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How to differentiate your brand: consider new ideas to rise above the noise.

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 can be overwhelming, leaving potential patients at a loss. 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.


"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."


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.

Farrell recommends a name change only when there are clear indicators that the current name doesn't match where the organization wants to go in the future or that the community doesn't understand what the organization does.

An alternative option could be adding a brand tagline that highlights a key facet that differentiates a treatment center. Consumer product companies have historically cycled through tagline changes, while the product name itself never changes.

During its rebranding process, Sound Mental Health decided a name change was the best idea because leaders wanted to better position the organization for the future.

"Our desire to rebrand the organization is born from what we are currently doing, but mental health is no longer the only thing," McLean says. "What we hope to do would include integration and other things in the future. There are expansion opportunities for the organization. It only makes sense to change how we're presenting this organization to the community."

Although the new name had not yet been released as of the interview with Behavioral Healthcare Executive, McLean says Sound Mental Health's new brand be will something that honors the existing equity the organization has within the community, while also not limiting its future growth.

For any rebranding effort to be successful, experts say it's essential to announce the change internally first before sharing any rebranding messages with the public.

"Honor your people first," Farrell says. "Launch it internally, perhaps with cupcakes in the office and put the new logo on them and tell [the employees] about the change."


Implementing a differentiation strategy hinges on communicating the right message to stakeholders. O'Mara says Summit Behavioral Health partnered with a search engine optimization firm to create a stronger digital footprint. She also recommends being present on popular social media platforms and posting daily to establish an online identity. Social media channels call for frequent touchpoints to maximize brand exposure.

"Constantly posting on Facebook, keeping yourself out there, but also utilizing the new apps on the market works well," she says.

Actively participating in community events also helps establish a brand and foster awareness in the community because an in-person interaction creates better connections and can reinforce digital brand exposure. Additional branding efforts include tried-and-true investments such as advertising, sponsorships and public relations campaigns. In all, the combined initiatives must deliver a consistent message to make a connection in the minds of the audience between your organization's identity and your organization's capabilities.


Jill Sederstrom is a freelance writer based in Kansas.


In this era of private equity investment in the market, there is also an emerging brand consideration: mergers and acquisitions. When companies merge or make acquisitions, according to Kelly Farrell, founder and chief executive officer of designRoom Creative, there's usually a leading indicator, whether financial or operational, that indicates which branding direction the restructured organization might take.

For example, in late 2016, Promises Treatment Centers acquired Park Bench Group Counseling in Somers Point, N.J., and changed the facility's brand name to Promises New Jersey. Meanwhile, the Promises brand itself operates under the larger umbrella of Elements Behavioral Health.

According to Farrell, the name transition should happen gradually to give the community time to recognize the switch. Alternatively, some organizations might continue to use their own name, adding a tag line indicating that they are part of the parent company.
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Title Annotation:MANAGEMENT
Author:Sederstrom, Jill
Publication:Behavioral Healthcare
Geographic Code:1U2NJ
Date:Jun 22, 2017
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