by Todd Walkow, DMD, MS

Everywhere you look, you can observe the power of “branding.” Marketing experts create trademarks and images related to a person or a company’s products with the goal of establishing a perception and expectation in the mind of the consumer. In essence, they train consumers to make logical as well as emotional decisions. The same principle applies in the orthodontic office. While some patients are referred by a general dentist or other specialist, others simply get a referral on the soccer field. In making the final decision of which office to use for treatment, a patient will likely consider credentials or academic accolades, but a patient is just as likely to consider the more intangible items: their impression of you, your Web site, your office dÉcor and technology, the appearance of your staff. These are all items that support your office’s brand.

By establishing a brand, an office can attract and, more importantly, retain patients by giving them something to connect with. This is particularly important for a treatment that depends on continual follow-up appointments. Since establishing a practice brand is a multilayered process, I can only provide a glimpse of how branding has shaped my business. However, I’m certain it will provide insight into how branding has impacted our success.

Connecting to Patients, Parents—and Staff

A few primary considerations are important for building a practice brand: the design of a logo and Web site, a mission statement, and a practice name. However, the first step must be identification of core values. You must define the practice’s strengths and unique attributes. This will eventually establish the foundation of the brand. Once these elements are in place, the planning process begins. It seems unconventional, but I recommend a 1-year marketing plan with defined and reachable goals. In our quarterly staff meetings, we address our 3-year vision statement, 1-year plan, and list of 90-day tasks. This way, they’re at the forefront of everything we do.

Practicing in the competitive Southern California market, I felt that I needed to differentiate myself in a way that would be attractive to adults and kids alike. My first step was to design an office that was clean and contemporary, yet still instilled a sense of comfort and fun. We have a game room with videos that are both current and retro. Our patient chairs are equipped with iTunes. And our furniture is sophisticated, hip, and fun.

Our branding firm’s graphic artist created a “mascot” of a fun-loving and young rock star to be my alter ego. The mascot provides a continuation of the brand. Our guy shows up on such things as collateral and invoices, and helps us to connect with some of the younger patients. To help appeal to the adults, we implemented a credit card system that includes reward points to recognize patient cooperation. This system also works well with our established brand.

With the economy presenting obvious challenges, I now place greater emphasis on our internal marketing program. The program is based on our commitment to a brand that strives to uphold the highest level of customer service. Our office has a scheduling coordinator who greets patients as they walk in the door, and offers parents water or coffee and the opportunity to enjoy a comfortable reception area that is equipped with a large television and wireless Internet access. At the completion of the office visit, my chairside assistants walk each patient to the front to make their next appointment and introduce them to the scheduling coordinators by name. Elements such as our stylish office dÉcor, collateral rewards program, and on-hold messaging contribute to our internal marketing program.

A strong office brand and atmosphere also assist in the long-term retention and recruitment of employees. The environment creates positive energy; it is a place that people enjoy working in. I get my team involved in marketing activities, and we regularly discuss customer service techniques at the morning huddles.

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I enjoy working with companies that are forward-thinking in their approaches to patient care. I use a variety of products to enhance the patient experience, such as Opal Orthodontics’ Gishy Goo to reduce appliance irritation after the initial bonding. At our patients' request, we also started offering tooth whitening at the completion of treatment. Opal Orthodontics also offers a prefilled, disposable whitening system for use with orthodontic brackets called Opalescence TrÈswhite Ortho. By providing these products, we stand by our mission of producing excellent results and an exceptional patient experience.

Our patients appreciate our progressive, fun, and family-oriented approach to patient care. We pride ourselves on our distinct brand. It’s a brand that encompasses our vision and the character we want to represent in the orthodontic world.

Todd Walkow, DMD, MS, is in private practice in Newport Beach, Calif. He serves on the Board of the California Association of Orthodontists and volunteers on the Cleft Lip/Palate and Craniofacial Team at Children’s Hospital of Orange County. He teaches at UCLA School of Dentistry and is a Diplomate of the ABO. He can be reached at