The Secret Power of Brands

By Gary Conroy / 01 Dec 2014

Gary Conroy talks about why it is important to invest in your brand equity in the ever-commoditising aesthetic market

The current UK medical aesthetics market place is awash with treatment options for patients. Pop-up clinics, discounters, GP surgeries, dental practices, chiropodists, dermatologists, beauty salons, national chains, department stores, ‘Botox parties’, hen packages, and home treatments are just some of the options available. With the huge influx of healthcare practitioners, as well as less qualified individuals, developing their skills and starting new businesses in medical aesthetics, we may now be at a pivotal point in the market place when supply begins to outstrip demand. The global increase in sales of professional aesthetic products in 2012 from 2011 was 7.5% – with average patient retention rates estimated at 10-30% and an estimated doubling of healthcare professionals delivering services.1,2 
A simple Google search will list a wide range of similar sounding clinics offering similar services at various prices with little explanation of price rationale or service differentiation. It is no wonder that many patients find themselves in a ‘Goldilocks’ scenario in their search for an optimal aesthetic outcome. Let’s take the example of the Google search term ‘Wrinkle treatment clinic London’: It is clear that the top three listings may have excellent search engine optimisation (SEO) to appear on the first page, however, looking at their proposition objectively, it is not often clear why new patients would choose one clinic listing over the other.

Figure 1: Google search for ‘Wrinkle treatment clinic London’ - Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google Inc., used with permission 

What is a Brand?

We have come a long way from the original meaning of brand, initially, the word ‘brand’ meant, “an identifying mark burned on livestock or (especially in former times) criminals or slaves with a branding iron.3 This then developed over time to form more tangible assets suitable for different media, such as logo’s and trademarks designed to identify the source of manufacture. Nowadays however, the word ‘brand’ has grown to mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. It comes as no surprise that many businesses are poorly differentiated and their external service proposition (ESP) leaves patients confused. It is therefore crucial that time and money is not wasted in developing a weak brand or one which does not properly communicate your business strategy, leaving your proposition lost amongst competitors on search engines. Brands are highly valuable intangible assets and should be taken as seriously, and have the same investment consideration, as even the most expensive piece of capital equipment. Investment education site Investopedia discuss the worth of ‘intangible assets’ by explaining, “While intangible assets don’t have the obvious physical value of a factory or equipment, they can prove very valuable for a firm and can be critical to its long-term success or failure. For example, a company such as Coca-Cola wouldn’t be nearly as successful were it not for the high value obtained through its brand-name recognition. Although brand recognition is not a physical asset you can see or touch, its positive effects on bottom-line profits can prove extremely valuable to firms such as Coca-Cola, whose brand strength drives global sales year after year.”4 I will now break down the process of brand development into five clear parts, relevant to a service-based market such as medical aesthetics.

Brands are highly valuable intangible assets and should be taken as seriously as even the most expensive piece of capital equipment

1. The Brand Promise

Fundamentally your brand is your ESP: your promise to your patients. It is what you are telling patients they will receive when they purchase a product or service under your brand umbrella.
It is very important that the promise or proposition is delivered consistently at each point of customer contact, time after time.5
This also includes the feelings that patients get when they use your products and services. In medical aesthetics it is important to consider what differentiates your promise to your patients from what your local competition is promising. What emotions or feelings do your existing loyal patients have and how do you consistently communicate these to new patients Customer experience specialists Smith+Co argue that, “A strong brand promise is one that connects your purpose, your positioning, your strategy, your people and your customer experience. It enables you to deliver your brand in a way that connects emotionally with your customers and differentiates your brand.”6 

It is even more important in a medical environment that your brand promise is realistic and that you never over-promise to set unrealistic expectations 

2. The Brand Perceptions

A brand is what is produced when a product or service promise meets the consumer’s expectations. Exploring the thoughts, feelings and emotions that your existing or lapsed patients have about your brand equates to your brand perception, regardless of what you were hoping your brand perception was. Due to the patients’ emotional involvement in the product you are offering them, as well as their overall perception of your services, your aesthetic brand is built by your patients’ response. We live in a world where feedback is gathered easily through quantitative surveys, usually based on a five-point scale of satisfaction with the intent of using these results for further marketing. In order to truly understand your brand perception, primary research is required to openly gather qualitative feedback about how your brand is currently perceived. This will allow you to determine if your promise is being met or not and help to support development and improve brand perception. Ari Jacoby, CEO of advertising agency Solve Media, says, “The most accurate composite of a brand’s true identity seems to come from a consumer’s first gut reaction to it. Complex brand memories are created over time, and the first word(s) or image(s) that spring to mind are really the sum total of a consumers experiences with a brand, in its marketing and use.”7

3. The Brand Expectations

It is even more important in a medical environment that your brand promise is realistic and that you never over-promise to set unrealistic expectations. Not only is this unethical, but patients who part with their hard-earned cash will feel disappointed and turn away from your brand. This may not be because the results or service were necessarily bad, but because they will feel the brand does not live up to its promise. They may instead turn to competitors because your brand has lost value for them.

4. The Brand Persona

Primary research with existing and lapsed patients will truly allow you to explore your brand persona. Your brand persona means its personality; for example in terms of its mannerisms, behaviour, integrity, age, and style. How it makes people feel will be the deciding factor on whether people will transact or continue to interact with the brand. Whilst you may have set out with a particular idea in mind of the brand persona you wanted to create, patients are the only ones who can tell you what you have actually created. 

Brand Development Checklist

1. Define internally what your brand objectives are. Where would you like to be?

2. What is your staff’s view of the current service proposition? 

3. What are your current and lapsed patients view of (conduct primary qualitative research):

  • Your external service proposition?
  • Your brand persona?
  • Expectation v. Promise? 

4. What gaps exist between your customer’s and staff’s perceptions and your own? 

5. Develop tactics to address these. 

5. The Brand Elements

Brands are represented by the above intangible elements as well as tangible elements, such as:
Brand Logo: Recognition, consistency, individual, reflects brand promise
Messaging: Promise, differentiation, meets consumer needs Packaging: Advertising, social media, information leaflets, website consistency
Consultation: Relevant, thorough, discreet, consultative
Staff Interaction: Knowledge, personality, empathy, gratitude, consideration
Premises: Comfort, cleanliness, location, accessibility, parking Pricing: Fair, value, competitive, sustainable, affordable

All of these elements must be consistent, complementary, and supportive of your brand promise. They will help shape brand perception, meet brand expectations and define your brand persona.

“Ultimately, brand is about caring about your business at every level and in every detail, from the big things like mission and vision, to your people, your customers, and every interaction anyone is ever going to have with you, no matter how small.”8 

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