Practice Notes

Could your group's branding be the key to patient loyalty?

by Cassie Dormond

The Economist recently published an article on the value of brands, asserting that “[brands] are the most valuable thing that companies as diverse as Apple and McDonald’s own.”

But just how vital are those brands to the success of these companies, and why? I think the “why” portion of the question is especially fascinating in the context of medical groups. What can a medical group brand reasonably hope to accomplish and how can we maximize its impact? To begin to answer that question we need to focus on consumer preferences.

The Battle for Consumer Preferences in Primary Care

In the past, we’ve talked to you about the imperative to attract and keep consumers by offering market-leading access and patient experience at an affordable cost. The Economist suggests that branding may actually help medical groups “get credit” for that work.

Leveraging satisfied patients as brand ambassadors

First, it’s important to understand how brands differ, and where health care fits into the broader branding discussion. I would say, borrowing from the article’s framework, that health systems and medical groups are more like banks and insurance companies than cola manufacturers. That is, a medical group’s brand is shaped less by advertising and marketing than it is by consumers’ experiences. This means that the service experience is a key component to winning brand loyalty.

Webconference: Winning on Patient Experience

Because medical group brands can do less through external marketing to signal quality and experience, consumer reviews and feedback are incredibly important. While the original job of brands may have been to assure consumers about the quality of a service, today’s consumers are reading online shopping reviews, social media, and sites like TripAdvisor to assess service quality.

There are parallel lessons here for medical groups: a full 65% of patients know about online provider rating sites, and 37% of patients have avoided physician based on a negative review. Today’s successful medical group branding efforts harness the power of these review sites by encouraging satisfied patients to provide public feedback; for example, one practice sends a follow-up email after each visit with embedded links to a handful of review sites.

When radical convenience is king, brand awareness is crucial

Although branding consultants say that Apple consumers would “die for Apple,” and their consumers do tend to stay loyal to Apple products, an academic marketing expert posits that the slightly higher tendency of consumers to “stick with Apple” probably has more to do with the hassle of having to convert to a different operating system rather than a love of the brand.

Similarly, in the health care world we find that convenience trumps. Consumers rank brand factors related to quality surprisingly low.

This echoes lessons from The Economist and Apple that strong brand loyalty is built on convenient service that consumers find difficult to give up. Once you invest in opening urgent care centers, taking on nighttime and weekend hours, and creating e-health and digital portals, it’s time to communicate those convenient service options to consumers through your branding.

Webconference: Broadening Access Opportunities

As consumers become aware of the convenient care options available, patient volumes and loyalty are likely to increase. A specific, differentiated brand reputation for convenience may go further to win over consumers than even the best reputation for quality.

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