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Branding: From airlines to healthcare, brands make the decision process easier

Posted Nov 10 2008 6:47pm

I fly fairly regularly.  This said, I had yet to fly Southwest Airlines until this past weekend on my way to Orlando, FL to attend the Private Practice Section meeting of the APTA.  As I headed to the conference to do a talk on the topic of branding as it relates to the physical therapy profession, I had branding on my mind almost the entire time.  This is not too much of a variance from my day-to-day though, as I often think about branding as I go about my daily interactions with the world.  I’m a bit of a nerd like that.

For each decision we make, we rely on brands to help us out.  We may not realize it, but without brands we’d have a heck of a time making decisions about what to purchase, where to go, and how much we should pay for stuff. 

When my business partner tried to convince me to fly Southwest Airlines this weekend, my initial response was that of hesitation.  One thing I hate is uncertainty, and the Southwest brand that lives in my mind simply states, “cattle call.” 

That’s how you get on the Southwest flights, right?  A cattle call of sorts, finding your own seat according to some loose boarding structure based on a boarding “group.” 

My second thought when he suggested Southwest though, was that of good customer service and low fares.  I’ve seen plenty of Southwest ads over the years, and that much has become clear - I should expect to be treated well and won’t have to pay too much for it.  So, when I confirmed this with a price tag of about half what I usually pay for a cross-country trip, I made the decision to give them a try - how wrong could their brand be?

Well, it wasn’t wrong.  The low fare, the good service (it did happen), the cattle call; they were there, all three, just as promised by the brand. 

And so goes the story with healthcare.  In my talk on Saturday, I spoke of the “brand promise” that we make as healthcare practitioners, and how our promises help our patients (i.e., customers) make decisions about who, when, and how to seek our services.

Some professions, such as physical therapy, have much diversity and creativity to offer, landing physical therapists in a large number of different job settings.  This, while valuable to the industries served, does not necessarily make the branding process easy.  For a brand to help consumers make decisions it must be clear, concise, consistent, and regular.  That is, it has to make the decision process a “no brainer” in order to be a powerful, successful brand.

When a patient injures themself or becomes ill, they make a quick decision about who to see, and when to see them; and they make the decision based on the information stored at the “top of mind,” not the information they will find in a marketing pamphlet or a private practice website.  For this reason, it is important that a profession’s brand be abundantly clear to the consumer, providing guidance for both how and when to use the services in order to get better.

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