It finally clicked for me. I am a brand. And this changed everything. Since that day, my self-appointed mission has been to develop that brand, enrich it, and embody it.
At first it was difficult to conceptualize. I wasn’t a Gap or Nordstrom. I was a dentist. I wasn’t planning to expand like Amazon or Walmart. I was a mom and a wife with superior organizational skills.
If I was going to continue building that brand, I needed to reconfigure in my mind the idea of what my brand was. If I was going to make a commitment to developing a brand, first I had to feel worthy of being a brand. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized it had nothing to do with esteem issues and everything to do with my way of life.
The first step was to awaken my self-actualization, which allowed me to change the way I view myself as a dentist. Many years ago when I began practicing dentistry, I presented treatment plans, but I never really felt fully invested in creating relationships or in creating a sort of a promise to my patients. Now, all of a sudden, I was was ready for a paradigm shift. I am not just a dentist. World, here I am, introducing myself as a brand.
I began evaluating my mission in life, my mission as a provider, and my personal and professional value system. More importantly, I began creating a foundation for myself personally and professionally that I would later come to understand as the building block for my brand.
This was a step-wise process, one completely new to me, and one that renewed my passion toward not just being a better provider but creating a new affection and excitement for life in general.
Authentic has recently become a buzzword among therapists, consultants, and life coaches. Being authentic is probably the single most important seed in planing for the growth of your brand. Simply stated, being authentic is the need to be yourself. Why is that so critical? Why is authenticity so important?
Authenticity and truthfulness form a sort of baseline. If you commit to practicing being authentic, you become credible as well as pure and and faithful to your own mission statement and your own value systems.
Whether you’re having a good day or bad, or whether you’re treatment planning with a patient or are knee deep in a difficult extraction, being yourself makes you more credible and, more importantly, trustworthy. Patients can sense when you’re honest, when you care, and when they’re being sold.
If you act out of what is true in your heart when you present information in a way that you believe is of value and when you are faithful to your mission statement, your education, and your experience, patients will sense that.
Patients will believe you’re putting their needs ahead of your own and will be more likely to follow through on the recommendations you’re making. They will believe your experience, they will consider your recommendation, and your truth will become their concern.
Let’s draw a map of how to get from where you may be right now to a point where you’ve embraced being authentic and are ready to market yourself as a brand. It may seem fairly straightforward, but simple it is not.
Before we reach that absolute and sought-after state of authenticity, we first must realize that some of us are wrapped in layers of other people’s expectations. And rather than choosing to embody our own truth and credibility, we often act how people expect us to.
If we’re going to try and grow ourselves, we can’t continue to embody what others think we should be or cater to what others expect. We have to take the time to peel back layers with both patience and, quite frankly, courage.
Some of us may feed ourselves lies, sometimes even to survive. As we try to go forward addressing our own distortions, the bulk of this exercise will prove to be a trying time. Once those layers are peeled, we are looking into our own eyes without being dressed up by other people’s complements.
Displaying this raw form of ourselves and connecting it to our self-respect and our own acceptance is beautiful. It is amour-propre in its purest form. This is what we will turn into our foundation as we begin to live out our authenticity. This foundation is what will become our brand.
So, rewind. How exactly do we do all that? It can take a significant amout of time, and the more time you commit to meditating on this foundation, the more worthwhile it will be. In putting down this groundwork, we have to consider our driver.
Want another buzzword? Our why. Start taking notes. Why do we do what we do? Why would we want to continue? What do we want to change, why do we want to change it, and what will it look like when we do?
I have found that writing out these questions can be helpful, as is keeping the answers in a notebook and carrying it around for a couple of weeks. (I happen to be a big fan of paper and pencils, but a phone app may work just as well.)
You will find that at random times during your day, more questions will emerge. And in those jotted answers, you will find surprises and secrets you didn’t think would make their way to the surface. This is good. This is the process of finding your driver.
The next step in developing a brand is visualization. Step away from who you are today and begin to imagine the most ideal interaction between you and your patient. Consider interactions between yourself and your team, your spouse, your kids, and even random people in the grocery store. The more you picture in your mind who you want to be, the more you will become comfortable with it.
Furthermore, continuing to write and taking notes about who you want to be, how you’re going to be perceived, and the impression you are going to leave following an interaction will most likely keep you quite busy.
Before you fall asleep, create potential scenarios in your head and map out how you would ideally respond to them. Whether you put them down on paper or walk through them in your mind, scenarios are very powerful.
I took my personal visualization, the definition of my brand, a step further with a sort-of mission statement about the kind of first impression I wanted to make on a new acquaintance or patient:
“My brand begins with a smile. A genuine, embracing, friendly smile. That is non-negotiable. It creates an atmosphere of trust and warmth. While maintaining eye contact, wearing a smile, next comes a genuine interest in the conversation.”
First Impressions Matter
Someone once said we determine 90% percent of what we think about a person within the first 90 seconds of meeting that person. As we imagine an ideal interaction based on our own mission statement and values, we ought to map out a few of the next steps.
Most likely when you first meet patients, you ask them how they’re doing, how they heard about your practice, and what brings them to your office. But these questions not only seem fairly un-engaging, they also are the same questions that every single dentist asks every single patient!
In building your brand, you want to make an active effort not just in getting the answers to these important questions but also in making your patients feel like you’ve created a safe space for them and a sense of belonging. You want to make a memorable impression and establish a profound connection.
So before those routine clinical questions, start a conversation of two or three minutes about anything other than dentistry. These questions should be different for everyone. This will help you develop and maintain your brand. This conversation is of the utmost importance because it is the initiation of a personal relationship, giving us, as dentists, some human characteristics.
My friend Alan Stern, DDS, taught me that one of the most important things you can do as a dentist as you communicate with your patients that will forever separate you from others, whether it’s the first or fourth time you’re talking with them, is to listen generously.
This will allow your patients to feel at ease and safe. It can unilaterally transform a random human connection into a very profound one. It will create value in the relationship and lead to mutual understanding between you and your patient.
Listening generously will lead to you proposing more ideal treatment plans for your patients and ultimately to their acceptance. It will let your patients make their decisions based on the best fit for them. What we may consider as the dentist to be the ideal treatment might not fit our patients’ philosophy of lifestyle and health. Listening generously allows us to be a patient partner and advocate instead of an authority who preaches some ideal.
Building a brand takes time and hard work. But if you look within yourself and come to it from a point of authenticity and truthfulness, you will immediately become credible. You will stand out as a brand. And if you train your team about your mission and value system, they will become your brand advocates.
From the moment that you decide you’re a brand, no matter where you go, which role you take on, and where you land, that brand will follow you. And when you stay true to that brand, day in and day out, patients will visit you as if they’re shopping at their favorite store.
Disclaimer: Most of these strategies didn’t dawn on me spontaneously or without any help. Several months ago, I began working with a life coach, Lani Grass, who has helped me conceptualize and actualize them. For that, I am eternally grateful.
Dr. Augustyn is a practicing general dentist. She earned a DDS from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She also has completed the course sequence with the Dawson Academy’s continuum in oral equilibration and cosmetic dentistry. She completes a minimum of 30 hours of continuing education each year as well, including orthodontics, implantology, periodontics, prosthodontics, and cosmetics. Additionally, she is a moderator on the Dental Nachos Facebook group forum. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.