Not all treatment centers are created equal, but getting the community to understand what differentiates your services remains an ongoing challenge. Behavioral healthcare facilities are often positioned with similar missions, similar service offerings and even similar-sounding names that can make it difficult to stand apart, especially within digital channels. Establishing a unique identity in the eye of physicians, patients, community partners and the general public has become a business imperative.
“It is definitely the biggest challenge of my job, especially in New Jersey, where the market is very saturated,” says Rebecca O’Mara, executive director of brand management for Summit Behavioral Health, located in Princeton Junction, N.J.
In today’s digital world, consumers have more information at their fingertips than ever before, but the abundance of information and choices can be overwhelming, leaving potential patients at a loss to decide which treatment option is superior to another. Likewise, professional referents might hesitate to send patients to nearby treatment centers if they don’t feel familiar with the culture or the capabilities of the provider.
Treatment center administrators and branding experts say despite the differentiation challenges, there are ways to establish a unique brand that highlights exactly what a center does well.
1. Research the ways in which you are special
“I honestly believe in my heart of hearts that every center has a differentiator, every single one of them,” says Kelly Farrell, founder and chief executive officer of designRoom Creative, a branding company. “Even though they sound the same, they look the same, they do the same thing, it’s a different mix of leaders, it’s a different mix of clinicians, it’s a different payer mix, and it’s a different geography.”
Treatment centers not only need to identify their own distinctive features, but they also need to find ways to successfully market and establish the business as a brand among their target audiences. For example, Summit Behavioral Health has found differentiating its brand has become essential in recent years as a similar-sounding treatment center group—Summit BHC, based in Franklin, Tenn.—has come to the market.
“It’s a huge challenge for us,” O’Mara says.
To distinguish itself from the other center, O'Mara says the marketing team has developed specific language it uses when talking with prospective clients to separate itself. The center's residential programs operate under the brand Serenity or Serenity at Summit, which already have a strong presence in New Jersey and New England.
She says they use the name “Serenity at Summit” to distinguish the programs and eliminate confusion.
“We have more clients going through our Serenity program than our Summit outpatient programs, so it's been this balance of marketing the brand as Summit—the parent—but Serenity for inpatient,” she says.
The treatment center has employed a variety of other strategies to promote its brand to the public, such as search engine optimization initiatives online and social media efforts, but the larger plan began with truly understanding what makes the organization unique.
For any provider, an investigative audit should be conducted that includes feedback from internal and external stakeholders, community partners, patients, physicians and other referral sources as well as those in the local community. Farrell says having a third party assist with these audits or evaluations could help a treatment center ensure they are getting honest feedback.
“It can look a little bit different for everybody,” Farrell says. “We’re looking for key themes and things that are patterns.”
For example, a provider might have a long established footprint in the community that local stakeholders recognize.
“A strategic or competitive advantage for us was our history with innovation,” says Steve McLean, director of marketing and public relations for Sound Mental Health, a mental health and addiction treatment provider in Washington.
Throughout the not-for-profit’s 51 year history, it has found innovative ways to serve vulnerable populations, whether it’s the forensic program that helps people who’ve been incarcerated re-enter society, domestic violence programs or school-based programs focusing on troubled youth, he says.
For instance, Sound Mental Health serves several school districts in King County, including the Seattle Public School District. A program at three of the Seattle Public School District's lowest performing middle schools embeds a care coordinator from Sound Mental Health on site to help identify troubled youth and work collaboratively with school administrators. Teams also provide triage support to the schools with other staff members, including case managers, therapists, doctors, wraparound specialists and substance abuse counselors as needed.
Sound Mental Health is in the midst of a rebranding effort and plans to launch its refreshed identity late this summer.
“Those innovations are things that we felt are vital to our past and our future, so we wanted to make sure that identifying those and other competitive advantages was included early as a way to approach this,” McLean says. “We have to know what our identity is.”
2. Consider a name change—or not
Once treatment centers have done the initial work to determine what their unique identity is, the next step in differentiation is to build a strategy around the insight. While it might be tempting to do a wholesale name change as your differentiation strategy, the decision must have solid rationale behind it first.