For the majority of industries, branding is old hat. You know, they typically employ Brand Managers to maintain their public perception and reputation as it eases the way for marketing and sales success. Way back when, branding was defined simply as a name, slogan, symbol or design, or a combination of these elements to identify a companies products or services. These days we know it to be so much more; it is the ethos or experience we wish to sell and portray; the feeling and reason people become loyal to our brands. If branding is off the mark, the customers don’t flow through the door – or when they do, they quickly leave; meaning, the sales pitch hasn’t met the expectations of the customer/consumer.

Social media has amplified the consumer’s voice (at any age). Brands are much more aware of perceptions and the reputation surrounding their brands – and more aware of what keeps them humming. It’s a good thing. Some big brands even keep psychologists in the branding teams to make sure they are on song with their consumer’s voice matching their brands’ ethos. Oh, glory be.

The big new questions for branding aged care are, “Does your brand relate to your target audience? Will they instantly “get it” without too much thought?” and “Did they enjoy the experience and are they sharing positive commentary to others?”

While certain segments of the aged care industry, such as Retirement Living who have been advertising units for sale for years, get it in a generalist context, the broader aged care industry hasn’t. This could possibly be due to a lack of need; meaning, most aged care residential customers come in via an emergency scenario where no marketing is needed…

So, why my/our sudden intrigue around aged care branding? Why do we care to get age care branding right?

The change in the consumer marketplace began at the beginning of this year. The pursuit by aged care organisations to inspire home care customers came to the fore with the introduction of additional packages as well as a consumer driven marketplace at this time. There are a couple of resulting scenarios – a residential care provider now sees the home care market as a new channel into their residential beds, meaning many have ramped up their provision of services to people still living independently; it makes sense – they have the staff and know how.

This meant the market changed and the industry had to change its appearance along with it… even though the provision of aged care services was generally OK, the branding and marketing activities need some tweaking.

Big time.

A strong brand is invaluable in this “new aged care” environment as the competition to win new customers intensifies each day.

For an aged care organisation or industry service provider, it is important to spend time investing in the research; to define, distinguish and build the brand because, at the end of the day, no two brands should be the same. Each will include elements, such as colours and image portrayal which is unique to your own brands’ ethos. We wouldn’t expect to see David Jones marketing itself the same way as Kmart or even Myers… so we shouldn’t expect to see one aged care organisation looking the same as another – even though they sit in the same marketplace with the same products!

This is where of late, the discussion around stock photos has crept into my arena. The use of stock photos isn’t actually the issue; the use of the same image/person, across multiple different brands is.

Why? Well, it confuses the consumer in the marketplace.

And no apologies for this statement – the lack of unique stock photo images being used to develop a unique brand, is making aged care marketing look novice.

How to fix this problem. Stock photos are an easy solution sure, however, it is important to select and purchase the rights to a photo series. Or alternatively, pick images which represent your brand which are not faces; hands, nature, or elements of your surrounds like china, furniture, and other such items. Be creative in other words. Alternatively, if you are creating a brand for an aged care organisation, then finding people from within that organisation to photograph is generally quite easy. You have access to many people willing to participate in the task and at least then they definitely represent your company – because they are your customers! Aged care is quite unique though, as people, customers and consumers, actually do die. It’s one of the unfortunate facts. So, you could take a stunning photo or video, capturing the perfect essence of your brand and then it’s just best you don’t use them for this reason! Of course, sometimes the family loves them to be used as it leaves a lasting legacy…

The harder task is when you need to use a stock image for a general editorial – or marketing brochure which is simply about a service. How do you fine tune that down? This is where my call to generate more stock images has come to the fore. Images of 50-year-olds, through to 100-year-olds doing ‘things’… diverse in their appearance, diverse in the activity… and unique is a current challenge. The current selection and variety in the marketplace to purchase is not freely available as yet. The call to arms for stock shot photographers is being pursued… but not quick enough. Using a smart phone with a good camera can get your around the issue, however, you can come across as a novice if not done extremely well (and in line with the rest of your brand).

And what if you are not an aged care provider but still selling aged care services?

This is where it gets even more murky and confusing. If aged care providers are using stock photos… and then an editorial in a news article or an industry service provider pops up using the same one, how can a consumer distinguish between them all? In fact, does it improve or dimish your own brand if they do? Some alignment with on point, on topic imagery, can be good, however, if we use the same image over and over, the message which you are trying to convey is completely lost.

It would be like David Jones using Jennifer Hawkins to walk down the cat walk.

Say what?

A brand, article, editorial, service provider or consultant should show a personality in all they do. Why showcase a bland vanilla offering, when behind the scenes the team have a vibrant, outgoing and creative nature?

By using the same images as each other – we are effectively saying to the consumer there is no difference between any of us.

So, in conclusion… the theory behind all this is for you, yes you in the aged care industry, to consider your brand and how you project that. Make it unique, make it you and look at those images as they convey more meaning than you currently give them credit for. And finally, do your own customers like them? Have you asked?

Older people like to have a say.