How good do you look?
Try using a ‘Visibility Checklist’ to re-evaluate your practice, suggests Cathy Johnson
In every sector, we recognise the disparity between a low- and high-end business and we also make swift appraisals of those at varying stages in between. Never has this evaluation process been more evident within the dental business than in recent years, with the rapid rate of conversion to private practice and an ever-increasing range of sophisticated treatments.
Where is your practice on the scale at present and where would you like it to be in, say, three years from now? Every practice is different and each practice owner will have his or her specific wishes and goals for the future; so it’s important to establish your own particular vision because, without a destination in mind, it’s difficult to set your course.
Most people now acknowledge the importance of branding and most practices will have at least some kind of brand image. The aim is to be fully confident in the knowledge that your unique brand communicates your fine ethos to the public, positively differentiating your practice from others. Whether the look is vibrant and eye-catching or calm and sensitive, it is a display that demonstrates who you are and what you offer. Patients, having few methods by which to actually measure the quality of dentistry, will make judgments by other means and – no matter how skilled the dentist – a lousy first impression will let the practice down.
Competition is strong and any practice offering aesthetic dentistry must, by definition, present itself in an aesthetically pleasing way. So, if you don’t feel proud of your brand identity, it’s time to seek out the services of a specialist designer who understands the dental market, grasps your vision and has the experience to translate it into reality.
Communicating fully and openly with your designer at the outset, sharing as much information as possible about your target market, style and colour preferences, and any specific imagery you have in mind, will make for a closer rapport and enhance the creative process. Consider the patients you hope to attract and what will appeal to them. Plan ahead financially and don’t be tempted to cut corners; DIY marketing is not the way to go if you want to look your best. As with anything else, you get what you pay for and if you want to impress it is wise to budget accordingly.
For your brand to do its job effectively, it must be made visible at every opportunity and be applied consistently across the board. It’s a good idea to take a fresh look at your practice, as if through a patient’s eyes – be your own harshest critic, noting all the aspects that need improving. Starting with the outside of the building, make a ‘Visibility Checklist’ covering all areas in which that all-important first impression could be made.
1. The building
Dental practice buildings obviously vary tremendously and it may be that you have little control over the external decor. But, in approaching your practice as if you are a patient, you might find you observe the overall appearance in a fresh light. Is there anything that could be improved? Does it look smart, appealing and inviting, or a little tired, in need of repainting or even structural repair? Does it appear to be the best in the area and, judging by the exterior alone, would you choose this practice?
Sometimes even minor improvements can make an enormous difference; it’s all about the detail and how best to maximise potential.
2. External signs
Are the external signs clear, clean and fresh or faded, jaded and out of date? Typically, signs will need replacing every ten years or so, as they will naturally weather over time. Signs can be made from many different materials and – thinking outside the standard rectangular shape – the design, construction, position and (where possible) illumination, can make the all important difference between stunning and shocking. Depending on the style of your building, windows can also be utilised as additional space for your brand image to be tastefully applied, but be careful not to overdo it, less is often more. Avoid draping flimsy banners across the building as they tend to look cheap and can smack of desperation, but you might attract the attention of passing patients with a smart A-board listing your main services.
Patients are often much less concerned about the surgery itself than most dentists realise. It is the first impression on entering the reception that will make a patient feel comfortable or not; either instinctively feeling they are in the right place or completely put off. Is your reception clean, uncluttered and stylish, is it welcoming, calm and inviting? Again, here is an opportunity to display your logo, perhaps on the front of the desk or the wall behind? If you are refurbishing the practice interior, do ensure your architect/interior designer has the full brand specification so that walls, floors, internal signs, fixtures and furnishings are all coordinated in your brand colour scheme.
All stationery should be beautifully designed and coordinated. This really is a no brainer as any printed item, be it handed out, posted or displayed in any way, must be ‘on brand’. Quality counts and paper should never feel cheap, print should be sharp and everything should match.
5. Welcome pack
Every new patient enquiry is an opportunity to promote the practice—an invitation to send a tastefully designed welcome pack that looks and feels better than anything they have received from another practice. Excellent presentation is paramount and the content must be clear and professional. A welcome pack is more than just an information leaflet and should be uniquely designed to suit each individual practice. The size and format will vary but it will generally comprise an outer wallet, introductory letter and a practice brochure introducing the team, practice philosophy, treatment options, map, opening hours and fee guide. Not only will a bespoke, beautifully branded pack containing information specific to your practice look far more professional than a bundle of generic supplier leaflets gathered in haste, it also will also save time – being ready to hand out or post without delay.
When did you last look at your website? Are there areas that need attention? Is the content up to date? Is it easy to navigate and is your brand image clear? Take some time to check out the websites of your local competitors and consider who you would choose if doing a quick browse. Your web designer should be happy to offer a complimentary appraisal and you can show the list of your own observations. The idea is to have a beautifully harmonised, fully optimised website, not simply a template solution with your logo plonked at the top. Your website should reflect the style content of your welcome pack, thus presenting a corresponding message.
7. Social media
Whatever social media channels you choose to utilise to promote your practice, the opportunity to reinforce your brand is right there at your fingertips. Simply upload your logo as the profile picture across all platforms so you are instantly identifiable. This is free advertising after all.
Not all practices place advertisements, but if you do, make sure that whoever designs your ads has a high resolution file of your logo and supplementary brand guidelines to follow, so that fonts and colours are consistent across all publications.
9. Uniforms/badges/carrier bags
Although not essential, adding your brand image to uniforms, badges and carrier bags will certainly make for a coordinated and professional appearance. Team members, too, will likely be more motivated if they feel they are part of a cohesive and progressive practice.
Having read through this checklist, you may already have identified a few areas requiring attention. Now it’s time to plan a day to scrutinise everything in detail and perhaps invite the team to assist, the more eyes the better. From there, with your checklist to hand, set a realistic schedule in which to make all improvements necessary. It may take time to execute everything but, rest assured, the resulting newfound pride in your practice will certainly repay the time and investment.