Over the years of growing our practice, we found ourselves outgrowing our brand. My practice stated as a partnership–until my partner took a university job. Then it was just me–until I hired others who got just as busy as me. The next stage was as an affiliation of siloed individual practices, a co-op. This lasted until we transformed ourselves into a group. Each of us became employees of the organization. Eventually we opened a second and then third location.
There are many definitions of branding. (See What is branding for some ideas of the range of thoughts about what it is.) How I define it is:
What a customer experiences when they purchase your service along with how you describe that experience to others who might what to purchase it.
Why we need to change our brand?
As we went through the changes I listed earlier, we were actually morphing into a new entity at each stage. We were not the same organization we used to be. Part of our growth then required us to:
- first figure out what was the experience our clients were having now
- then, how can we describe who we were now
As we outgrew our brand, we needed to re-brand ourselves. Who were we now? What was the same? What has changed?
And we had to re-learn how to describe who we were to others. How do we let our communities know of the services we are providing at this stage? And as we created these new narratives, we practiced sharing them with each other before we took them on the road to our referral people and with potential employees. It was a fluid process over years and now decades.
Where branding begins
These days, most practices start with a Psychology Today ad. Each member of the practice writes up a profile and post it on Psych Today. The focus in on figuring out each clinician’s niche, the elevator speech, the short tag line that each clinician uses with the public.
Most of the workshops I see for marketing mental health practices are about developing a social media presence–a branding of individuals to the online community who might be seeking counseling services. I think that is great . . . as far as it goes. (In the link here, I talk about the over reliance on this approach: Social media marketing: Good or bad?
Developing individual profiles and fan base is a really important developmental stage. Each of the early members of an organization needs to know her/his spot and success; needs to find the clients that fit and will benefit. Each needs a focus. That focus is the basis of early marketing. But this is not the last stage of branding and marketing.
Succeeding, and therefore growing, inevitably means outgrowing our brand. Growth naturally forces a group to takes on a collective identity. We start to form answers to questions about “who are WE – together.” We may still keep our Psych Today ads but conceptually we will find ourselves creating internal and external descriptions of what we do, who we are, and what kind of experiences we want all our clients to have – the beginning of a group brand.
For us it began when we created our first website which was some years after our founding. Creating a website often starts a conversation around “who are WE?”
Moving from a collection of individuals to a group identity: Reestablishing our brand
Maybe one of the harder parts of this shifting process is deciding on a core identity. We all want to describe ourselves in a way that is accurate but not too narrow nor too defuse or general.
For us, we started with the people we had and the services we provided to our communities. And of course that list of services got longer as our organization grew. How we described ourselves when we were 5 clinicians was different than when we were 40 therapists across multiple locations. Psych Today ads works really well with 5 but we needed a different approach with 40. At that size we just compete with each other and fill up the whole page.
So as we got larger, we also needed to think about what we had in common. Just a long list of niche’s was not going to cut it.
As I now think about it, I see that this process is about naming our common values. They were probably already there but may not have been articulated. Yes the community wants to know you have the expertise they are seeking but they also want to know what your group stands for. They want to see that your group is more than an arrangement of convenience.
Our remedy to outgrowing our brand was to develop an internal process that enables our staff to invest in the conversation of our collective nature. The way we did it was this.
First, as the owner, I did my best to summarize what I thought was a good first draft I tried to find words that seemed to encompass key commonalities that all could embrace.
Then I shared it with our leadership team for their feedback. Then with the whole staff. By the end, everyone had a chance to weigh in. And as I recall it, we made some minor adjustments to language and terminology but the essential ideas remained the same.
Our marketing had to change
As we became less of a set of individuals and more of a group, our marketing needs changed to reflect the new dimensions of our organization. I have written quite a few posts on the methods of how we market at a group (see A community-based Marketing Method: community Connection Plans and Managing Marketing.
Essentially what we did was to work collectively on a coordinated quarterly marketing plan that reflected our solution to outgrowing our brand.
Our core strategy was to be deeply known by the “trusted advisors” in our community, i.e. the referrers who people went to when in crisis. If the trusted advisors knew us, the referrals came our way.
How our branding looks now
Here are the ideas we settled on and why we did so. These are not a perfect description of what we do but they do outline some of our founding principles.
Highest quality therapeutic care
We wanted to start with our excellence in our training. All of our people are highly trained and we wanted to highlight that. [I know that everyone makes this claim but it still felt important at the time. Maybe it still does.]
Many of our early employees had some theological interest or training. It was and is a foundational motivation for our clinical work. We wanted to say that conversations about faith were welcome and important to us. But we did not want to say “faith-based” which we felt might feel unwelcoming to those who did not organize their lives around a personal faith. [Today people use the term “wholistic care” as a more general way of saying this. I still think “faith-sensitive” is a little more intriguing a term so we still use it.]
Long-term commitment to the communities we serve
We more completely settled on a group identity as we opened offices in new communities. We wanted to say to those communities, we are here to stay. Why? Because we had seen many practices open a satellite office for a few years and then be gone. The communities we entered could easily think we would be the same. We were trying to make a different type of statement. [This probably is not so important today since we have been in the same communities for over 20 years now. But I think it was important in the day and still speaks of stability.]
Our website (www.centennialcounseling.com) places these descriptions of who we are right on the landing page of our website, front and center.
Some additional internal descriptors
In addition to what is on the public website, we also have created some internal language we use in documents for potential staff. For example, in one document we say:
We have gathered together around five guiding principles: (1) to provide the highest quality therapeutic care possible, (2) to make a long-term commitment to the communities we work in, (3) to accomplish these tasks in a faith-sensitive manner, (4) to enjoy ourselves and each other while (5) collaborating and mentoring each other.
So we added some new ideas in these documents – enjoying ourselves and each other while collaborating and mentoring each other.
All five of these principles grew out of actually looking at what is unique about what we provide to and expect from employees. We wanted to both orient new potential staff and to remind ourselves of who we aspire to be.
In the end
Shifts need to happen as we are outgrowing our brand and as size forces us to rethink the narratives we use internally and externally. The conversations we have between staff members as well as those with the communities we reside changes over time. Size changes things and requires us to change how we describe our services, how we brand, and how we market our brand.
Other posts of interest: