The objective of this article is to introduce the concept of branding to dentists interested in implementing elective esthetic treatment into their practice. For many, this will serve as an introduction to begin; for others, it can provide a road map for revising and reinforcing a branding program already in place.
Branding involves every facet of your professional identity and reputation.
Powerful and effective branding is a must have in building a thriving esthetic dental practice.
Powerful and effective branding plays a vital role for patients finding and choosing an esthetic dentist.
Building your brand requires answering many questions, making many decisions, and implementing those decisions into your personal and professional life.
Value of branding
As dentists, we wear many hats. As clinicians, we perform a variety of procedures we learn in dental school, advanced training programs, and continuing education courses. As practice owners, whether in solo or partnered practices, there is another set of critical skills for which we have little to no training.
When operating in the esthetic dental arena, there is a shift in the way that patients find a provider. Esthetic dentistry is like any other elective or luxury purchase: perception and emotion play a key role in consumer decision-making and patronage. When looking for a dentist who is excellent at elective procedures that involve improving appearance, patients look for a dentist who not only has a sound reputation and experience, but also one who has an elevated visual presence online, and elsewhere, representing their skills, work, esthetic style, and practice environment.
After years of education and training, it can be surprising and frustrating to young dentists looking to add an esthetic component to their practice that their skills may not be the metric by which prospective patients choose to call their office, seek their services, or schedule a procedure. The reality is that few people outside the dental field can truly understand the many factors that define clinical excellence and optimal natural-looking esthetic treatment. The metric that patients must go by is purely our reputation based on a referral or the image created by branding and marketing efforts that emotionally communicates our skills, our style, and our commitment to caring, ethical, and outstanding treatment outcomes.
A promotional piece from the Digital Smile Design Company speaks to this point:
As dentists we invest time and money honing our clinical skills. However, when it comes to making a decision about a treatment plan, patients don’t consider your advanced skill in occlusion, nor your training in teeth preparation. In fact, whenever a patient makes a decision about treatment, it’s always a leap of faith – even if you have 100 diplomas on your clinic wall.
To attract prospective patients to your practice and motivate them to accept treatment with you, these patients have to believe you can deliver the results they desire. For them to stay motivated and compliant throughout treatment involving irreversible changes to their appearance, significant out-of-pocket investment, and multiple visits over a period of time, they have to trust you and the process. To foster that belief and trust from others, you have to portray an imagine of yourself as highly competent, likable, and ethical: a true expert. This means that determining and defining who and what you are, branding, is as equally important as honing clinical skills to be a successful esthetic dentist.
Done well, branding also sets you apart from your competition, as it emphasizes your superior points of difference. Once you are clear about your brand, it becomes not only easier for you to communicate who you are and what you do, but for others (patients, colleagues, media, family, and friends) to understand you and your practice and therefore choose you over others.
Although many branded components (printed pieces, social media, signage, and promotion) involve language, ultimately what branding does is communicate in ways that go deeper than language. Its currency is feeling and impression. When you are on target, belief, trust, and connection follow naturally for both existing and prospective patients as well as for your colleagues and community. Like attracts like, and therefore if your branding is sophisticated, elegant, and warm, you are going to attract a patient base that responds to businesses and messaging that are sophisticated, elegant, and warm.
‘Branding’ is one of those terms so overused it has almost become meaningless and can be confusing. Also confusing to the uninitiated is that branding has its own vocabulary (See Appendix 1 ). The actual meaning fundamentally can be looked at in two ways.
Short definition: Branding defines identity .
Longer definition: Branding expresses identity via goods, services, environments, and behaviors (and often a combination of the 4) across multiple platforms and in multiple contexts . In other words, branding works to create a single identity encapsulating every single thing a dentist and dental practice would say, be, do, offer, display, look like, occupy, or make.
There are certain characteristics and qualities that define branding. Good branding is the consistent or logical identity expression across every platform and context that is executed with simplicity and clarity. Every element syncs with or makes perfect sense with the other. This means that your services, your logo design, your social media, your practice’s décor, printed patient aftercare information, your staff scrubs, and your promotional videos line up with each other to consistently portray your personality and message. These are all examples of physical branding components.
It is critical to understand that branding for dentists transcends the tangible, where it also heavily involves your personal and professional reputation. In addition, it involves every interaction a patient has with your practice, including the moment any team member starts interacting with a prospective or current patient: online, on the phone, or in person. The less friction a patient encounters to learn about your identity, find your practice location, and schedule an appointment, the better; the level of friction is reflective of your brand. Both tangible and intangible aspects of brand will help reduce points of friction for patients, giving them a better experience. A clearly written web site explains your services, whereas your front office team clearly explaining the consultation process and value of your high-level services are both integral to instill enough emotional excitement in a patient leading them to choose you.
Brian Collins, founder of the eponymous Collins, a “strategy and brand-experience design company based in San Francisco, who works with some of the world’s best brands including Spotify, Nike, and The San Francisco Symphony,” says this about brand: “From the moment that you start talking about your company, launch a web site or have someone answer your phone, there’s a brand there. So my argument is simple: be conscious of it. Protect it. Manage it like you would any valuable asset.”
Branding a dental practice is similar to other industries in that the physical and visual presence is critical. However, it is also unique in that we are health care professionals, and our reputation as compassionate, caring, and ethical individuals when interacting with patients, as well as in our professional and local communities matters equally. Successful dentists fully understand that both facets, the physical and interpersonal, are critical to their brand building and will constantly work to develop not only their own skills but also the skills of their entire team and practice culture.
Beginning the branding journey
Powerful branding begins with astute analysis of self and goals. Developing a brand requires a detailed, organized strategy and a tremendous amount of focus and preparation. The amount of detail and effort that goes into developing a good brand is often underappreciated and undervalued, mainly due to a lack of understanding by people outside of the branding field. This is where we as esthetic dentists are at a distinct advantage. One thing we do particularly well is focus, deriving precise information (esthetically, technically, practically, and even emotionally) from what we observe and subsequently conclude. As a dentist, creating your brand can be done in several ways: done by yourself, by enlisting the services of a branding professional or agency, or some combination of the two. Regardless of your desired investment, there is a general, logical sequence that is pursued to have a brand be realized. Each step of the process gets you closer and closer to your end goal of an overall cohesive and recognizable identity.
Typically when starting the branding journey, a document called a brand brief is used as a beginning point. A brand brief contains a number of questions that must be answered to start to formulate exactly who you are, inform your vision, map out how you want to be perceived, and define the demographics of your desired prospective patients so they can be targeted with your marketing and media efforts. Without the brand brief as a foundation, efforts to attract and impress patients become disjointed and unclear, leading to confusion and potential clients moving on. Just like a great film starts with a powerful script, so does a great brand begin with a powerful brand brief.
Implementing a good branding program does take a considerable amount of work. It is a commitment requiring a significant amount of time, money, and concentration. It may also mean securing the talents of a branding professional, graphic designer, web site designer, social media specialist, interior designer, and perhaps even an advertising agency, marketing specialist, videographer, or copywriter.
You do not necessarily need to find each of these on your own, although you may choose a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach is perfectly acceptable and can reduce investment. However, a DIY approach will require much more time, organization, and research on the dentist’s part to properly execute a cohesive brand. If you hire a branding company, agency, or studio, it will take on the role of project manager to find and coordinate many of the various creative elements. Some companies offer a comprehensive, templated one-size-fits-all package. This may work for this with less time or money. However, just like in esthetic dentistry and other elective goods and services, the higher the sensibility and sophistication, the more investment required.
A reliable metric for hiring compatible creative professionals is to determine if they are as good at what they do as you are what you do. Looking at specific examples of a branding expert’s previous work will help determine if their style and esthetic aligns with your vision. Although each branding project done by a professional should be unique and individualized, the overall skill level and ability of the branding professional to sculpt an identity for themself can be assessed and is also something on which to base a decision.
The other group of individuals that must be involved when executing high-level branding is your team, because they are, in fact, the most important part of your brand. Developing your practice’s branding is not something you want to do in isolation and then spring on your team after the fact. From the outset, you need every single member of your team to participate, understand, value, support, and perhaps even help build your practice’s vision and mission. Branding should be a topic of discussion at every team meeting, along with public acknowledgment of those with good ideas.
As time goes on, a brand becomes a living, breathing, evolving entity and must be managed by those individuals involved in the day-to-day operations of the practice. This evolution happens as services are added, systems improve, clientele demographics shift, and ultimately the practice elevates its status. Involving the team from the outset results in them taking a significant interest, understanding, and ownership of the brand and therefore a vested interest in the growth and overall well-being of the practice. Team members can be encouraged to fill out the brand development worksheets shown later in this article.
An important point to make is that you may already employ individuals who have a talent for branding ideas and analysis. Sometimes an astute team member will know you better than you know yourself and offer valuable insights. A team member who has an affinity for photography and social media, for example, can best put those interests to work to regularly manage your practice’s content while you are busy seeing patients and producing.
Return on investment
In developing a personal strategy to complete a new or re-brand of your practice, budgets are of primary concern. One of the worksheets found later in this article, which will take a fair amount of research and at least a few weeks to complete, will help you work to find the creative and technical professionals (and style) you like and the costs for each service. Learning all this at the outset will prevent financial surprises later and allow you to plan. It is not uncommon to break up the branding process into affordable pieces. From there, you will be able to determine who is worth what to you and your practice. It is also important to note that all possible aspects of branding do not need to be executed for all dental practices. For example, an esthetic dental practice may find significant value in social media video content in ways that other practices or specialists may not. Once you have developed your brand, market research continues the process to effectively put the brand to work.
As you start to think about your brand, a strategic mix of the personal, the professional, and the practice, remind yourself that you are unique, complete with a specific combination of skills, experience, and personality. You have come so far but there is still work to do. Authentically branding yourself now will be the next step on the road to greater success.
The authors have nothing to disclose.
When you first meet with branding professionals, and these can include agencies, social media consultants, copywriters, graphic designers, and videographers, they are likely to use terminology that is unfamiliar to you. Here are a few insider terms to get you started:
Brand : an entity’s identity incorporating a mix of tangible and intangible attributes. Although it is most often the physical representation of a company’s esthetic, offerings, and values, it can also exist subjectively in a person’s mind.
Branding : the act of creating, selecting, and blending attributes to differentiate a product, service, or business.
Good branding : consistency of image and identity across various platforms in an attractive, meaningful, and compelling way to attract and build loyalty with a specific, targeted customer base.
Brand brief : a document that spells out all the attributes a company wants articulated by their branding.
Brand book : also known as a style guide or brand bible, a document that illustrates all philosophic and visual aspects of a brand, including identity and values statements, target market information, graphic design, proper logo application, templates, color palette, typography, and media.
Collateral : digital and printed pieces, such as brochures, post cards, and signage.
CTA : call to action. All digital media and collateral pieces should feature a CTA, that is, a clear indication of what they want the reader/viewer to do (as in sign up, call, schedule, purchase, order, or respond.)
Mission statement : defines the present state or purpose of a company, service, or product. It answers three essential questions: WHAT it does; WHO it does it for; and HOW it does what it does. Written succinctly in the form of a sentence or two, the mission statement is something that all employees should be able to recite on request.
Vision statement : inward-facing company-eyes-only articulation of desired outcome over time, its metric for success. These goals can be abstract or tied to something specific, like customer base or a dollar figure.
Core values statement: a list of a company’s non-negotiable characteristics regarding ethical business practices, quality delivery, customer service, diversity, sustainability, transparency, staff support, and kindness.