I’m often asked by counselor, coach and ND colleagues who are new to private practice how to go about establishing their brand. Since there are a lot of misconceptions about branding, I thought I’d clarify some of the confusion.
What is a Brand?
A brand connotes the publicly recognized identity and remembered qualities of a product or company.
As consumers, a brand is what we use to set one company apart from another among essentially similar, even identical, choices. A therapist is a therapist is a therapist, but Dr Phil or Dr Ruth are widely recognized and remembered brand identities as therapists.
In another sense, a brand is a finely honed mental and emotional association to a good experience that is is trustworthy for its consistency. We seek out one brand over another because we’ve had a good experience with it, and we want more. Or, because others have raved about their good experience with the brand, and we want to give it a try.
How is a Brand Identity Developed?
Think of Coca Cola, and you probably immediately think of the iconic logo of white name on a red background with a swish underneath.
You might mentally picture the legendary tagline of the pause that refreshes, and if you’re especially perceptive you’ll note that brand identity makes a promise — that you’ll be refreshed with their product.
There’s an implied attribute within that promise — that having a Coke is beneficial to you when you are in need of a pick-me-up.
As Coca-Cola illustrates, a brand identity is developed from a series of decisions:
1. isolating one main attribute of the company’s mission or purpose to build the brand around
2. defining one primary functional benefit of that attribute that they know is desired by their marketplace
3. determining the one most important emotional benefit their marketplace wants to gain from buying products of the type that fit in Coke’s class
4. identifying the essence claim, or essential promised outcome, that customers can get from their products
5. seeing brand attributes, benefits, and essence as if it were a human personality
6. designing a visual brand logo and verbal tagline that captures that personality
What is a Brand for a Therapist, Coach or Reader?
Counselors and coaches have a difficult time with branding. Rather than promoting what makes us individually unique, we tend to gravitate to marketing how we are nearly identical to all other psychological health or transformational success practitioners.
Due to the nature of our work in which success depends more on the dedicated participation of our clients than on any technique we might employ, we are rightly reluctant to guarantee specific outcomes. No ethical counselor will promise to repair a marriage that will last for a lifetime, and no ethical coach will promise weight loss kept off forever or ever increasing income from following prescribed steps.
But our brand identities can promise a chance for improvement in clients problems. Our brand can convey hope, guidance, and help with the change process. If we aren’t promising a change to change, why would clients be seeking help and willing to pay us?
To discover your own brand identity, start with thinking about the main attribute of your business mission. Does your practice exist to give kids a safe and happy home? Are you in business to help adult children of alcoholic of domestically violent childhoods break cycles of abuse? Is the the main attribute of your practice personal empowerment? Get that attribute clear, concrete, and specific.
Then go back to the work I hope you’ve done on defining your ideal client. What is the functional difference they want to achieve from working with you? Boil that down into one word or two words. And what’s the emotional benefit they will get from achieving that better functionalism? What does that tell you about your brand essence? How can you symbolize the energy of that essence? What imagery conveys that identity?
The chart above gives the most basic progression of a branding ladder that would fit many clinicians marketing as generalists. Perhaps you can use the example to help you find the specifics for your own brand identity. Would love to hear about it here, if you’d care to comment.
So, how will you individualize your branding ladder so that potential clients can associate you with the outcome they are seeking for themselves?