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Published 12/1/2016
Bill Champion

Branding Your Orthopaedic Practice: What it Takes to Stand Out

Based on studies I have read, only about half of Americans have a preferred orthopaedic surgeon. This would seem to indicate that while some orthopaedic practices have strong branding, many do not.

One might assume that those dominant practices have achieved strong brand recognition through creative advertising or spending more on marketing their practice. But creative advertising campaigns and money have little to do with a practice's ability to build and maintain a good reputation among patients. Branding your practice is about what you do and how well you do it. Your brand is judged by everyone who experiences your practice—including, first and foremost, the patients you serve.

Branding 101
Branding is the act of crafting your communications and managing all actions to influence the target audience toward a desired perception. In other words, your brand is what your market thinks of you, and branding is everything you do to influence those thoughts.

There are two key concepts in branding: "perception" and "everything." Your brand is an accumulation of perceptions, as illogical and frustrating as that may be to you as an orthopaedic surgeon. Every communication, every effort, and every action can influence a practice's brand. How you influence your market and each of your audiences is based on a myriad of things, such as how your practice presents itself online, how staff members answer the phones, and how you and your staff members greet and interact with patients.

The most difficult, yet most effective branding you can do involves the design, execution, and inspection of the experience you provide. You might think that I am referring to the patient experience. Although the quality of care you provide patients plays a crucial role in developing and maintaining your practice's reputation, branding depends on more than that.

Brand experience and visual design
Orthopaedic practices are made up of people who serve people. All of them—from your administrator/chief executive officer to the front desk staff—have an experience with your organization every day, as do each of your patients and attending caregivers. At the end of the day, they package their experience, define it, and communicate it to others. A practice can leverage those experiences with solid, consistent communications, and thus enhance its reputation. Few practices look at branding in this manner.

Pay attention to visual perceptions—from what patients see on your practice's website to the building that houses your practice. Many orthopaedists avoid allocating resources to creating a well-crafted "look and feel," despite the fact that creating visual appeal is one of the easiest ways to add to a practice's brand. In fact, many orthopaedists are more likely to spend more money on a suit and tie for a specific event than on the visual brand elements that will assist them in building credibility with the market.

Brand leadership
Another important part of establishing a brand involves leadership. The first organization to make a significant contribution in any market not only differentiates itself from the pack, but often establishes a reputation for excellence.

The French physician and writer Nicolas Andry, for example, is remembered not because of his career in parasitology, but because he aligned the Latin form of "straight" and "child," leading to the term "orthopaedia." This term has endured because Andry communicated this neologism visually in the form of the crooked tree adhered to the straight post, creating the symbol of orthopaedics that has been in use since 1741.

Another early leader of orthopaedics was Jean-André Venel, who in 1782 established the world's first orthopaedic institute in Orbe, Switzerland. He took orthopaedics to a new level. Considered by many to be the father of orthopaedics, Venel developed a number of orthopaedic devices, some of which were used for several hundred years after his death.

Both of these men are recognized and acknowledged because of what they did. It is in the "doing" that you create a brand. Marketing communications can then be used to leverage those efforts through targeted messaging to the right audiences. Remember, being a leader and "doing" is what affects your brand the most.

Your promise
If all this brand talk is still confusing, replace the word "brand" with "promise." Referring to your brand as your promise adds an important element: commitment to delivering what you have promised to your patients. Align your promises to meet the needs of your patients in ways that differentiate you from your competitors and you will have something of value—a respected and unique brand with a strong foundation that is built on providing high-quality musculoskeletal care.

Bill Champion is the founder and president of Venel, a marketing and communications firm focused exclusively on orthopaedics. He can be reached at