• You as a Brand

    Author: Daniel J. Hoh, MD

    In our consumer driven society, customers want to be able to make the best choices. Consequently, name brands and personal branding have become ubiquitous in the business place. Traditionally, branding meant simply to mark an individual service or good by making it distinguishable from another. Today, branding means putting forth a unique marketable vision with which consumers can readily identify. In essence, the brand projects a desired experience in hopes of attracting new customers. A high-end hotel may be less focused on marketing their rooms and beds, and more on conveying qualities of luxury, service, and leisure in order to target their potential consumer base. Branding thereby succeeds by enhancing consumer engagement, recognition, word of mouth, and loyalty. Nike went from simply being a type of athletic shoe to a diverse product line that conjures images of heroics and winning. Michael Jordan and the "Be Like Mike" slogan came to define the Nike experience, and was so strong he subsequently was able to launch his own personal brand.

    Health care is no exception to the rule of brands and personal branding. For neurosurgeons, this may be as basic as marketing your expertise with a specific procedure or an area of research (endoscopic brain tumor surgery, a novel immunotherapy trial, etc.). More developed personal branding, however, communicates your best and most unique qualities, creates the marketplace you want to inhabit, and sets your vision for the ideal consumer experience.

    Developing a personal brand starts with defining your destination, i.e., determining how you want people to perceive you. Be clear about your individual strengths (education, training, expertise, etc.), what you have accomplished (position, peer reputation, etc.), and the assets of your enterprise (staff, organization, facilities, amenities, research, etc.). Communicate your vision of the ideal experience for your intended audience. A brand message built around a shared purpose often leads to greater engagement, differentiation, and loyalty.1 Your brand image should not only communicate what you perceive to be your strengths, but also speak to the sensibilities of your intended client base. This means having a clear understanding of what they value most. For example, patients may prioritize availability and ease of access over individual credentials. Your brand should then set an expectation of delivering this quality consistently in your practice.

    Consider how your brand provides value and relevance. Know the interest and demands of your community and hospital, and how your brand may be a differentiator in that space. This approach is often best fulfilled by identifying uncontested areas, and enhancing your position by leveraging points of difference. For example, having the only intraoperative MRI may be a practical starting point for marketing to a segment of consumers not served by existing providers. A mature strategy, however, is able to adapt and sustain interest as others eventually imitate and follow suit (as other hospitals subsequently acquire an intraoperative MRI). In business, brand innovators are less interested in trends that everyone is adopting, and tend to concentrate on creating new kinds of relationships.2 The contrasting trajectories of Amazon and Borders bookstores are an example of this. Forecasting changes in neurosurgical practice and the health care environment while also mapping your strengths and how they apply to this evolving environment are critical to maintaining the viability of your brand.

    In order to communicate your brand effectively, you must first obtain visibility. With many physicians participating in online advertising and social media, rising above the noise is becoming increasingly difficult. Introduce yourself with exposure through multiple formats: Take on leadership roles, serve on committees, seek speaking engagements, publish clinical outcomes, and present your research.3 Build an actionable audience and a forum to engage with them (patient and family support groups). Once your brand is recognized, create consistent and meaningful content online. Find a format that works best for you such as videos, news updates, editorial columns, or social media posts. Maintaining a level of professional quality and consistency is critical for establishing your identity and credibility. Continually refresh your online content. The rate of change in online media is fast, and failure to unveil new material sends a message of inactivity. Conversely, online content does not disappear, and traces of your messaging can always be uncovered. Ensure that your online material is honest and factual, and remains appropriate for your intended audience. The effort necessary to create and maintain visibility of your brand can be overwhelming. The endeavor should always be in service of your objectives, and not distract from or compromise the integrity of your work or your team.

    Personal branding is a delicate balance in the health care domain. It is much different than it is in the commercial sector where it is commonplace for competing businesses to tout their superiority and even denigrate the competition. A neurosurgeon, however, walks a fine line by projecting expertise and confidence. If overdone, they risk appearing arrogant and unprofessional. While marketing to differentiate oneself is expected and fair game, personal branding that is perceived as self-aggrandizing may offend patients and other health care professionals in addition to harming existing or future relationships.

    As neurosurgeons, we have an amazing opportunity to care for patients, contribute to the community, and contribute to advancements in our field. All of these things are rewarding. Developing a personal brand that communicates one's unique vision can be additionally rewarding, as it establishes a clear and memorable experience for those we provide service. This can lead to better patient engagement and compliance, inspire advocates and benefactors, and increase professional referral and collaboration. Personal branding is an opportunity to continually re-invent while looking ahead to create the place you want your career to go next.


    1. Mark Bonchek, Cara France. Build your brand as a relationship. Harvard Business Review. May 9, 2016. https://hbr.org/2016/05/build-your-brand-as-a-relationship. Accessed January 7, 2018.
    2. Dorie Clark. Reinventing your personal brand. Harvard Business Review. March 2011. https://hbr.org/2011/03/reinventing-your-personal-brand. Accessed January 7, 2018.
    3. John Nosta. Physician, brand thyself—or suffer the dire consequences. Forbes.com. February 21, 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnnosta/2017/02/21/physician-brand-thysel.... Accessed January 7, 2018.

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