Branding Is BS, and It’s Done Backwards
The marketing world is filled with consultants, authors and designers crazed about branding. You’re being exposed to everything from suggestions that you need “purple cows” to the notion that you must create “enchanting” brands and websites that will “brand” you.
This flood of opinion is nothing more than a public drowning in stupidity. It’s full of concepts and ideas that are designed for selling books, not selling cosmetic services. And it’s an easy sale to make because they’re pitching to your ego. You want to believe that you can have raving fans who will talk about you and worship at the altar of your “brand.” It’s a nice thought and it strokes just the right emotional chords. Too bad it’s fiction.
Here is the hard truth: 90% of new product launches fail. Unless you have an astronomical budget, there’s no way that you can “create” a brand. And even with a huge budget, there’s no real way to force someone to like you. Even corporations fail at branding new products, and they throw millions at them. Here is a list of some huge brand flops you may or may not have heard of:
- Bic Underwear (The pen people.)
- Harley Davidson Perfume (I could have seen that failure coming a mile away.)
- Pepsi A.M. and Crystal Pepsi
- Apple Newton
- Colgate Kitchen Entrees (Yes, the toothpaste brand tried to “brand” food.)
- Frito Lay Lemonade
- Ben-Gay Aspirin
- McDonald’s Arch Deluxe
- Sony Betamax
- Ford Edsel
- New Coke
All big brands. All failures. Do you have millions to risk on trying to create your “brand”? Probably not.
Brands are not created, brands become. They are born. (More on that later.)
As a plastic surgeon with a local practice, you’ll never be a brand name—not unless you become a celebrity, and that’s not that easy to do, and not the lifestyle for everyone.
The truth is that the REAL mass market is never going to be into plastic surgery to the degree they’re into consumer products like energy drinks, shoes or computers. You’re not Red Bull; you’re a doctor. You need to consider the niche you’re in and how people think and behave when evaluating and interacting with you. You need to understand that a woman going in for a breast augmentation or a facelift may not be interested in liking your Facebook page, or following you on Twitter, and that’s okay. She may go her whole life only telling a small handful of people about you, and those people could very well have absolutely ZERO interest in you or your “brand.” And even after her surgery, she, herself, may care very little for you as a “brand.” (Again, more on that later.)
You’re not in the business of branding. You’re in the business of giving people the results they need, and want. You’re in the business of convincing and SELLING. You sell yourself and your services and all the ways in which they give YOUR PATIENT an advantage. That’s what people buy into. They’re investing in themselves. Not in YOU. Definitely not in your brand.
I was once meeting with a prominent plastic surgeon in Toronto, and he was indignant at the fact that a prospective patient had just seen him, before our meeting, and couldn’t remember the name of the doctor that did her tummy tuck over a decade ago. He asked me what kind of person doesn’t remember the name of her doctor. (Ummm ... I don’t know. A NORMAL person?)
I sat there dumbfounded at how he could be so arrogant and self-important. It was no wonder his practice barely saw any new patients. He was from a wealthy family, so he could afford to delude himself and live in a fantasy world of ego and brands. You may not be operating with a trust fund, so don’t think the way he did if you want more from your practice.
The reality is that he needed to get over himself and stop putting himself, and other doctors, on a pedestal. That patient had bought results ten years before. She wasn’t some doctor’s fanboy. She didn't buy a “brand” or purple cow, and she was clearly not “enchanted.” The fact that she couldn’t remember her doctor’s name was not her fault; it was HIS—and it had nothing to do with his brand.
The fact that she was in this arrogant doctor’s office now, looking for a new surgery from someone other than her original physician, shows you how easily business is lost.
If you want to keep your patients, YOU have to keep their attention. It’s YOUR job to make sure that you’re remembered. It’s not THEIR job to remember you. And it definitely has nothing to do with your brand. It has everything to do with your marketing and the relationship you build and maintain through your business practices.
Branding is truly done backwards. Consultants convince you that you need a brand before you can get business.
It’s actually the other way around. You need to GET BUSINESS beforeyou can become a brand. Nobody can be a brand without sales. Mass advertising without sales is just ego stroking. It’s not branding. It’s just stupid. And it fails.
So how do you become branded, then? And what is a brand anyway?
It’s simple. You become a brand the same way it’s been done for thousands of years, the same way that people naturally associate themselves with places, things and tribes: You do it by conducting good business practices. By making your patients happy. By SELLING as many people as possible into your practice, and then making them happy with the services they bought. You create positive business flow, and that results in a brand association. You add enough people into your group to start your village. You grow your village to become a town. You grow your town to become a nation.
You BECOME a brand. You can’t build it from the outside in. A brand grows from the inside out.
A brand is nothing more than doing good business consistently. Period.
If you do a great job, and give as many people as possible a reason to do business with you, your practice can’t help but become a brand. It will give birth to its own brand. It will spew out meaning to the market without your help. You shouldn’t try to control it. You should only try to direct it, and feed its growth. You will create meaning out of experience, all the while lining your pockets with the spoils of success.
You don’t need to worry about your brand or “manage” it. If you manage your business, it will manage your brand. You definitely don’t have to “create” a brand. You can’t force adoration; you have to earn it. You have to interact with the market by doing business with real people. By making real monetary exchanges. You don’t create a brand by giving money to an ad agency. You create a brand by getting money from your patients. Read those two sentences again. Your ads should be SELLING people on BUYING your services. They are NOT supposed to be used for “branding.”
Consumers today have little brand loyalty as it is. They bank where it’s convenient, not where their parents banked, or even where they banked the year before. They switch cell phone and Internet providers as soon as contracts are up. People are in it for themselves. They do things that benefit them. Learn that lesson quickly and use it to your advantage.
So, “What about Apple?” you ask? That’s the inevitable argument that every consultant and half-baked blogger eventually makes. They point to the Holy Grail of “branding” and shout from the rooftops about how Apple is “enchanting” you. BULL!
How quickly people forget the spectacular failure of Apple’s Newton. Or maybe the poor bloggers are just too young to remember, and too ignorant, or lazy, to check. Was the Apple that tried to sell the Newton not a “brand”? By every measure of the vast majority of branding books, it was a brand. It was still Apple. So what happened? Was the almighty “brand” not the Holy Grail of business success? If you said it wasn’t, you’re starting to get it.
It wasn’t, and still isn’t, about their brand. Apple did nothing more than create great products that fit people’s lifestyle. Then they advertised them in a way that SOLD the products to the masses. They didn’t “brand” things to make them successful. They made successful products that people bought, and slapped their logo on them as a byproduct of their company.
Their brand was born. It BECAME something. It was NOT created. It evolved and grew as the company grew. People were sold on their products through brilliant advertising and marketing. They differentiated their offerings and showed people WHY they needed, and wanted, the products on offer. Once their customers bought an iPod, they were more willing to give the Mac a look—not because of Apple, but because of the iPod. It was the product, not the brand.
It was then done in Apple stores, which offered great experience and design. Is this branding? No, it’s not. It’s good business. It’s called marketing, customer service, and plain old hard work. It’s nothing that you’re not able to do in your own practice, and it has nothing to do with creating a brand. It has everything to do with running your practice in a way that your patients can appreciate, and justify, frequenting.
Your job is to create a practice that gives people solid and meaningful reasons to do business with you in the first place, to give them the logical and emotional reasons to rationalize choosing you over the competition. Once you do that, the brand will follow. Once you have them as clients, your patients can be asked to review you online, and your prospects will begin to associate positive attributes with you and your practice. You become a “brand” in the most rudimentary sense of the word. And guess what, that’s ALL you need to be to get significantly wealthy in your local market. You don’t need a brand. You need patients with real money to spend in your practice, and you need them on an ongoing basis.
Once you have that wealth, you can start to explore opportunities beyond your local market, and consider investing in a significant business expansion. If you grow large enough to gain celebrity status, you could have a shot at being a household name, or as the pundits like to call it, a “brand”—not that it will help your sales. It didn’t help the big corporations either. GM was one of the biggest “brands” in America, but they couldn’t sell their “brand” to pay their debts. They did bad business; it had nothing to do with their brand. Once your business falters, your brand becomes worthless. Brands are not the foundation of business. Business is the foundation of brands.Read those two sentences again.
If you’re a local plastic surgery practice, don’t brand. Do good business instead. The brand will follow with no work and no expense.
Let your competitors pay for branding consultants and buy them all a copy of those “purple cow” and “enchanting” books that seem to be so popular with CEOs and doctors. Believe me, you’ll be doing yourself a favor, not them.