Even with a great product or service, if you violate the mores of the tribe, you will be shunned. Knowing these mores and aligning with them is a prerequisite for development or else the word of your violation will spread that much faster.
With all this talk about tribal identification and mores, let’s put the talk to action and find out your unique platform. We’re gonna figure out your niche tribe and how to position yourself for growth!
Step 1: Identify Your Ideal Fan
Hopefully, you’ve done the 3 question exercise by now. If you haven’t, go do it right now!
By attempting to appeal to the incorrect audience, you will be sacrificing your authenticity. Imagine an orthodontic practice who happens to have a strong clientele of older patients yet their branding is totally geared towards teens. It’s not based on reality! The stability of the identity you create is crucial because we all want to have strong identities. In the battle of identities, the stronger one will always win more allegiance and by turning your back on your authentic self, you immediately weaken yours. So, instead of selecting the tribe that you
With that in mind, answer this question.
Who is my ideal customer?
Picture your ideal customer. One that you would love to engage with daily. You know them. The ones who always come on time, who don’t complain unnecessarily, who are always cheerful and friendly. Not those “patients” that are always irritable, complaining about their treatment, and creating a pain.
Consider their cultural backgrounds, lifestyle, hobbies, socio-economical class, political party.
Be as specific as possible because any resource or energy spent on customers who are not ideal will be unoptimized.
By realigning your brand to your authentic self, you may find that customers you were previously attracting may fall off but that’s a good thing! You didn’t want those customers anyway. You will have a seriously stronger foundation for future growth with a tribe of ideal customers.
Step 2: Figure Out Their Wish List
What does your ideal customer want to gain from their engagement with any dental practice?
Remember that people choose who they trust to better get them what they subjectively want. So, step into their shoes and try to understand their aims.
Are they looking for a feeling of importance? Confidence? Health? Freedom from pain? Assurance?
Identifying what your ideal customer is looking for will help you when delivering your unique offering.
Step 3: Deliver Your Unique Offering
Because you’ve positioned your customers in a way that they align with your authentic self, chances are that your are already able to deliver on some of the items on their Wish List. For example, the way you dress and your tendency to over-explain procedures may be exactly what your customers are looking for to provide them comfort before an extraction.
Other aspects of your offering must be developed to meet their Wish List. Your customer service may need a touch more of warmth or your may want to provide a little extra service every time your customer visits.
Some aspects can be strategically implemented and the best angle to approach it depends on the situation. Take “feelings of importance.” Imagine you are at a level of development where you have four or five patients waiting in your lobby at any given time. Imagine that each of those waiting patients get to wait anxiously, raising their heads every time they hear a name. Now, imagine that your staff is able to escort each patient to a comfortable room where the patient receives a full breakdown and has all their questions answered. Or, imagine playing a TV show that your customers grew up with because you understand what they want so well!
Imagine the feeling of importance and the level of identification with your practice that he or she will have when they are writing a review on Yelp! or posting to their friends on Facebook!
There are an infinite number of strategies and angles you can come from to delivering on your ideal customers’s Wish List so be creative! Don’t just look at cutting costs. Money usually isn’t a strong enough factor. Look to add emotional value.
Step 4: Determine Their Mores
Merriam-Webster defines “mores” as,
“The customs, values, and behaviors that are accepted by a particular group, culture, etc.”
Every single community has a set of inherent values that are accepted and if you violate them, you will be kicked out and shunned. Leading primatologist, Frans De Wall, identifies this social behavior ingrained even in primates. So, could it be possible that the reason you have been capped at a certain level is that you are not conscious of the mores of your ideal tribe and, as a result, you are unconsciously violating them?
For example, your ideal customers are first-generation Korean-Americans. You have identified what they want and you deliver it excellently. However, because of your lack of understanding of Korean culture and your tendency of dry humor, you communicate in a manner that unintentionally belittles their cultural value of humility.
This is a nuanced point. I’ve been preaching differentiation and authenticity but another key here is that you can still be authentic yet remain pleasant. Believe it or not, it is possible to be friends with someone of a different faith through mutual respect and understanding differences all the while being authentic to yourself. BUT to each his own. It’s really a matter of your goals and if you couldn’t care less about burning bridges and if remaining pleasant with differing views is not something you authentically value, then by all means.
So, take the time to consider your ideal tribe’s mores.
Step 5: Turn Up the Volume
Now that you’ve figured out your ideal tribes mores, identify which of your values align with it.
A question you can ask yourself to identify your values is,
What is most meaningful to me in life?
Write down 50 answers to that question and then find the general value that guided your response. For example, if you wrote down “inspiring others,” and “living life to its fullest,” as answers, a general value that guides you may be Purpose.
If a more is not aligned with your values, don’t worry! Just be aware that it is a more of your ideal tribe and when you engage with them, turn the volume down.
When a more does align with your values, crank it up! Go all out and be the general that inspires his men and leads the charge. Lead community service events, be a part of social movements online, and display it proudly!
Optimizing Your Engagement
We’ve figured out how to cut through the noise. We’ve caught our ideal tribe’s attention and wow’d them through radically authentic and masterfully aesthetic communication. Now, we must empower them by giving them every resource they need becoming raving fans of your brand.
Let’s look at the mediums through which you communicate with them. I’m not talking about social media. That’s a given and we can cover more about that in the future. I’m talking about all those little, unintentional interactions with which you are unconsciously sending certain messages to your tribe. We’ll call them touchpoints.
Imagine that a customer, Sally, absolutely loves what you do. She’s always telling her friends about what an amazing dentist you are and convincing her friends to take their kids to see you. If all you are doing is cleaning teeth and providing your routine services, there’s serious opportunity you’re missing out on! You are denying Sally and all other similar customers the opportunity to become empowered.
Something as simple as an aesthetic t-shirt with a note inside thanking Sally and reminding her of her importance will give her the opportunity to proudly represent the value of caring and family that you embody as a dentist. Something deeper like creating instructional videos or holding workshops empowers them to help others as well.
These are some touchpoints which I think every dentist should double-check to make sure it is sending the most meaningful message as possible:
Practice Name, Trademark/Logo, Color Schemes, Website Content & Navigation, Designs & Graphics, Emails, Publicity Articles, Advertising, Automated Follow-Up Messages, Social Media Content, Blogs, Interviews, Associated Dentists and Practices, Business Cards, Founding Stories/Biographies, Customer Service, Seminars, Workshops, Provided Entertainment, Educational Content, Review Website Content, Contracts, Office Design and Decor, Gifts, Promotions, Checkup Reminders, Scripts.
When you are truly empowering your tribe, you have little more to worry about when it comes to branding.