Image is everything

Integrate your facility's design with your business cards and other materials to help your marketing message hit home.
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Jun 01, 2009


A cohesive marketing plan: Pikesville Animal Hospital in Pikesville, Md., used oversized cropped photographs and a bold color to give the reception area a dramatic flair.
As you're sitting down to design your dream hospital, think beyond rooflines and parking lots. Think about your overall practice image. Today's consumers are restless and empowered, and to stay competitive, your business must deliver an entire brand experience that supports your carefully crafted image. As a small business, your veterinary practice may struggle with marketing and maintaining a clear and consistent brand. The key is to create an experience that goes beyond the services you offer. If you do this well, you'll cultivate long-term clients. And as Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz says, "A great brand raises the bar—it adds a greater sense of purpose to the experience, whether it's the challenge to do your best in sports and fitness, or the affirmation that the cup of coffee you're drinking really matters." Here are the steps to marry up your practice's philosophy with its design.

PUT IDEAS ON PAPER

If you're building a new hospital or even just remodeling your old one, this is a great opportunity to examine all aspects of your brand and create a design that supports it. Before you begin the design process, put some thought into what makes your practice stand out. "There's a difference between competitive differentiation and a sales pitch," says Emily O'Brien, president of Colorado-based New Leaf Public Relations. "In order to develop an effective brand, you must think critically about what makes your company different from the competition." These differences will create a basis for driving the design process philosophically as well as functionally.

As you think about what makes your practice one of a kind, dig deep to the very essence of your philosophy. Where do you excel? What are you committed to? What do you provide and to whom? Then follow through with these exercises:


Employee uniforms include the practice's logo and color scheme.
Get started. Create a brief positioning statement (seven words or less) about who you are and what you do. For example, Alexandria Veterinary Clinic PetCare Center in Alexandria, Minn., uses this statement: "Let us be your other family doctor."

Create a mission statement. Formulate a philosophy or mission statement that will guide your design from the big picture of what your building looks like down to how your Web site is structured. Alexandria Veterinary Clinic elaborates on its positioning statement by using the words "companion" and "families" in its mission statement: "To provide companion animals with accessible, genuine, high-quality, compassionate healthcare that enhances their lives and enriches the lives of their human families."

GET INTO THE NUTS AND BOLTS


On a mission: Alexandria Veterinary Clinic PetCare Center in Alexandria, Minn., created a mission statement that helped guide the design of its new facility. Including the words "companion" and "families" in the mission statement inspired a family-centric approach in the building's architecture.
Architecture is the most compelling physical medium you can use to communicate your brand. So develop the design of your hospital under the umbrella of your brand philosophy. Alexandria Veterinary Clinic's family-centric approach is reflected in the architecture of the building, which features a covered porch and a gabled front. The gable is a quintessential roof structure that implies "house" to clients' collective consciousness—this reinforces a feeling of familial welcome. And upon entering the lobby, visitors see a welcoming stone hearth that reinforces the homey message.

Don't overlook the role interior design plays—it's an extension of the architecture. The outside and inside of your new practice should be in harmony and form a cohesive whole. A palette of materials and colors is crucial—your choices express your practice philosophy more strongly (or wimpily) than almost any other decision. If you don't take a focused approach to interior design, your brand will come across as unimaginative, safe, or boring. Probably not what you want to communicate.

Unfortunately, it's all too easy to overlook these little details. I've seen many veterinary clinic brands fall apart at the finer levels of detail, especially in their marketing materials. So be sure your logo—and everything else used to market your brand—is professionally designed and relevant.

If your practice is already well known by its logo but that logo is a little tired, consider giving it a facelift. Use a slightly new font or color scheme rather than designing a new one from scratch. Keep in mind that a consistent image is more important than an expensive design look. Stick to a few fonts, colors, and images that you can use again and again in your marketing materials.

Once you've developed your logo and chosen your fonts, it'll be much easier to work with a company to design your building signage. Do this at the same time as you design the building so your architect can integrate signage with the architecture.

USE THE WEB TO TIE IT TOGETHER

A Web site helps you brand your practice and appeal to younger clients. To help tie everything together, design your Web site using the same fonts, words, colors, and graphics that you use in printed materials such as brochures and business cards.

A successful brand is about relationships with people. It's about an experience that goes beyond veterinary medicine. To demonstrate your commitment to your mission, become involved in community events that relate to or support your brand. Live your brand and be your brand.