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Expert Interview with Carol Vincent on Branding Your Medical Practice

Carol Vincent In her experience, Carol Vincent says that most health-related companies and organizations have a burning desire to help people, but that the desire often conflicts with the need to earn a living, raise money or make a profit.

“We see organizations doing tremendous work for kidney patients, cancer survivors, or disadvantaged youth, for example, who are being hampered in their missions by lack of budget and lack of time,” she says. “These people are forced to spend time fundraising or administering offices when they would rather spend it helping and healing.”

The president of Redbird Communications, a marketing agency focused on building healthy people and healthy places, recently checked in with us to share how health organizations can build their brands and better serve patients (and for practices, part of this starts with streamlining your administrative functions).

Read on for her advice on how to market your organization more effectively so you can concentrate on what’s really important: helping patients and clients live healthier lives.

Tell us about Redbird Communications … what services do you offer? Who should be using them?

Redbird Communications is a marketing agency based in Victoria, Canada. Founded in March 2001, we help our clients create “healthy people and healthy places” by raising awareness and changing behavior. We facilitate brand workshops, conduct market research (online surveys, telephone interviews and focus groups), do internet scans of best and emerging practices, develop marketing communications plans, and come up with lively creative concepts and executions for communications campaigns.

We work with not-for-profits, government ministries, NGOs and businesses with an interest in preventive or corrective health.

What sets you apart from other marketing firms?

We’re not a “one size fits all” kind of agency. Our focus on healthy people and places immediately screens out certain kinds of clients. It also lets us build a fantastic network of health- and environment-related clients who can benefit from each other’s experience.

Why are you so passionate about creating healthy people and places? How is this mission reflected in the way you do business?

The campaigns that have given us the most satisfaction over the years were not necessarily the most lucrative ones. Instead, they were health-related – things like stroke awareness, organ donation, adoption campaigns – so we decided to specialize in that area. Frankly, we haven’t missed writing ads for used cars!

Our focus on health is reflected in our hiring practices (we seem to attract fitness buffs who bike to work and bring a salad!) and in our daily operations (we hold walking meetings when possible, recycle, and compost here at the office). We also give not-for-profits a break on our hourly rates.

What’s your approach when helping organizations establish their brand?

Redbird builds a brand like this:

1. Have a brand workshop to gather intelligence from your internal stakeholders (staff, shareholders, Board of Directors, volunteers).
2. Do some research on the opinions and attitudes of your target audience (patients, survivors, families, etc).
3. Research the competitive marketplace and determine your competitive advantage.
4.Do an audit of your online marketing – your search engine optimization, social media, and online advertising.
5. Audit your fundraising efforts to see what’s working and what isn’t.
6. Pull that all together into a strategic plan, with measurable objectives, tactics and timelines. Make sure you’ve covered owned media (like your website and brochures), earned media (public relations) and bought media (ads).

Why is it important for organizations to spend time building their brand?

A strong brand will let you attract more patients or customers or donors, or whoever your target audience might be. It will let you attract better quality staff and volunteers. It will increase the average transaction value, whether it be a donation or a purchase. (Think of how we will naturally pay more for a branded product than a similar no-name product.) And it will increase the overall value of your practice or business, when it comes time to sell.

What are some of your favorite marketing tools – especially in the health/medical field?

Short videos can be very powerful when it comes to explaining complicated conditions or medical devices. You can put them on your website and also use them as mini ads when your target audience wants to watch something on YouTube. Dedicated social networking sites work well – we just built a private Facebook-style site exclusively for the volunteers of a Canadian health organization. And for youth, you’ve got to go mobile – they’re doing everything on their phones.

What marketing tactics have you found are ineffective for the audiences you’re most commonly addressing?

Our clients have very different target audiences (youth, seniors, athletes, handicapped), so what might work well for one could flop for another. It’s all about knowing your audience.

How do you think medical practices could be improving the customer service aspect of their organizations? What do you think medical practices do well in regards to customer service? What do you think they could be doing better?

Wow – this is a whole essay all by itself! Often, medical practices that are publicly funded (like most in Canada) are still acting like they’re the only game in town. The premises are dingy, patients wait endlessly to make an appointment, see the doctor or get a referral, and the follow-up is nil.
When physicians opt out of the public system, they enter a harsh new competitive landscape and have to provide excellent customer service to attract and retain patients. That means streamlining the administrative side of things to simplify appointments, billing and referrals for the patient. And it means follow-up – not just about a particular health issue, but as part of an ongoing dialogue between you and your patients. This is something dentists and American physicians have been dealing with for years, but there’s still a long way to go.

What’s the best way for medical/health organizations to learn more about what their clients do and don’t like about working with them?

Ask them! Ask them in person in a professionally facilitated focus group. Ask them on paper, with a questionnaire at the front desk. Ask them online, with a survey you distribute to your database. (Note that Canadian organizations are slightly disadvantaged because of new anti-spam laws that prevent them from emailing without permission.) People love to give their opinions, and there will always be a few surprises in what they tell you.
Follow Redbird on Facebook and Twitter.

Physician Billing Services Case Study

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