Becoming an Integrative Health Thought Leader: Part 3—Unique Positioning

By Glenn Sabin

Glenn is on the faculty of Duke University’s Health and Well-Being Leadership Program, where he teaches a Thought Leadership Course. Learn more here.

This is the third installment of a 7-part series.
Read the entire series:
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Personal Branding + Platform
Part 3: Unique Positioning
Part 4: Content Strategy
Part 5: Media
Part 6: Monitoring + Promoting Your Brand
Part 7: Conclusion–Putting it all Together

Now that we have identified and examined the core elements for creating your integrative health personal brand and platform, it’s time to take the next step to differentiate your unique position and value proposition.
Your niche is the space into which you must direct your expertise with laser-like focus to break through the clutter of consumer (or medical professional) information overload.

Find Your Niche to ‘Own’ Your Unique Positioning

Are you an experienced integrative medicine practitioner or researcher? Do you have years of exposure on the business side of the industry as an administrator, executive, or as an owner? Perhaps you possess a multitude of skills across a plethora of medical topics, products and/or services. But regardless of your skillset and talents, you will best serve others, and yourself, by positioning yourself to deeply penetrate the consumer or professional market you desire to sell to or otherwise influence.

Buyer and Target Influencer Personas

A buyer persona or target influencer persona expresses a fictitious representation of your ideal customer or type of person you most want to engage, sell to, or otherwise influence. Personas go beyond demographics and psychographics. Once you have a clear picture of who your target buyer or ‘decider’ is, you can focus your brand around this fictional persona. (Part 4 of this series will dig deeper into buyer and target influencer personas.)

Clinicians, administrators, and investigators/scientists are categories of integrative health professionals for which I have provided general ideas of where you might focus to build your niche.

The Clinician

I have a number of close colleagues in their fifties, sixties and older who are among the most respected pioneers in their respective specialties within the field. Ours is a fairly new, emerging field that has become a lot more organized and structured since the turn of the century—15 years.

As an integrative health practitioner you may possess formal credentialing from one or more fellowships or other curricula specific to integrative or functional medicine. Or, you may be mid-career or later and have essentially been ‘grandfathered’ into the integrative health community based on your early adoption and successful longtime clinical delivery of integrative medicine services.

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If you are a formally credentialed integrative or functional medicine practitioner, then make sure this is highlighted as part of your brand. However, if you’ve gained your knowledge and experience over time, through mentors, longtime clinical experience, and as an autodidact, fear not. This can be explained within your personal brand story.

The most important thing any clinician—across disciplines—must do in order to position his or her personal brand at the outset is to identify, take ownership of, and put into action, the one core area of clinical care for which you are: (1) most passionate; (2) most experienced; (3) most educated; (4) most successful in creating remarkable outcomes.

Look at the top thought leaders and most established and successful ‘practitioner brands’ in integrative health. For the most part, these individuals chose a particular condition or pathology then focused deeply in this one core area to establish their specific specialty and deliver their impressive thought leadership.

You may have one hell of a tool kit and expertise across myriad health conditions, but your brand must be unique and delivered with authenticity, and matched to an ultimate intent. Your expertise may combine to cover IBS, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hormones, pain, fertility, oncology, and 173 other conditions, but just pick one, because sometimes less is more.

Take care when choosing your niche. Consider your target persona and all that it comprises: demographics, geography, and psychographics. And, importantly, consider your desired economic outcome as a direct pay or insurance-based provider. Does the unique position you are pursuing satisfy the level of remuneration you seek?

Administrators and Service Line Directors

If you have been running a private practice integrative health clinic or a program (service line) at a medical center, hospital, or health system, you have an important opportunity to develop significant thought leadership and carve a unique niche within and beyond your core community. Let me explain.

You are facing opportunities and challenges regardless of whether you manage an integrative health program or service line within the setting of a private or nonprofit hospital or health system. For instance:

The business of managing an integrative health program (inpatient/outpatient) within an insurance and Medicare-based hospital payer environment typically involves considerable overhead and limited scope of integrative clinical services. These programs or service lines often struggle to become self-sustainable with the high-touch, low-tech, and low revenue interventions and programs offered.

However, between group clinic appointments, status as an accountable care organization (perhaps with relationships to patient centered medical homes), and other incentives now coming to the fore as part of the ACA, you have a powerful opportunity to get out in front of these changes and leverage them to your advantage. Plant your flag as the go-to expert on how the education and delivery of integrative health services go hand-in-hand with the emerging incentive paradigm which emphasizes population health, patient experience, and the reduction of per capita costs, thus achieving The Triple Aim.

Does your inpatient integrative medicine service line strategically align with your institution’s priorities as an accountable care organization?

If integrative services contribute to stellar patient surveys, reducing hospital stays and readmissions, you are contributing to the bottom line of your organization. It’s time to track and measure these economics—time to take ownership of your contribution—and to share your knowledge liberally as a key opinion leader.

If, as an administrator, you are: (1) regularly engaging physician leadership; (2) setting up clinical and business processes to streamline inpatient and/or outpatient integrative health educational and clinical services; (3) capturing internal data on economics, patient satisfaction, clinical outcomes and other meaningful metrics, you are exceptionally well-positioned to create a unique position for your personal brand and to drive considerable thought leadership. It’s a powerful statement: ‘you are an engine of healthcare transformation in service of population health’. Now that’s a story to be told.


As a scientist or researcher, you may well have extensive experience in an area such as epidemiological review of population health of minorities with diabetes or the translation to clinical application of mushrooms, botanicals, or specific nutrients with proven anticancer effects. Perhaps you are a seasoned biostatistician with a knack for creating incredibly comprehensive useful new models to explore the bio-synergistic effect of multi-interventional whole systems integrative medicine trials. (If this describes you, please contact me.)

The bottom line here is if you already work within a specific niche as an investigator, and you are passionate and committed to this position, then take ownership ‘now’ by leveraging your considerable efforts in the pursuit of becoming the thought leader around the topic of your meaningful work.

Regardless of your designation (clinician, educator, or investigator) you have an exclusive role that should be called upon to differentiate and position yourself within your community of health consumers and/or medical professionals; you simply need to identify and claim it.

About FON

FON creates thought leadership and personal branding strategy for those aspiring to differentiate and hone their message, and propagate their integrative health mission. Contact us today to schedule a call or Skype to learn how FON can help you achieve your professional goals.

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Author: Glenn Sabin
FON’s founder, Glenn Sabin, is a nationally recognized thought leader with a reputation for successfully positioning integrative health organizations for sustainable growth. Combining media, marketing and business development expertise with an extensive professional and personal integrative health and medicine narrative, Glenn is deeply passionate about advancing the field as the new standard of care—accessible to all.
Read Glenn’s story.


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