#BrandPT. If you're not part of this discussion, you should be—regardless of whether you’re a physical therapist, occupational therapist, another allied health rehab therapy professional, personal trainer, physician, dentist, or nurse. Why? Because the #BrandPT Twitter discussion revolves around empowering an important segment of the healthcare industry—physical therapists—and thus empowers the entire industry as a whole. 

However, this post really isn't about #BrandPT specifically. It has to do with the overall mission to rebrand the physical therapy profession. Just as nurses, physicians, optometrists, and podiatrists have all evolved their identities, physical therapists also must rebrand themselves to the public. 

Okay, it’s time for a Geek Moment: two points create a line. Add direction and magnitude, and now you have a force to deal with—now, you have a vector.

Definition of a Vector

Screenshot from Google


So what does this have to do with rebranding? Everything! 

In this post, I'd like to share four critical rebranding concepts—concepts that are now more important than ever with the current topic trends on social media in the last two or three months. Concepts that form a vector—a direction with magnitude! 

1. Link old to new.

No matter where you want your brand identity to end up, you must recognize that consumers are likely to see your brand as something a little different than how you see yourself. In fact, it's not uncommon for companies to perceive the need to rebrand and go completely unnoticed for quite some time. When the public finally does notice the change, it’s usually not so welcome. Want examples? 

Thus, the only way to effectively transform a brand without losing people is to show them exactly where you are going with it. 

Showing people with the direction of your ideas is very important. Moving radically to the brand identity you want in one huge, sweeping move is never a good idea. It's too confusing! People want to feel like they are part of the idea, not told how it is. Allowing consumers to be "in the know" builds an invaluable amount of brand loyalty. 

One of the best examples of this is Starbucks. Some of you might remember when Starbucks dabbled in sorbettos and flirted with the idea of serving alcoholic beverages. However, such a move was far too quick for consumers. This is their new strategy. It may not be completely welcome—nothing "new" ever is. However, it does give you a chance to identify with Starbucks and feel like, "Hey! I'm part of it!" 

2. Do it slowly.

As foreshadowed above (and critically linked to concept #1), sudden rebranding moves are typically too radical for the vast majority of consumers to process effectively. No matter how genius or necessary it might seem to push forward quickly, it is imperative that you take it slow. Moving too quickly makes it very easy to burn out and thus, lose momentum—or even worse, to lose relevance. 

So how fast should you move? Answer: At the pace consumers recognize the bread trail you left per concept #1. Here’s an example I tinkered with: Almost every physical therapist I know identifies with the fact that we are movement specialists in the health and wellness field. Unfortunately, that phrase is nothing but ambiguous to the average bear. However, the public completely identifies with key words such as pain, weakness, injury, soreness, tension, bad back, dizziness, falls, broken hip, and aging. 

One way to jump into a slow and steady method of rebranding is by creating a presence in a social media outlet that allows for a #Hashtag function. For example: “Do you have #backpain? Trouble with your daily body #movement? Talk to a #PhysicalTherapist!” Here, we establish that pain + movement = physical therapist. It almost seems too simple; however, it is necessary to take things slow during the steps of rebranding. 

Once you identify the phrase you want to use (e.g., #BrandPT), get on your social networks and go to town. Time out your posts for topics like pain, joints, bones, shoulders, knees, back, sports, performance, muscles, strains, and sprains. Then, move into things like tension, headaches, injury, migraines, bladder problems, massage, movement, function, health, and wellness. You can even start pitching in things like dry needling, rehab therapy, therapy, manual therapy, corrective exercise, laser therapy, surgery, prehab, and post-op. Honestly, it’s up to you. 

One caution: The best way to #BrandPT is together. I know it’s a huge push, and I also know that there are respected people in our industry who would rather leave it to the market to recognize our movement expertise. (On a side note, I want to affirm that we are the movement experts.) Unfortunately, we’re just not there yet—at least not as far as the general consumer is concerned. People still see PTs as healing health professionals—someone who is present after injury, after surgery, during pain, during hospitalization, or in nursing homes/facilities, or someone who specializes in exercise, walking, strengthening, and pain relief. 

If we are to rebrand ourselves, we need to first double our efforts for these identifiers and build up our brand equity. Then—and only then—can we start to link the old to the new and begin the slow push toward being recognized as “movement health specialists” who can maximize the health and wellbeing of our clients. 

3. Respect the legacy.

Just as Starbucks doubly reinforced their commitment to being the best coffee brand in the video I linked to above, and just as Star Trek recently (and very successfully) went back to Kirk and Spock, so must we, as physical therapists, respect our legacy and hold tight to our roots. People always respect legacy. This is actually one of the key elements of linking the old to the new and making consumers feel like they are part of the brand experience. 

Whichever pedigree of physical therapists/physiotherapists you identify with, several things are certain (and, for some of these items, desirable):

  • Especially in the United States, we are intimately linked with allopathic medicine.
  • In two major settings, physical therapists work very closely with nurses. In fact, it was four nurses who started Great Britain’s Chartered Society for Physiotherapy.
  • We established ourselves through manual therapy. People love the fact that we give them a “healing touch,” if you will. In fact, there is definitely a segment of consumers that consider physical therapists specializing only in “exercise” to be nothing more than personal trainers. (Not that there’s anything wrong with personal trainers—it’s just not what these consumers are looking for when they come to clinic.) Funnily enough, there is a segment within the profession that considers “manual therapy” more akin to a massage therapist. Regardless of your opinion on the matter, the bottom line is our consumers love our tactile approach. We should embrace this and value it just as they do. Does this mean we always provide it? Certainly not; only when it is appropriate.
  • Finally, physical therapists are compassionate healthcare practitioners. We care about people, we share in their lives, and we take our time with them. People value this!

If respecting the legacy still seems like a bit of a stretch, consider the following quote: 

"I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing—that it was all started with a mouse."—Walt Disney 

~See Mickey Mouse Moment Follow-Up~

Mickey Mouse Moment



 4. #BrandPT: All. The. Time.

Honestly, the only successful way to brand or rebrand any market identity is to do so repetitively and aggressively while keeping the message consistent. Flooding the public’s awareness is the first step. However, we need to have a consistent message to share. Whether we all come to a general consensus to link “pain” with “movement” or “injury” with “returning to health,” the message we choose must hold core elements in common—not apart. Unity is essential! 

Being repetitive and aggressive sometimes means being a tad-bit annoying. Think gecko? Think Geico! It works. It might be a bit annoying, but it works. 

Not only do we need to campaign all the time, but we also need to follow up. Being available, accessible, visible, present, heard, receptive, and interactive is mandatory for strong brand equity. Retweet on Twitter; respond on Facebook; comment on YouTube. Whatever the mechanism, we need to make sure that the public sees physical therapists are as highly engaging and compassionate. 

Ultimately, you must be the driver of your marketing strategy. I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it again: You are your own best marketing tactic. #solvePT #livePT 

I hope you enjoyed these four rebranding concepts. There are, of course, many other branding concepts that apply to the larger scheme of marketing. However, in terms of physical therapy, allied rehab therapies, and healthcare disciplines in general, I think these four points pretty much sum things up. 

The extended importance of #BrandPT is its role in bringing updated, real-time information about physical therapy to the consumer in an interactive way. While most of the participants in the #BrandPT discussion are primarily in the healthcare industry, this movement affects the way allied health professionals talk to, interact with, and regard physical therapists. Such experiences naturally carry over to the very patrons we serve. Providers being hip with #BrandPT and the true identity of physical therapists will ultimately best serve their respective consumer population by forming a transdisciplinary alliance for the betterment of the public at large. 

For this reason, we must hold true to these concepts; we must bring our consumers with us, as part of our brand—showing them where we were, who we are now, and where we are going. We must transition our dreams and ideals slowly to allow the market adequate time to adjust. We need to respect our legacy because our consumers respect it. And finally—in order to effectively #BrandPT for a #PTStrong-future—our branding messages must be uniform, consistent, and constant (possibly to the point of mildly annoying) in their frequency. 


About the Author

Dr. Ben Fung, PT, is Director and Chief Practitioner for Kettlebell Therapy™, the Rehabilitation Director for the Remington Club in Rancho Bernardo, and a compassionate clinician to the clients and patients of his exclusive fee-for-service private practice. He's also very active on social media; follow him on FacebookTwitter, and Google Plus.

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