#BrandPT: Marketing For Our Future

If you look up #brandPT on Twitter, there has been some REALLY stimulating discussions on how we should brand the physical therapy/physiotherapy profession; what do we do? how does the public perceive us? how do we perceive ourselves? what are the key words to communicate how we can serve the public? how is our profession related to health & wellness? recovery from illness or injury? relief from pain?

Branding/re-branding through a mass marketing campaign must unify all the above details, the individuals, the niches of practice, the odd, the eclectic, the mainstream, all settings of practice… the whole nine yards.

Three tactics exist to campaign in such a manner for which the value and demand for physical therapists will be elevated. And, as always, combining emotional value with intellectual awareness to health options is the best blend.

1. Our-Selves:

For this tactic, we market to the “average bear” – how would the average person of any age, in any setting, of any need, respond and think of any image, video, audio byte, etc. These types of campaigns need to hold positive emotions, power, and hope. The next generation of marketing to “ourselves” is to demonstrate with humor, music, and dance what the possibilities are. I suggested on Twitter that a 30 second video bit of a pre/post physical therapy experience would be great; borrowing from the over-done Harlem Shake fad on YouTube, imagine someone walking into an outpatient PT clinic with a “thrown out back.” He does this with a terribly painful looking gait and makes his way into the gym area of the clinic. As the music plays “Do the Harlem Shake!” – the screen changes into what the patient is now able to do after his session with his physical therapist. Crazy dancing, showing-off of improved lumbar range of motion, and an enthusiastic therapy staff dance in the background to champion physical therapy as a choice path to health.

I challenge anyone out there to produce this! Or… anything of this nature. Hey! How about “Time Zone” – pre/post PT?

A great example, truly highlighting rehab therapy services, is the “Hail to the Victors!” commercial by the University of Michigan Health System. In fact, I think this commercial is brilliant because it combines all areas of care with a fight song that is beloved (or hated if you’re from Ohio State… boo!) by SO many people.

2. Our Children & Our Seniors

With the baby boomer generation looming on retirement, healthcare MUST prepare for their needs. By honoring our seniors who have paved the way so that our children can see a bright future – and – focusing our efforts in serving them back creates a powerful emotional connection – a human experience – it becomes the core of this tactic for any marketing campaign. While the below clip is longer than is ideal, it is actually part of a television documentary. It is most powerful… a true tear-jerker:

Aortic Valve Replacement: “Great Life… And now, we have more of it.”

3. Our Heroes (sports, military, and many others)

Especially in the United States, nothing is more emotional than the honoring of our troops. We can say the same of any hero be it in sports, music, art, public service, etc. We value heroes because of who they are and the contribution they have made in the lives of many. While the below clip actually combines tactics #2 & 3, you can see how power it can be to unify marketing tactics upon a single strategy: In this clip, a boy walks to his Marine father for the first time – something the boy would never have done without help of a physical therapist:

A boy with cerebral palsy walks to his Marine dad for the first time

Some Closing Thoughts (for now):

Marketing is a never-ending task. One must study the marketplace, project it’s future courses, create demand in the here-and-now, and react to the unexpected changes that occur every single day. In branding/re-branding the physical therapist, we must focus on who we are, when we can help, and how we can serve for people to achieve their best health & more. However, it is terribly easy to get stuck on how we perceive ourselves. Whatever the buzzword may be: movement, function, pain, recovery, rehab, etc. – let’s be honest: if you say “rehab”, most people think of drug/behavioral rehab – and – if one says “therapist”, most people think psychologist. We have our work cut out for us. We need an aggressive re-branding campaign; overtaking both “rehab” and “therapist” in a sweeping move which we must identify our archetypal experience/moment for the consumer – our Mickey Mouse Moment (see here & here). This can and should be done privately (on our own YouTube accounts, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, newspapers, private-mail-digests, pens, stickers, mouse pads, coffee mugs, etc.); it should be done corporately (large health systems, large practice chains, professional athletics, etc.); and it should be done through associations (ie. APTA and the many private practice business associations/alliances in the PT world).

If we do not out-compete… overflow… inundate the public with emotional connections to how we can serve them, we will eventually be pushed out of our scope of practice by less-than-ideal substitutes. ALL physical therapists/physios need to let any ear that will hear and eyes that will see:  physical therapists are compassionate, understanding, health practitioners ready to help you recover from injury and illness in all settings – hospitals, nursing facilities, outpatient clinics, your schools, your homes, your communities, and in athletics.

A marketing expert once said that if you can’t explain who you are and what you do in 10 words or less, then you’ve got work to do. I suggest in the world of social media, 140 characters is the new  “10 words or less.” The sooner we gather our most salient commonality as a profession, the sooner we can bombard the market en masse; if we focus on how we are different, we will fail – only by focusing on our unity can we tackle this monster. I do throw out a caution, however: movement and function are great buzzwords… but they really only matter to how we view ourselves. Honestly, how often do consumers think: “Wow, I’m not moving my shoulder as well, I should go see a physical therapist”? If it was all that often, shouldn’t we be doing a lot better off? And really, does it hold more value to educate an entire generation of consumers – or – is it better to speak the language they are already speaking – get their attention and THEN further educate them in depth & breadth of our scope of practice? Just a thought…

So with that, I will end this post with my < 140 char:

“Physical Therapists specialize in physical health, performance, and pain relief for all stages of recovery, wellness, and levels of fitness.” – *phew*… exactly 140 characters.

What is your definition for PT in 140 or less?