Develop a Professional Image that Reflects Your Strengths
by Corporate Relations & Business Strategy Staff
Consumers decide to purchase a particular product or service based in part on their familiarity with the brand and their confidence that it will meet their needs and standards of quality. Like a brand, a strong professional image for your practice communicates a promise of quality, value, and reliability. It sets you apart from your competitors by making potential clients and referral sources aware of your unique strengths.
Clients frequently choose a health professional based on guidance from referral sources and recommendations from friends, family members and coworkers. Some health consumers select more arbitrarily from provider lists and phone books. These circumstances create a prime opportunity for psychologists to use branding concepts as effective tools to hone their professional image and solidify their marketplace position.
This article will help you better understand the concept of branding, how it applies to your practice, and steps you can take to start actively shaping your professional image in the community.
What Is a Brand?
Branding is not just about having a logo, a catchy slogan or an eye-catching advertisement. It is about communicating unique strengths so you are seen as the preferred choice. Like a brand, your professional image reflects the way people think and feel about your practice.
Branding has both physical and psychological dimensions that relate to defining your professional image. Physical elements include the name of your practice, and the slogan you use in your practice brochure and other promotional materials. They also include distinctive graphic elements such as colors, fonts, logos, and other art that you use in communication vehicles.
Physical elements should capture the image of your practice that you want to convey. For example, an effective brochure for a psychologist who works with corporate executives will likely contain different design elements from a brochure for a psychologist who focuses on treating children with ADHD or a neuropsychologist who works in a rehabilitation setting for sport-related injuries. Consider working with a marketing or design consultant to create a look and feel that’s best suited to your practice and clientele.
Psychologically, your professional image affects the way others perceive your practice, the value of the services you provide, and the type of client who comes to see you. All of these factors can influence whether or not you get the referral, if a potential client chooses you, or what rates people are willing to pay for your services. For the physical elements listed above, consider how each looks and sounds, what it reminds people of, what emotions it elicits, what beliefs and values it communicates, and what population it appeals to.
Using Branding Concepts to Develop Your Professional Image
Define your image. Whether you are aware of it or not, you already have an image that may or may not be consistent with the way you want to be perceived. Many psychologists don’t adequately understand the way they are seen by clients, colleagues, payers, and members of the community and do not strategically and purposefully define their own image.
Write a single sentence that clearly defines how you want people to view your practice. A good starting point is to revisit or create your business plan, which will provide you with most of the information you need. The sentence you create will serve as an anchor to focus your promotional materials so they coincide with your professional image. An effective statement should reflect your mission and values, leverage your strengths and address the needs of your target market.
Stand out from the crowd. The main purpose of your professional image is to communicate the way in which your practice is unique. Claiming that your services are “high quality” is not enough to set you apart. Choose an aspect of your practice that differs from your competitors, cannot be easily duplicated, and that clients value. For example, if you provide family therapy for cancer patients and have well-established relationships with all the oncologists in your community, emphasize your ability to work collaboratively with the treatment team to help the family through the process. Revise the sentence you wrote to reflect this unique characteristic.
Don’t try to communicate that you can be everything to everybody. Emphasize what you can be the best at and deliver it consistently. In addition to giving you a competitive advantage, the differentiation expressed by your professional image is also valuable to potential clients and referral sources. Your image conveys your strengths and provides prospective clients and referral sources with a better understanding of the circumstances in which your services are appropriate and desirable.
Communicate consistently. Once you’ve defined your professional image and considered how to differentiate your practice, it’s time to create a communication plan. Identify each of your target audiences (e.g., clients, referral sources, colleagues, payers), the communication vehicles you have that reach each audience, and the purpose of each communication. Think about how to communicate your image in a way that tailors the message to each audience and purpose while maintaining a consistent message.
Keep your message simple and focused, make sure it reflects your professional image, repeat the same message, and include the same physical elements (e.g., logo, slogan, colors) year-to-year in all of your promotional materials. The effects of marketing are cumulative, so consistency is key.
Evaluate and revise. Monitor the results of your efforts and adjust your approach as needed. There are many different ways to track your results. They range from inexpensive, informal efforts, such as talking with colleagues and having friends and family members provide feedback about your promotional materials, to more expensive market research, such as client satisfaction surveys and focus groups.
Regardless of the approach you take, try to answer the following questions when gathering information about the effectiveness of your efforts:
- How do people perceive and describe your practice?
- How aware of your practice are potential clients and referral sources?
- How well do people understand the way you are differentiating your practice?
- Is the aspect that sets you apart valuable to clients and referral sources?
- How visible is your practice in the local community?
Are any of your competitors duplicating the unique characteristic of your professional image?