Branding in the Digital World
An article by Marc Oestrich published in the November/December 2012 issue of HBMA 'Billing'.
"Branding" is one of those pesky words in business that means something different to everyone in a company. A brand manager (author's note: I am one of those) is quick to tell you the importance of branding and the breadth of services that ought to fall in its bailiwick: sales training, mission crafting, web strategy, new employee guidebooks, and so on. Ask anyone else at the company and they will say, "Hank? I have no idea what that guy does. The logo has been done for three years." The reality of branding probably falls somewhere in between those two extremes.
That said, in the world of healthcare, brand is of key importance. Your brand is the central tenet of everything you do, it is the conveyor of your mission, and represents how well you are able to achieve it. Seth Godin, American entrepreneur and business sage, argues that branding is simple multiplication:
If you have a customer who sees your brand but has no idea what it does or means, that is not worth anything. The customer who sees your brand, understands what you do, but has no emotional interest? This is also worth nothing.
However, a brand is not an easy thing to create and maintain. It takes ongoing work and constant pressure just to maintain a solid plumb line, never mind moving the needle forward. In the words of the most influential man in branding, David Ogilvy, "Any damn fool can put on a deal, but it takes genius, faith, and perseverance to create a brand." Indeed, in today's world of digital dilution, a solid brand is simultaneously harder to achieve and more important than ever before.
Creating Your IdentityYour brand is not simply a reflection of your personal taste or the mirror of some other cool aesthetic. No, your brand is built around (and only around) your customers. In the case of healthcare billing, your customers are most likely hospitals and health care providers. Chicago public relations giant Edelman has done some novel opinion research on corporate image. According to their "Trust Barometer," trust and credibility of brand are more important than any other corporate attributes in the healthcare field.
While a logo is not branding in its entirety, it is certainly an integral part. Therefore, when you are designing your logo, there are some important things to know. First, choosing a color and sticking with it is important. It seems obvious, but too often small companies think colors are interchangeable. Think of Coca-Cola in blue or Wal-Mart in brown; it just does not work. The fact is, color is paramount in the logo world. A recent study by KISSmetrics suggests that color alone increases brand recognition by over 80 percent. The same study found that shoppers cite color 85 percent of the time as their primary reason for picking one product over another.
Once you have the color(s), you have finished half the battle. The remaining half is all about making it timeless and scalable. Logos built around design fads generally fail to make the grade. Make sure your healthcare logo is era-agnostic by using simple fonts; limited effects (shading, gradients, and shadows); and a single, distinguishable theme. Making the logo scalable means that your designer should use a vector art program to create a logo that resonates equally at one inch or ten feet in size. Sketch drawings, clip-art, intricate photos, and the like all tend to scale poorly.
You have your logo designed and color radiating, but there are a few additional items that are overlooked 99 percent of the time. First, ensure that your logo designer gives you every conceivable iteration of the logo. A short list would include: main logo, horizontal logo, reverse color logo, social media images and logos, favicon (that little icon next to your URL in a web browser), square logo, black and white logo, grey-scale logo, and simple-text logo.
There is much debate about how a logo "ought to look," (just take a second to compare Starbucks and Nike) but following these simple rules means you have something that makes sense now and stands the test of time.
Reigning It InSo you've got yourself a brand, do you? The next step is not to start putting it on everything – not just yet. The single most important step in creating a brand that will not become diluted and lose its power in a few years is to create a "brand guide." This short document will be your company's branding constitution. It will layout all the guidelines for logo use and much more.
Without a branding guide, the marketing intern who you hire next summer will submit a new variation of your logo to be put on a website for a charity you have sponsored, and Google will inevitably index that logo. A client will download it after searching for you, then use it on their internal documents. Those documents will be handed off to another company, and before you know it, you have a new logo iteration making the rounds all over the place. It sounds harmless enough, but after four or five iterations, your brand becomes less recognizable and your once-beautiful logo becomes diluted. Thinking back to that simple branding equation by Seth Godin, if your brand suffers dilution, it becomes less emotionally impactful and thereby less powerful to your audience.
With a brand guide in place, you now have a set of simple rules that will ensure the long-lasting power of your medical billing company.
Building It OutIn a world of social media, it takes a lot of restraint to understand the proper roles of social media, digital media, and traditional media. When each advertisement required giant chunks of your budget, getting your brand out in the world was expensive, but it was purposeful and deliberate. Today, a simple blog, tweet, or post will have your brand in front of plenty of folks – so, more than ever before, branding is about restraint.
For a medical billing company, an investment in social media just does not make sense. Folks will tell you that it is free advertising, but like everything else in this world, nothing is free. A 2011 infographic from Social Times illustrates the "Real Cost of Social Media." They find that the average social media campaign (yearlong) costs just over $200,000 in time and expense. So much for free advertising, right?
Another study looked closely at the potential return on investment a company gets from Twitter. The findings were a bit worrisome for the "gurus" of the world. The average company on Twitter invests $2,382 a month and sees a return of $1,667 (ROI: 43%).
Without social media as a tool, focusing (as we have discussed in the last few issues) on web development and search optimization through useful content are how you push your brand in the world.
As so many marketers warn, pushing it out there should be a lengthy plan taken one step at a time – it should not entail an explosion of advertising and marketing. Each new step in your branding push should include a feedback loop, metrics of success, and plenty of time for evaluation. With these simple but important steps, your billing company will thrive in the long run.
Marc Oestreich has been passionate about human behavior as long as he can remember. As an undergrad at Indiana University that meant researching consumer behavior and human-computer interaction. As a graduate student at Purdue University it meant doing novel research on human decision-making. Alongside his studies, Marc worked as a usability specialist and site architect at several web firms. After finishing at Purdue, Marc began working as a freelance journalist and landed a job full-time at a political think-tank where he was put in charge of all digital marketing. He is now the director of marketing at Golden Tech, a medium-sized tech firm.