What are you saying about yourself?

Whether you own your practice or work for a mega-organization, it’s always good to give your public communications a checkup. Even if you’re not in direct control of the marketing message, you can still evaluate your message to better understand your clients’ or patients’ perspectives of you.

The following screenings are a good place to start.

Is your theme simple?
Make sure you can sum up your desired image or mission statement in a sentence. You can’t be everything to everyone. If you’ve gotten too complex, re-evaluate. Figure out what you do best or what you want to be known for. Re-write that succinctly and use it. Keeping it simple makes it easier for your audience to remember it. That is the goal, after all. If they don’t remember what you’re all about, you’ve wasted your time and money.

Is your communication consistent? This can be as basic as ensuring your business cards use the same tagline as your commercials. This should be more than a superficial check, however. You should make sure the underlying message of everything you do is in harmony. If your receptionist answers with “Your clinic name here. Small enough to know you personally,” while your newspaper ads say, “Our 26 specialists can handle every health need,” you have work to do. Both sentiments may be true, but you’ll need to make sure they complement each other and don’t confuse patients or prospective patients.

Is your message accurate? This doesn’t necessarily mean “is it true,” as I’d trust that DMU alumni and friends are truthful. This is more of a check to see if the message you’re spreading is on target with your efforts and is the angle, service or perspective you actually want to promote. Things change rapidly in health care; make sure your message is changing with you. When you opened your doors, maybe you wanted to be known as “the doc next door,” but after 30 years in practice, you are internationally recognized in your field. Make sure that is conveyed.

Is your image professional? You are a health care leader. At first glance, will someone recognize that? Cutesy font choices and cheesy clipart have no place in your communications. Even if you’re a pediatrician, your audience is parents. They want to know you’re professional and competent as well as caring. Your message can be cute and fun (see the next point) without looking like it was created by a third-grader.

Is your façade inviting? The brick and mortar façade of your clinic or hospital is not the only front your audience sees. Step back and analyze whether you, if you weren’t the product, would want to look at or listen to your public message. Is it dry and boring, or does it offer insight, value or a smile to the audience? Look at the provider bios on your website. Would you want to read them, or could you improve them by cutting the text in half and adding a photo of that provider with a patient? Check your print ads; are they visually appealing or do they have 10 times too much text? (Refer to the first point and evaluate how to condense.) Respect the time constraints and attention span of your audience.

This checkup is in no way meant to minimize the complexity of health care or the many years you’ve worked to get where you are. Rather, it’s designed to help you better communicate your knowledge and services. If you need an outsider’s opinion, consider making an informal anonymous survey available in your waiting room. Or try the good, old-fashioned method — ask your patients what they think when they see your messages. Do they “hear” what you’re trying to communicate?

Courtney Tompkins is the communications associate at Des Moines University, a social media maven and the power behind DMU’s online presence on its blog – “Dose of DMU” – and on Facebook, Twitter and more. Find links at www.dmu.edu/connect.

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