Why pediatricians need to be brand ambassadors

What is brand?

I like to start with a definition to make sure we’re all on the same page. According to Wikipedia a brand is a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. Think of some easily identifiable brands. Brands that you recognize just by the mark or color or font. Companies that conjure a specific feeling or desire simply with their branding. Can you think of a company that has impressionable branding? Maybe Coca-Cola, AAP, Maybelline, McDonald’s, etc.?

I am going to share with you why I think it is more important than ever for pediatricians to focus on their own and their practice’s public image. Let’s talk about why.

Why do you need a brand?

I recently had an appointment with my GI doctor. He’s a cranky old guy from Long Island but he’s also the best gastroenterologist in town. He always likes to pick my brain about practice management stuff when I see him and during this visit he was lamenting that he had had his first month in the red in 30 years of practice.

Being the ever-ready problem solver that I am, I immediately started troubleshooting his situation. Recalls? Reminders? Advertising? Budgeting? You all know the drill. And then I asked him about his social media presence. And this was his answer — “Oh yeah, I’m on social media. Plenty of people are talking about me on there.” So I told him this simple analogy that I was sure he would understand. Your online presence is just like gut bacteria. If you don’t create an abundance of healthy normal flora, the bad pathogens will take over and make you sick.

Put another way, YOU have to tell people what to think about you and your product or other people will and then your reputation will be in the hands of everyone else. It probably won’t surprise you to know that he didn’t like my advice. He didn’t like that I was challenging the system that had worked for him for 30 years and suggesting that he CHANGE the way he was doing his work.

Look locally

We can all think of local businesses in our communities that pivoted successfully with the pandemic — restaurants, shops, service providers, maybe some school. And we can think of those who just couldn’t get it together. I’d like to point out another example of an organization that has pivoted to remain connected and that’s our very own AAP. While the mission of the AAP has not strayed from committing to the betterment of our patients’ well-being, the Academy has done an excellent job of recognizing that it’s members cannot carry out its vision if they are not adequately supported.

In the last year we have seen our Academy president, CEO, and other leaders go to bat on our behalf all the up the chair to the White House. Our Academy has recognized that its members cannot pour from an empty cup and that we must put our oxygen masks on first before we can help those around us.

If you’re like my GI doc, you might be wondering why we need a brand in the first place? Clearly he had never had to worry about how patients found him. He had never had to worry about standing out from his competition. But that’s why we brand ourselves, right?

Who is our competition?

So exactly who is our competition? I’m going to challenge the traditional way of thinking and tell you that it’s not other pediatricians. It’s not even urgent cares and minute clinics or pharmacists giving vaccines any more. Our competition is now every social influencer out there with a platform spewing misinformation, causing our patients and their parents to second guess our advice or their decision to even interact with us in the first place. You are up against every mom blog, Facebook group, YouTube guru, and Instagram fashionista who thinks their opinion is worth sharing. All those entities are the pathogens trying to take over your healthy biome. And because their audience shares their values, their opinions carry weight with your patient population.

In the case of my gastroenterologist, the bad flora had won out because his patients had been convinced by the media that doctors’ offices, screening procedures, and the hospital were not safe or important during a pandemic. He hadn’t used his presence to convey his message to protect his brand.

People choose you as their pediatrician because they share your values. That relationship doesn’t form with your practice, it forms with you. Your patients want to hear your voice and see your face. They need to hear your clear advice above the din of the social influencers. And that won’t happen if we aren’t taking steps to effectively brand ourselves. Your practice should have a mission and a vision but you as an individual pediatrician should as well so you can communicate it effectively with your audience. If Dr. Grumpy had gotten down in the social media arena to stand up for his brand, he may not have had his first month in the red.

What does a brand look and feel like?

I liked the concept of the PESO model by Spin Sucks because it is easy to remember. Marketing professionals talk about four main types of promotion and you have varying degrees of control over each one.

First, paid media is controlled exclusively by you because you buy it. Think facebook ads, print ads, sponsored content, etc. Paid media is much more affordable and accessible today because of social media.

Next, earned media is basically getting your name in print — anytime you are written up by a journalist or interviewed by a news reporter. Earned media also includes word-of-mouth promotion so our patients’ parents come into play here.

Shared media is our social media channels where everyone is interacting — the content we publish and the comments and reviews. Clearly, this is a very important part of our communications strategy considering it’s where a lot of our patients and their parents collect information and advice.

Owned media is just that, media that you control exclusively and it doesn’t depend on a social media site for it’s resting place. This would be your website and any videos, blogs, webinars, podcasts, etc. that you’ve produced.

Clearly, there is way more to the PESO diagram than what I’ve reviewed with you here. I want you to take some time when you have a chance to dissect it and compare it to your current media communications strategy. What areas are you lacking in? What are you already doing really well? Use that knowledge to determine the best places to allocate your resources. No one is going to do this perfectly (me included), but anyone who’s taking a proactive approach is automatically doing better than someone who’s taking a passive approach (like my GI doc).

How do you find your brand?

So let’s talk a little more about branding in pediatrics. I think we’ve all heard Chip Hart talk about walking out our front doors or visiting another office to get a better perspective on our own practices. Well, I’m going to suggest we take it a step further and get out of our office and into our market. When is the last time you visited one of your community’s Facebook mom groups? Or watched a vlog about infant feeding or potty training? Our patients’ parents are consuming this information daily and that content is on continuous loop in their subconscious. Today’s parents are constantly bombarded with content. Do you know the kind of content they consume? How can you craft your content to make it appealing to them? You can’t answer this until you explore your competition.

I’m also going to suggest that you view your practice as a customer service and sales based business. We have to be ready to change with the market. This isn’t our grandmother’s pediatrics and it never will be again. We don’t want to learn the same difficult lesson as my GI doc who wasn’t prepared for and didn’t react to the changing pandemic climate positively.

We’ve all heard that no one likes change except wet babies and they still cry about it. But if we are going to succeed in this market full of self-made gurus and social influencers, we have to train ourselves to embrace an open mindset. And we must accept our charge as the brand ambassadors of pediatrics.

Mission and vision

To quote another famous pediatrician, Dr. Sue Kressly often asks, “What problem are you trying to solve?” This is where your mission and vision statements come into play. Have you clearly defined those things for your practice? For yourself as a pediatrician?

When I was a resident, one of my attendings told me that as a general pediatrician, I needed to find something that I was passionate about. What areas of practice or advocacy was I going to get behind 100%? I didn’t have to think long before deciding that I could educate and fight day in and day out for immunizations and breastfeeding.

While I’ve picked up more passions over time, I still get excited any time a parent needs extra help with breastfeeding or wants to have a legitimate vaccine talk in the office. These talks are a great time for me to tell parents that my mission as a pediatrician is to do whatever I can to keep their child safe and healthy to give them the best chance for a great future. And anytime I’ve been faced with a troubling situation or difficult decision, if I come back to that mission, the right answer is usually pretty clear.

A business is not only about the logo, names, or taglines. It takes more than that to define the meaning of your brand. What does the consumer feel about your brand? What values do your customers share with you? Do your customers share your mission and vision? It’s this communication between you and your customer that makes your brand exist.

Can you create a presence that drives your customer to you first when they have a need?

Create a brand promise only you can fulfill.

As physicians, we’ve all made a promise to care for our patients, but as a brand how are we communicating that promise to our customers? Does our patient population understand our mission and vision? Do they know what we are promising to deliver?

Let’s take that a step beyond just your mission and vision. What can you do that your competition can’t do? And remember, we’re considering our competition to be not just other healthcare professionals but also every online influencer that gives an opinion about child health. What can you offer that they can’t? As pediatricians, our individual branding efforts work to support the greater brand of Pediatrics. We are not competing with one another in this arena. We are on the same team, fighting the same war of misinformation. We need to accept that when one of our fellow pediatricians does something well or innovative, we should share and celebrate that achievement. When we build on one another’s individual efforts, we become as a unit.

You are the expert!

This is the time for us to claim our expertise. The other voices filling our market aren’t scientists or trained professionals. They don’t fight medical disinformation. Their mission is not to protect child health with preventive care, immunizations, and screening. YOU are the only one who prevents cancer. Everyone else in medicine lives off of people being sick so anything produced by organized medicine leaves you out. WE should be fighting for MORE utilization. WE are in the service business and WE live to serve the patients, not the other way around.

So I will say this again because I think it’s important — every pediatrician must begin to see herself as a brand ambassador for this greater brand that is PEDIATRICS. We must use our individual voices in the market to collectively represent our greater mission and values. 2020 has opened the door for many pediatricians to find a stage and we must continue on that trajectory. Each one of us has an opportunity to amplify our voice and our mission to push out the “bad bacteria.” But it will take each one of our voices. Where will YOU start?

What do you do with your brand?

So when you get back to your office tomorrow, or maybe even right now while you’ve been scrolling your Facebook or Instagram, or TikTok, or LinkedIn, I hope ideas are starting to swirl in your brain and you’re deciding to make a change. I want you to remember three simple things.

First, know your mission and vision and stick to it like it’s your bible. Your company’s declaration of beliefs and what it stands for will create an emotional connection with your customers and that will become the branding DNA of your practice.

Second, don’t forget to walk out your front door and explore your competition. We’re not just talking about the pediatrician down the street or the minute clinic or local pharmacy. I’m talking about all the online know-it-alls who are unapologetically sharing their opinions. How are they attracting your audience and how can you do it better?

Finally, leverage what makes you unique. Out of that crowd of competition, you are the only one who spent years in medical school and pediatric residency to become an expert in child health. Leverage that! Market that! Communicate that to your audience! Just like my GI doctor, we can no longer rely on word-of-mouth and referrals from colleagues. We have to get out into our market and own our presence. WE have to be the pediatric influencers if we want to own our market presence.

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Let’s work together and change the landscape for female physicians.

Hey there, Dr. Katrina Skinner here: nationally-recognized business owner and board-certified pediatrician.

I’m on a mission to help other women in medicine to harmonize their real-life and practice needs so they can be empowered and aligned in all domains.