There are aspects of your practice that offer prospective clients the branding message of your mental health practice. It may be a positive or a negative message, but it is there in the potential clients’ minds. Obviously, we want it to be a positive impression.
Table of contents
- What “Branding” is
- What should your branding message be?
- The public side of your branding message
- The first phone call as a branding message
- The first session as a branding message
- How you do your billing as a branding message
- Aligning all the aspects of your branding message
But before we dig into how to create that positive impression, let’s start with a definition of branding.
What “Branding” is
Here is one of my favorite definitions of what branding is:
Your “brand” is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name. It’s everything the public thinks it knows about your name brand offering—both factual…and emotional…. Your brand exists only in someone’s mind.Jerry McLaughlin. (2011). “What is a Brand, Anyway?” Forbes Magazine
I like this definition. It suggests that while your brand includes your logo and letterhead, it goes much further. It is everything that goes into creating an impression of your company.
Coca Cola knows this. They have a massive marketing budget to convey the message that “Coke brings people together in friendship.” They even put people’s names on Coke cans to express that friendship message.
For us, the message is different, and we use different methods. We don’t have those massive budgets to work with. Instead, we should try to leverage everything from the look of our marketing materials to how we manage phone calls to convey our branding message. And even how we do our first sessions and billing contributes to our branding message. (See more on branding in these posts: Branding: A name, some services, and how a dream becomes real and then Growing pains: Outgrowing your brand.)
If this definition is true, then clearly, there are many aspects of a practice that contributes to the overall branding message. We should think of branding as involving many elements of what we do.
But before we get into the vehicles for your branding message, let’s think about what you want your message to be.
What should your branding message be?
When I was first training as a therapist, I learned that everything you do conveys a message. How you dress says something. How active or passive you are, sends a message. And certainly, what questions we ask and what we are curious about, says something. One cannot “not communicate.” Everything communicates something. So what messages do you want to send?
Start by answering this question:
How do you want a potential client or referral person to feel as they interact with your marketing materials and, ultimately, your practice itself?
Do they come away with a sense of professionalism, warmth, excellence, and confidence? That is my hope. Or do your viewers have an “eew” experience? The point is that creating a marketing message is a byproduct of much of what we do and we should be paying attention.
Here are some of my suggestions about what your branding message might be.
Professionalism is defined as “the competence or skill expected of a professional.” We want our potential clients to expect and receive evidence of our competence. We spend years in training. That training should show in the way we treat clients. We want our professionalism to show through everything we do. That includes the subtle messages that our website and marketing materials convey. Additionally, it incorporates how clients are treated both on the phone and in person.
Warmth and empathy
Clients start thinking about psychotherapy because they are experiencing pain in their life. We want them to know that we care about them as people. They are more than the check they pay us. Our clients are hurting and it drives them to do this very awkward thing– psychotherapy. They are reaching out to a stranger with the hope we can help them in ways that work. We should be dripping with empathy at every step of the way through the process.
People are attracted to excellence. They may not know what that term means, but they like the feeling. The dictionary defines excellence as “the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.” Does your website say that? All your marketing materials? How you handle the phone? Your first sessions? Additionally, even how you do your billing? We want everything to show your excellence, from top to bottom; beginning to end.
Confidence that we know what we are doing
When a client starts thinking about calling a therapist, one of their biggest concerns is whether the therapist will be able to help. Sometimes they even directly ask. For example, how many times have we had a client who described their situation only to close with, “Can you help me?” And they mean it. They are looking to borrow some of my confidence to help them with their despair. After all, they have felt defeated by their issues. Borrowing some of my hope is useful to all clients.
The public side of your branding message
We tend to act as if branding is about the look of our website, logo, and marketing materials. And that is partly true. But more accurately, it is the experience your potential clients or referral people have as they look at your website, logo, and marketing materials. Their impression is what is most important. Not the materials themselves.
So it is in many of the activities that make up our practice. Let’s now look at a few vehicles for sending that marketing message.
Website, logo, & marketing materials
Let’s start by thinking about some of the methods we use to communicate–our website, logo, and marketing materials. Each of these adds to our branding theme. The design theme is often expressed via the colors, images, and professionalism demonstrated by our website, logo, and marketing materials.
In my case, I found that the designer of my website, logo, and marketing materials was additionally my branding consultant. I depended on him to help me sort out when my stuff was looking dated and needed an update. He often gave me ideas and shaped the images. Sometimes he even helped with the text of what I put on my webpage or marketing materials. The way it worked was this.
I would have a marketing event coming up and would need to get something customized for the event. The interaction would put my stuff on my designer’s radar and he would then make suggestions. We would kick it back and forth for a while until we were both happy with it.
I do not doubt that the collaboration strengthened the final result. I needed his design sense. He needed my technical knowledge of what would work. Of course, there was nothing inexpensive about this process, but the results felt worth it. I needed help and often felt unskilled in this area.
More about websites
Websites are either the first or second impression the client has of your organization. That is to say, the process goes one of two ways:
- Potential clients may begin with a search on a phrase like “therapists in my area.” If your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is good, then your website will be listed toward the top of the results list. In this scenario, your website is the first introduction to your brand.
- The other way they find you are from an insurance company listing or from a referrer. In that case, your website is the second impression they have of you as they look you up on the internet.
My point is that websites are crucial for establishing your brand before they ever meet you. It is the outside door of your house. And like the front door of your home, it does not tell everything about what they will find inside. But it certainly makes an impression. We want our “curbside appeal” to express professionalism and excellence while expressing warmth and confidence.
The first phone call as a branding message
The next step in building our positive brand message is how we answer the phone. We want whoever answers the phone to leave the client with a positive experience. We want a consistent branding message.
How does one do that? The answer: through training. We need phone answerers to do an excellent job in several ways. The person answering our phones should:
- Listen well
- Express warmth and compassion
- Provide useful information about how the scheduling process works
- Are responsive to the questions clients may have
- Do not over-promise but help shape realistic expectations
Finding the right person for this job is often about finding the right personality as anything. The best are those who express warmth and compassion on the phone, even when feeling a little harried. The rest of the skills and scripts can be taught.
I have written about some challenges in this post: Starting a new business? The start-up blues
The first session as a branding message
Some of our graduate training may have gotten us off on the wrong foot when it comes to the first session. Too often the focus is on getting all the crucial information we need to make a proper assessment and diagnosis. While that is not wrong, it is the wrong emphasis, in my view.
First sessions should be characterized by a few simple but essential qualities. The client should come out of the first session feeling that:
- They were truly understood
- The therapist cares about them
- There is hope even though the client was dispairing
- The therapist has something useful to contribute
If we do that, our clients will come back.
And additionally, I find that clients will willingly give the therapist everything needed for our assessment and diagnosis. We want the first session to convey that same branding message: professionalism, warmth, excellence, and confidence.
How you do your billing as a branding message
Yes, even the billing process is sending a message. We taught our support staff to defer to our clients when there was a billing issue. Clients are generally honest and honorable about such matters. And the therapist usually would know if we were being played. We want support staff to convey a message of respect and the assumption of good intent. And if a client is ill-treating us, we can usually figure it out and change approaches, if we need to.
Kindness around billing issues does not mean that we did not collect our fees. We have a diligent system for collecting from both clients and insurance companies. And we had a collection agency that we used when appropriate. But firmness and understanding are not opposites. We just have to work with our support staff so they could see the difference and make the right choices.
Aligning all the aspects of your branding message
When we put it all together, and we have a robust and consistent message then we will grow. So here is the list of aspects we should focus on:
- Creating a message of professionalism. warmth, excellence, and confidence throughout everything we do
- Building a website that communicates those values
- Developing all marketing materials with the same message
- Answering phone calls guided with those same values
- We want our first sessions to express professionalism and warmth
- And yes, even how we do our billing conveys a message
When we align all aspects of the practice behind such principles, we will grow and have a more significant impact on the communities we serve. And a well-oiled machine is a joy to behold.