An Excerpt from The Dispensing Ophthalmologist
By Arthur De Gennaro

Chapter 15
Building and Managing Your Brand

In the retail world, the battleground in which optical dispensaries compete, branding is
synonymous with success. In fact, interest in branding is increasing as businesses faced
with a growing number of competitors seek to differentiate themselves.

Let’s first explore the concept of branding and then address how dispensing
ophthalmologists can use branding to enhance dispensary performance.

What Is Branding?
A brand is a collection of images and ideas that represents and portrays a business to a
consumer. More specifically, a brand is a set of symbols (such as a name, a logo, typefaces,
color schemes, sounds, slogans, and a design scheme) that represents implied values and
ideas. A brand is the symbolic embodiment of all the information a consumer associates
with a company, a product, or a service.

A brand is intended to create certain consumer expectations. The Virgin Atlantic Airlines
brand, for example, attaches positive associations to the increasingly unpleasant experience
of air travel—comfortable seating, friendly and accommodating staff, gourmet meals, and
even its uncharacteristic “celebrity” chairman, Sir Richard Branson.  

Brand Management
The art of creating and maintaining a brand is called brand management.  In practice, this
is the application of marketing techniques to a specific product or service.  The purpose of
brand management is to increase the perceived value of the brand in the consumer’s mind.
A branded product offers an implied promise that the level of quality or service the
consumer expects from the brand will be delivered each time the consumer purchases the

Brand management is also intended to increase sales by ensuring that the consumer sees
the brand’s products in a more favorable light than competing products. It may also enable
a business to charge higher product prices or set higher fees.

Brand Image and Brand Experience
The psychological aspect of a brand is sometimes referred to as the Brand image  It
comprises all the information and expectations potential customers associate with a product
or service. It is a concept created in the minds of prospective customers.

One way to develop a brand’s image is by attributing a personality to or associating a
graphic image with the brand. The point is to “brand” the personality or graphic image
into the consciousness of consumers so that they will think of the product and its attributes
whenever they see the image. Brand image is therefore one of the most valuable elements
in an advertising campaign because it communicates what the brand owner can deliver to
the market.

Some marketers distinguish brand image, the psychological aspects of branding, from
brand experience. The latter is experiential and consists of all points of contact a customer
has with a brand. When managing a brand’s image, marketers attempt to develop and
align customers’ expectations with their actual experiences.

When brand management is executed skillfully, it can create the impression that a brand
has certain qualities or characteristics that make it special or unique—that is, that
differentiate it from its competitors. More on this subject later in the chapter.

Brand Recognition
Brand recognition occurs when consumers accumulate a body of experiences with a specific
product or service by experiencing the brand directly or indirectly through advertising and
marketing. Brand recognition is related to top-of-the-mind awareness (TOTMA; see
Chapter 13). TOTMA increases with the number of impressions—that is, the number of
times a potential customer is exposed to a brand. This explains why saturation advertising
(the repeated broadcasting of the same or similar ads) is such an effective strategy in
television and radio advertising.

Branding and Passion
There has been a renewed interest in branding over the past 10 years. No longer are logos
and advertising campaigns the main conveyors of brands. Instead, every point of contact a
consumer has with a business is a potential brand-building opportunity. Sergio Zyman,
former chief marketing officer of Coca-Cola, puts it this way: “We know everything we
say and do communicates the brand. And for that matter, everything we don’t say and
don’t do communicates the brand.”

People who are serious about their businesses are passionate about their brand. Businesses
know that today branding means absorbing every member of the team into the business’s
culture. To quote Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, “The most important thing we have that’s hard to
duplicate is our culture of customer obsession. . . . Cultures are impossible to copy.”  

Brand Confusion
Brand confusion occurs when a potential customer is presented with two products that are
marketed as different but are so similar or closely related that they appear to be linked or
identical. Brand confusion can muddy the consumer decision-making process and frustrate

When it comes to establishing a brand, dispensing ophthalmologists are faced with a
dilemma: “What exactly should be branded?” Should the medical practice and the
dispensary each have a separate brand identity, or should they share a common brand?

In my opinion, establishing separate brands within the same practice is a mistake because
it generates brand confusion. Marketing the medical practice and the dispensary as
separate enterprises requires the vision care consumer to make two separate decisions:
“Should I trust this medical practice with my eye care?” and “Should I trust this
dispensary to provide my new eyeglasses?” Instead, the decision facing the vision care
consumer should be: “Should I trust this dispensing ophthalmologist with my vision care

Establishing a unified brand that incorporates the two departments begins with a
conscious decision on the part of the practice’s owners to create a culture that views them
as one. Both departments need to be seen as equally important and necessary in meeting
the vision care consumer’s total eye-care needs; they must be viewed as seamless in every
way. This is the message that vision care consumers should receive regularly and
consistently. (This topic—dispensary integration—was the focus of Chapter 2.)

The issue of brand confusion applies, as well, to dispensing ophthalmologists who practice
in groups. These doctors need to decide whether their practices should be branded as “The
Corner Ophthalmology Group, in which Dr. Arthur practices” or as “Dr. Arthur’s
Ophthalmology Practice, which happens to be part of The Corner Ophthalmology
Group.” They especially need to consider how their branding decision affects the

The distinction is important because it determines the allocation of valuable and often-
limited marketing resources—to promoting the group practice, individual doctors, or the
dispensary. In far too many cases, this is a thorny issue between partners, who are vying
for as much support as they can garner to meet their individual needs.

As is true of most things in life and business, there is no hard-and-fast answer to this
question. My bias leans toward branding the group. That approach minimizes competition
among the partners (which reduces internal conflicts) and allows the group practice to use
its resources more cost effectively to create and manage a consistent brand experience for
the vision care consumers who patronize the practice and its dispensary—and to avoid
brand confusion. Doing so effectively synergistically builds each doctor’s brand as well.

Differentiation as a Hedge Against Brand Confusion
One way to reduce the chance of brand confusion is to employ the strategy of
differentiation. Differentiation involves modifying a product or service to make it more
attractive to consumers and to set it apart from other similar products. The objective of this
strategy is to improve the product so that potential customers see it as distinctly different or

Ophthalmic marketers have to address the fact that most vision care consumers do not
consider the care provided by individual dispensing ophthalmologists and optometrists as
differing in any significant way. In simple terms, most vision care consumers consider one
eye doctor “as good as the next.” In the minds of these consumers, vision care providers
offer an undifferentiated product. This perception is supported by some marketers,  who
see the proliferation of products and services within many brand categories as diluting the
distinctions between them. Credit cards, hair care products, and airlines are three examples
of branded products consumers see as undifferentiated.

For dispensing ophthalmologists, differentiation involves positioning their practices and
optical dispensaries in ways that identify them as somehow different from—and better
than—their competitors. This can be done by exploiting differences in the quality of care or
the quality of caring that the practice is willing to deliver to current and prospective vision
care consumers. Even differences in location can make a difference for some consumers
when they choose a vision care provider.

More important, a successful differentiation strategy will move a dispensing
ophthalmology practice from competing primarily on price to competing on non-price
factors. Many vision care consumers are willing to pay more when they believe they are
receiving added value for their extra dollars. This, as you will remember from Chapter 14,
was one of the elements that Rogers maintained consumers had to work through when
making the decision to adopt an innovation.

Tips for Differentiating Your Brand
Here are a number of suggestions for differentiating yourself and your brand from the
competition on the basis of value.

Emphasize the quality of care. To differentiate your dispensing ophthalmology practice
from the commercial chains, which encourage optometrists to see many patients per hour
and then encourage eyeglass sales, focus on and emphasize the quality of care patients will
receive. Make sure your patients understand what a thorough examination involves, what
diseases you look for, and what tests you perform that other doctors may not. Remember,
a benefit that is a secret is no benefit at all.
Emphasize differences. To position your dispensing ophthalmology practice against other
ophthalmology practices, evaluate your competition and identify the differences. Then
exploit those differences by informing vision care consumers about them. If, for example,
you offer a 30-day exchange policy on new eyeglasses, feature that guarantee in your
marketing and advertising. The same would be true if you do not charge for an
enhancement after LASIK surgery.
Stay on time. Patients hate to wait. Show respect for patients by valuing their time
enough not to make them wait more than 15 minutes in the waiting room.
Provide refreshments. Many ophthalmology practices provide coffee, sodas, and cookies
in the waiting room. This lends a welcoming, friendly atmosphere to the waiting room
and improves the waiting room experience.
Become an information resource. Patients consider their doctors to be experts; they rely
on them for the latest information on eye health-care issues. Information on these subjects
should be readily available from you or through your practice. Such tools as brochures,
informational fliers, videos and DVDs that patients can watch while in the clinic; postings
on the practice’s website; and seminars conducted by the practice are all ways to deliver
this information without using up valuable chair time.
Stay in touch. As described in Chapter 13, newsletters and regular email
communications make it possible for dispensing ophthalmologists to stay in touch with
their patients, thereby continually renewing the relationship.

Living Your Brand
In a very real sense, your brand is what you do, not what you say. It must be authentic.
Any attempt to shroud the brand in rhetoric will fail.

Effective branding requires the total support of the dispensing ophthalmologist. The aim is
to create a sense of community among practice and dispensary employees—to align the
business’s internal culture and values in such a way that they guide employees in their
daily activities. This ensures that the promises of the brand will be delivered faithfully to
the practice’s vision care consumers each and every time. In the dispensary, for example,
offering customers a no-questions-asked exchange or refund on their eyewear if they are
not completely satisfied, you send a powerful message that customer satisfaction is a top
priority. To reinforce this emphasis on value, every member of the practice team must
exhibit exceptional customer service at all times.
Building and Managing Your Brand  
Dispensing ophthalmologists who ignore the marketplace realities of competition and
branding cannot escape their influences…and the consequences. Some basic steps in
building an integrated brand for your medical practice and dispensary are detailed below.

Define Your Brand
Defining a brand often begins with the creation of a mission statement and identification
of the business’s core values. Creating a mission statement is a very productive way to
clarify your business’s goals—and thus its brand—because it requires thinking through
these questions:

•  Who are we?
•  Why are we here?
•  What are we passionate about?
•  How will we go about delivering care to the vision care consumers who live in this area?
•  What makes us unique, different, or special compared with other vision care providers
in this area?

As you consider these questions, be sure to integrate responses for the dispensary with
those for the practice, so that your statements describe both parts of the business. Since you
can find lots of information on writing mission and values statements in other sources, a
detailed discussion of the subject is not presented here.  One caveat however.  In order for
mission and value statements to have real, long term benefits, they must be written in
such a way that the practice’s employees can memorize them and use them to make
decisions when confronted with day-to-day problems.  For example, if an employee
encounters a patient request that they are not sure how to handle, by mentally reciting the
mission or values statement they should be able to determine what action would be
consistent with the practice’s goals and culture.   

Establish a Marketing Budget
Consider establishing a marketing budget early on. An effective marketing campaign
requires an adequate amount of money to sustain it. Chapter 13 explained how to set
budget parameters.

Create a Marketing Program
You’ve decided what message(s) you want to send to the vision care consumers in your
market about your practice and dispensary’s core values. Next consider how best to
communicate those messages. The guerilla marketing techniques presented in Chapter 13
can be a cost-effective way of squeezing added value out of hard-to-come-by marketing
dollars. At the same time, decide how you’ll measure the effectiveness of your
communication campaign.

Create a Logo and a Graphic Identity
Your own logo—a graphic image symbolizing your brand—can be a wise investment.
Creating a graphic design identity that is memorable involves choosing typefaces, colors,
graphic elements, and layout schemes that are appropriate to your message and that you
will use in all your marketing pieces. Consistency reinforces the message you want to send
about your practice and its dispensary. Once you’ve decided on a logo, be sure to
incorporate it into all your marketing materials and activities. Staff uniforms should also
be emblazoned with the practice’s logo and colors.

Leverage Consumer-Staff Interactions
Jan Carlzon, former president of Scandinavian Airlines and author of the pivotal book
Moments of Truth, has observed: “Anytime a customer comes into contact with any aspect
of a business, however remote, is an opportunity to form an impression.”

In the real world, those moments when vision care consumers interact with members of
the practice team are brand-building moments. This is when consumers learn if the
business’s implied promises will actually be delivered. No business wants to be seen as
dishonest. It is the management—or lack of management—of each and every encounter
between each and every vision care consumer and every practice team member that will
make or break your brand.

Use Customer Voice Vehicles
Managing a brand means closely monitoring and evaluating the brand experience of a
statistically significant number of it customers.  Since not every patient’s encounter with
the practice and its dispensary will be completely positive, it’s important to establish ways
for vision care consumers to provide feedback about their brand experience. Called
customer voice vehicles, these feedback programs measure the dispensing ophthalmology
practice’s performance as the customer sees it. These programs are designed to evaluate the
dispensing ophthalmology practice’s performance during those moments of truth
mentioned above.  Skillfully created and administered customer voice vehicles can provide
valuable and timely information that can guide future brand-building activities.

There are a number of ways to gather customer feedback. Focus groups and customer
surveys are two common approaches.

Focus Groups. Focus groups are a way to gather qualitative information, including
consumer attitudes, about consumer experiences with or perceptions of your dispensing
ophthalmology practice. An experienced moderator (usually a marketing firm
representative or a consultant) guides a group of 12 or fewer persons in a loosely controlled,
free-flowing discussion and exchange of ideas.

The group’s composition can be managed to explore specific subjects or attitudes. For
example, a group might be formed of patients who received changes in their prescriptions
but chose not to purchase eyeglasses from the practice’s dispensary.

Focus groups can be less expensive than other forms of market research. Generally,
participants receive only a modest stipend, say $50 and are served a light meal.

Customer Surveys. Surveys are generally handed to or mailed to vision care consumers
after their visits. Responders are asked to answer a series of questions using an established
scale, or they might be asked if they “strongly agree” or “strongly disagree” with the
statements provided.

In my opinion, one drawback to surveys is that they are distributed only to individuals
who chose to experience the practice and/or its dispensary. This tends to elicit a positively
biased view of operations because the respondents are already practice and/or dispensary
patrons. It would be more valuable to find out why some vision care consumers choose not
to visit the practice or dispensary or decide not to return.

Because traditional surveys skew negative responses on the low side, it’s extremely
important to remember that each negative comment is indicative of a large number of
dissatisfied patients, perhaps those who chose not to return. Offer survey respondents the
option of providing their contact information for follow-up. I strongly recommend
following up each negative comment with a telephone call to the eyecare consumer to
investigate the reason for the negative response. Use that information to refine your
operations and improve the quality of your brand.

Handle Customer Complaints Effectively
Handling customer complaints is always reactive rather than proactive. Because of its
reactive nature, resolving complaints can’t be considered a method for building the practice’
s brand. However, resolving complaints to the customer’s satisfaction is essential in
maintaining the quality of the brand and restoring customer confidence.

Create a Quality Assurance Committee
The best way for dispensing ophthalmologists to manage their brand is to create a quality
assurance committee composed of at least one employee from each department in the
practice. These committees are most effective when they identify issues that negatively
impact the brand and then work to create policies and procedures to build the brand or
guard against the recurrence of those problems. The practice’s owner or a member of its
Board should always sit on this committee, so that the group can take immediate action on
its decisions.

Dispensing ophthalmologists who actively develop and manage their brand can hope to
separate themselves from the crowd of other vision care providers. This should increase
referrals, new-patient volume, and dispensary sales, not to mention the practice’s
valuation. That differentiation should also support an increase in fees.

Copyright 2008 Arthur De Gennaro
All rights reserved