Rebranding to be heard above the chatter
Kathleen Plath, VP of marketing at Specialists On Call, recently met with us to discuss her company’s recent rebranding initiative. In a sea of telemedicine vendors that provide the technology, but not the specialists behind it, Kathleen’s company has been on a mission to be heard above the chatter.
Dodge: Tell us a bit about SOC’s history and the mission behind starting the company.
Plath: Specialists On Call, Inc., or “SOC”, is the fastest growing and leading provider of clinical telemedicine services to hospitals in the U.S. We are accredited by the Joint Commission and led by a physician with 20 years of successful business experience. Since our founding in 2007, we’ve offered the services of experienced, emergency neurologists to hospitals through a 24/7/365 on-call service with a 15-minute response time. In fact, to date we have more than 45 board certified, fellowship trained, neurologists—half of them drawn from our university partnerships and half from private practice. These individuals provide emergency consultations to hospital emergency departments, inpatient units and ICU’s via our telemedicine infrastructure, which includes a collection of industry standard videoconferencing, EHR and PACS systems woven into a single cost-effective solution that is coordinated by our centralized call center and clinical staff. This past February we expanded and began providing on-demand psychiatry consultations in addition to our neurology on-call service.
Dodge: Can you elaborate on your business model and how this works and the company’s plan for the next five years?
Plath: We pioneered a successful business model for providing superior neurology physician on-call coverage to hospitals in which those hospitals pay SOC in exchange for coverage and consultations, but they receive and retain all patient and insurance billings. This enables SOC to offer good compensation to our neurologists for their work and, in exchange for that, we demand a professional level of efficiency and customer service from our physicians that is unmatched in telemedicine and rarely found even in bedside consultations. SOC’s business model allows hospitals to initiate the use of our service without any capital investment and then derive a significant positive financial impact, many times in less than 90 days, and from that point onwards derive a growing positive return. Our service is a unique and attractive approach to solving the problem of finding specialists willing to take calls and the responsibilities that come along with that. As a result, SOC has experienced extreme, rapid growth—starting with six pilot participants in one state, we now have more than 115 hospital clients and contracts for more than 25 hospitals in 17 states. Our physicians are providing more than 1,100 consultations per month, more than any bricks and mortar medical center or telemedicine program in the country. Our plan for the coming years is to continue to expand nationwide, and include clinical telemedicine offerings in other service lines, such as orthopedics.
Dodge: You recently rebranded the entire company from your logo and messaging to collateral and the website. Can you tell us about that process and why you decided to make it a priority?
Plath: Since inception, we had maintained a somewhat “under the radar” approach to give us the time needed to build up a base of business throughout the country. By 2010 we were ready to build a comprehensive marketing and public relations program, which included everything from developing a new website, collateral, and sales presentations and tools to creating a tradeshow and conference strategy, communications approach, and media plan. Initially we had decided to maintain the current logo and branding since it had not been tested in the marketplace, however, it became clear as we moved further into the process of developing the website and collateral that an entire re-branding was necessary.
Dodge: As part of the rebranding, you also undertook direct marketing initiatives and social media. Can you discuss the importance of looking at all efforts comprehensively and the impact this has had internally as well as externally with customers and prospects?
Plath: We knew that when we got in front of hospitals our close rate was very high—the problem was that not enough hospitals knew about our service. It became very important for us to create awareness of our services in the marketplace. We therefore chose to utilize both traditional as well as online marketing initiatives. Additionally, since we were building an entirely new, comprehensive website, we wanted to realize its fullest potential by driving traffic to the site. Social media, including twitter, LinkedIn and a blog, provides a way for us to drive traffic to our new website and also helps to position SOC as a thought leader in the industry.
Dodge: To others considering a rebranding, what key takeaways would you share?
Plath: In considering a rebranding, it is important to include all of the internal stakeholders very early on in the process, and more importantly, to define what the process will look like. Since rebranding is not to be taken lightly, define what you hope to achieve by the rebranding effort and get agreement on your goals and objectives from all stakeholders.
Dodge: Many of our clients are either using social media (blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), or seriously considering it. Can you tell us about SOC’s approach to social media, the benefits of using it, and why you decided to make it a focus? How do you see social media playing a bigger role in your communications with clients and prospects?
Plath: More and more people are getting their information through online sources such as Twitter feeds, blogs, etc., including hospital administrators and clinicians. In fact, many hospitals now have Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, so it became important that we include social media as a key component of our communications strategy. In terms of efforts to generate interest from the media, gone are the days when sending a press release to the editor will get you noticed. Many healthcare writers and media in general are getting their news and ideas on what to report on from Twitter in particular. Understanding the complexity and daily demands of using social media as a marketing tool is one thing I was keenly aware of and therefore enlisted Dodge’s services to help us get off the ground with our social media efforts.
Dodge: Any parting comments?
Plath: Rolling out the new brand, materials, website, etc. to our colleagues and to existing customers and prospects was so rewarding. People were excited and proud to show off our new personality. Moreover, we were thrilled to learn we won numerous industry accolades and awards for the corporate identity as well as the website…it was hard work, but our efforts have truly paid off.