My family has been going to the same dental practice for years.
Although one of the most expensive in town, this is a group of professionals who pride themselves on acquiring and knowing how to employ the latest in dental technology (most of which seems focused on pain reduction, which I think is the reason my wife likes it so much).
The waiting area and examination rooms are attractively appointed; all the dentists and hygienists are extremely skilled and personable; and the receptionists are as warm and friendly as can be. Even the Musak playing softly in the background is agreeable.
In short, this practice is not simply about dentistry. This is a business that over time has distinguished itself by building a solid brand image around the ultimate in professionalism and state-of-the-art dental technology delivered in a peaceful, soothing, customer-friendly environment. These attributes are the covenant, or promise, the practice has made to its clients—and it nearly succeeds at making "going to the dentist" seem like a pleasant experience.
And as my wife likes to say, "I don't mind paying a premium for that."
As a result of this kind of appreciation for and loyalty to the brand, she and I never hesitate to recommend the practice whenever someone asks us if we know of a good dentist in town.
A Ding in the Brand
Imagine my wife's shock when one day she calls to make an appointment and is treated differently than she expects from this business.
"I can't believe it," my wife said to me in exasperation after she hung up the phone. "I've never been treated like that before by anyone in that office."
Now, my wife isn't someone who often complains about being mistreated. On the contrary, she has worked in the education field for years, mostly around teenagers, and subsequently has a high level of tolerance for what others might consider less than civil behavior. But after getting off of this particular phone call, she was visibility upset.
"The receptionist was simply rude to me for no reason," she huffed.
"Maybe she's just having a bad day," I consoled.
"Maybe so," replied my wife, "but I don't think Dr. G would be happy if he knew that one of his patients was treated this way."
And therein lies the rub. The brand image that Dr. G and his associates take such pride in promoting, at least in my wife's eyes, was ever so slightly tarnished by that one bad phone call experience with a receptionist.
Now, does this mean that our family will no longer have our teeth cleaned, drilled, extracted, or capped by Dr. G's practice in the future?
But there is now a small chink in the brand, and I can assure you that should another incident like this occur, my wife will, at the very least, be less inclined to recommend the practice to others.
The Moral to the Story
When we speak about creating or defining a brand for a business or organization, we're not simply talking about developing an attractive logo and catchy tagline that can be slapped on stationery, signage, brochures, and the like, and, voila, we have a brand.
On the contrary, a brand is fluid and dynamic—and everything that an organization and its staff do is a reflection on its brand. The quality of its products and services, the way those products and services are delivered, the way staff treat and relate to customers, funders, partners, and each other, and how people perceive who you are and what you do are all part of the brand experience. It gets down to even how your phone is answered.
Just ask my wife!
Larry Checco, Checco Communications
© 2009, Checco Communications
Larry Checco is president of Checco Communications. This article was excerpted from his book, Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization. Larry is a nationally recognized public speaker, workshop presenter, and consultant on branding. On January 20, he will be one of three guest experts participating in a free GuideStar webinar, "Staying Ahead of the Eight Ball in 2010: Tips from the Experts."