The following article was authored by Vantage Clinical Solutions principal, Tannus Quatre, PT, MBA, and published in the March 2009 issue of PT Magazine, a publication of the American Physical Therapy Association.
Chances are that no matter who you are, where you work, or how long you’ve been in practice, you didn’t just stumble into the physical therapy profession. It’s likely that long before entering the profession you dreamt of becoming a physical therapist, both because of what the profession would offer you personally and because of what it would allow you to offer others.
And dreaming of the profession was just the start. After making the decision to become a physical therapist there were prerequisites – coursework, hours of experience, letters of recommendation, and the list goes on. This was only to be followed by a formal application process, an interview, and finally an education that started you along the professional path to who you are today – a physical therapist.
It was a long journey, and one that took vision, passion, and perseverance over the course of many years. It didn’t happen overnight, but most good things don’t.
Each of us as physical therapists has shown similar dedication and individual achievement to become the professionals we are today. We should be proud of our accomplishments and look back on our achievements fondly. Recognizing the work we have done is important as it helps us to connect with our past, mentor others who will follow in our footsteps, and have a sound perspective for the trials we will inevitably face.Looking back on individual achievements and accolades should only serve to remind us of where we have been though, and not offer us insight into where we are going. As members of the physical therapy profession, each of us now provide but one voice, one face, and one experience to a profession defined collectively by us all. This is a humbling truth, as regardless of our individual connections to one another, the fates of our livelihoods depend on the direction we take as a whole.
This is where branding comes in.
Brands Are Everywhere
Brands are everywhere, and they always exist. We are likely most familiar with corporate brands such as those that accompany soft drinks and automobiles, but there are many other brand applications that lurk in places we might least expect. Just about everything and everyone we encounter has a brand of some form, and we use these brands daily as we make decisions about which products to purchase and which services to use.
As physical therapists, you can bet that we have a brand. Our brand shapes how we are accessed and how much our services are worth in the marketplace. Our brand defines how we are viewed by our patients and referral sources. Our brand makes some of us proud, and leads others to leave the profession.
Brands are powerful, and ours is no exception.
The Brand Promise
At its core, a brand is nothing more than a promise; a promise of a product, an experience, or even an outcome. The brand promise defines expectation and helps consumers know why, when, and how to purchase a product or service. The brand promise facilitates decision and action, and is of paramount importance to corporations, organizations, and professions such as ours.
Important to note is that a brand promise can be good or bad. Brands merely define expectation, and have no bias as to whether or not that expectation is desirable. As brands are infinitely powerful in their ability to guide and influence decision, it is important that brands are created in a way that will attract, not repel, a loyal following.
The Creation of a Brand
When we open our favorite brand of cereal we know what to expect – we know what is promised. We know what the box will look like, how the cereal will taste, and approximately what it will cost. These elements are all created by a strong brand.
Imagine for a second that your favorite cereal had no promise – no brand. The box looked different each time you came to the supermarket, the cereal inside never tasted exactly the same, and sometimes it cost a dollar and other times ten.
We would have a hard time making decisions about whether or not we wanted to buy that cereal because we wouldn’t know exactly what to expect. We wouldn’t trust that we were going to get the experience or value that we wanted out of the box, and we’d probably look for another cereal.
This has a direct application to the physical therapy profession. If those that use our services don’t know what to expect, we are in for an uphill battle in every way. If our success depends on our ability to earn loyalty and trust from those outside our profession, we must be very intentional about how we go about doing so.
Unlike a box of cereal, our services are not created on a conveyor belt. Small deviations from the norm are not quickly detected and rectified before reaching the market. Entire batches cannot be thrown out if they don’t meet the standards we set. Our brand rests with the interactions that happen each and every day in practices across the country. Every time we serve a patient, develop a new program, sign an insurance contract, or solicit a referral, we are communicating our promise, and hence impacting our brand.
Where Our Brand Lives
The physical therapy brand is not created on paper nor is it conveyed in a tagline or a public relations message. Though we can strive to influence our brand through visual and auditory representation of the messages we feel accurately define us, this is not where our brand is created, and it is not where our brand lives.
Stated simply, our brand lives in the minds of those we encounter. Our brand lives within our patients, local businesses, referral sources, and ourselves. Influenced only through personal experience, there is no single definition of our brand that holds true for everyone. There are some that swear by our ability to provide skilled diagnosis and care when met with physical dysfunction. There are surely others that will never again return to a physical therapist because of some harm done or some misunderstanding never corrected.
This is where “we” come in.
We Are The PT Brand
There is no other way about it – we are the PT brand. Each of us representing a lifetime of individual accomplishments and experiences now combine to create the image that the world outside of ourselves understands as “physical therapy.” When asked what a physical therapist looks like, your patients will describe you. When asked how a physical therapist is accessed, your referral sources will say that they are the way. When asked how much our services cost, our insurance contracts and fee schedules will tell the story.
It was mentioned earlier that brands are everywhere, and that they always exist. The question that we should be asking about our brand is simply, who will define it? If we as a profession neglect to understand that the answer lies no further away than the hands we treat with or the mouths from which we speak we are destined to become a brand defined by our competitors and our payers. Not ideal. Not at all pretty.
We, as the PT brand, must define ourselves. We know best how we provide value to our patients through our care. We are most heavily vested in the success of our profession. We are creating the future of our profession through those we encourage to travel the path that we are currently on.
Our call to action should be borne both of passion for the care we provide, and of fear for our livelihoods. Change is coming whether we like it or not, and it will either happen to us as we sit idly by, or it will happen through us as we engage in defining the brand that we call our own. By creating and nurturing a brand consistent with the vision we hold for our profession, we have the power to impact a transformation greater than any we have yet to see. This will be achieved not in a magazine, not during PT month, and not through a website. This will be achieved only through the simple choices we make and the collective actions we take each and every day.