Marketing Strategies

  by Jon Dittrich, MBA, Profit Profile 

In essence, marketing is the education of your clients and potential clients about the products and services you have to offer. 

In the past, many veterinary practice owners have viewed marketing as “selling,” and therefore as something “unprofessional.” Even today, many veterinarians are slow to embrace marketing – and often do so only when sales are slow. 

That’s better than ignoring marketing altogether. But it fails because it consists of action without a plan and it is based on unrealistic expectations. It isn’t the way to maintain or grow your client base.

 Let’s pause to consider a new, more productive perspective on marketing. Suspend your disbelief, if necessary, and think in business terms about the importance of keeping – and expanding – your practice.

 Then, based on PPC’s experiences with successful veterinary practices nationwide, we will give you a few marketing ideas to think about. If you need more help, contact us. We would be glad to help you develop and implement a meaningful marketing strategy.

First of all, let’s reframe the idea of marketing from “selling” to “educating” the client. Take that one step further, and it is also a way for practice owners to get valuable feedback from your clients.

Second, marketing should be looked at as a revenue “fertilizer” instead of a quick fix. A one-shot marketing attempt when sales are slow rarely produces satisfactory results. It leads veterinarians to assume that all marketing is a waste of time and money, so they give up altogether. That is a big mistake.

Third, we suggest taking the longer view of marketing. Think of marketing not as a shrill voice making exaggerated claims. Instead, start with these terms in your mind — credibility, professionalism, providing a vital service – and you begin to see marketing in a new light. After all, these terms reflect your real commitment to veterinary medicine. We’re talking about the three E’s — expertise, the experience and the ethics. You are justifiably proud (not boastful) about your chosen profession. You know you provide a much needed service that goes way beyond your need to simply make a living. Telling the world about it in a credible, professional manner is positive, not negative.

So, assuming you’re ready to get started, what’s needed first is a marketing strategy that is integrated into your overall business plan. Remember, we can help design a practical plan that fits your practice’s needs.

With a marketing plan in hand – one that is integrated into your overall business plan — you’re ready to get started. Here are a few helpful tips.

Serve the greater good by sharing your expertise:

Marketing is not a quick fix for an ailing business, but over the long haul, it works. It is a clear indication of your commitment to veterinary medicine.

Example: Does your local newspaper or a local television or radio station run “advice from the experts” commentaries.

Example: I teach veterinary students at the University of Tennessee. One day these students may become clients in need of my services. This is definitely not a quick fix. It took five years before the first class of students graduated. But it is paying off now.

Example: The same holds true with Veterinary Information Network, VIN. I was a consultant to VIN for five years before I got my first client. Now VIN contacts account for most of my new clients.

Example: Visit a school, answer students’ questions, provide helpful advice about pet care.

Communicate with clients:

Nationwide, the great majority of clients are happy with their vets. But you can always do better. Communicate directly with clients. Remember their word-of-mouth recommendations are vital to growing your practice.

Example: While clients are at the practice, tell them about new and different services, healthy pet visits and other ways to make sure they’re securing the best healthcare possible for their pets. Ask them if they have questions or concerns. Vets provide excellent medical care but too often ignore office visits as revenue-building opportunities. Don’t do it!  Schedule appointments so you can discuss with clients the new services and products you offer. Often, just one new service or product per client can generate 20% more annual revenue.

Example: The trend in veterinary medicine is to have two well pet exams a year. Are many of your loyal clients coming to the practice only once a year? Communicate the reasoning behind having two well pet exams per years. Client names are easily obtained from your computer records. Send out reminders about twice-a-year exams in addition to having them get heartworm refills, dentals exams, etc. for their pets.

Example: Your staff should contact clients you have not seen in the last twelve months. Send a reminder post card or an email, then mail a reminder letter. Follow up by having a staff member call and express concern that the pet is getting all the medical care needed. This should be scripted. This lets past clients know you are concerned (not trying to sell them something).  If two years have passed since a client has come in, cull their names from your files. But if you do get to talk to the client, find out why they have not come in. This type of information can be valuable to your overall business strategy. If they simply forgot, then schedule an appointment. If there is another reason, find out what it is. Use that feedback to train staff and doctors in the future. Remember, in the broadest sense, everyone in your practice is engaged in marketing.

Understand your local market:

Knowledge of your current and potential market helps you develop a successful marketing plan.

Here* are the top reasons someone picks – and stays with – a veterinarian:

a. Location – Is it within six miles of where I live?

b. Doctor and Staff – Are they friendly, courteous and knowledgeable?

c. Convenient hours – Is the practice open early and late some time during week? (This does not necessarily mean the practice has to stay open on weekends.)

e. Price – There might be some surprises for you here. Between 11% and 25% of clients say price is the primary driver in choosing a veterinarian. But that means 75% – 89% of clients do not consider price the most important factor in picking and staying with a veterinarian.

*From the Biannual Study and Public Perception presented at a recent AVPMCA (Association of Veterinary Practice Management Consultants and Advisors) convention by Jim Flanigan of AVMA.

Also understand the bigger picture:

a)      Only 48% of households own pets. So target your marketing efforts to pet owners.
b)      Clients are extremely loyal. 85% – 90% of clients state that they are extremely happy with their veterinarian and wouldn’t change even if price was cheaper at another practiice. From a marketing standpoint this is very significant. Spending your marketing budget on untargeted advertising (yellow pages, newspaper ads, etc.) is probably a waste since the vast majority of pet owners are happy with their current veterinarian. Again, what is called for is a more targeted marketing approach – one that includes keeping your current clients happy and finding new clients as opportunities arise.

Keeping your name out there

Continuity is perhaps the single biggest factor to insure a successful marketing outcome. We recommend getting your practice’s name in front of clients three to four times a year. This builds the client/doctor bond. Here are a few ways to keep your name out there. But I warn you, they must be implemented throughout the year – and you need to vary them each year. The marketing principles to keep in mind are: develop clear messages, then repeat those messages frequently using various communication channels.

PhotosTake a small photo of your client’s pets and include it with the bill.

E-newsletter – issue an e-newsletter a couple of times a year. We can help set up a simple template, and can even provide writing/editing/startup services through a reasonably-priced, trusted partner company.

Website – update your website with valuable new information, then let your clients know where to find this information. Again, we can help.

Thanksgiving cards – Send a Thanksgiving card to the pet owners. Make it from the perspective of their pet who is thanking the pet owner for taking such good medical care of them.

Birthday cards – Send these to the pet. Include the pet’s age (in terms of human age) on the card. For example if the dog is eight, wish them a happy 56th birthday (8×7). This will pre-sell the need for geriatric exams. Include a photo of the pet if you can.

New Year emails – Let the pet have some New Year’s resolutions (including taking better care of themselves with the help of the veterinarian). This is a place to begin the conversation of diet foods, supplements, exercise toys, etc.

Summer vacation postcard – Send the family a vacation postcard when they board their pet at your practice telling them what a good time the pet is having at your practice and the pet wishes they were here to join in the fun!

The array of ideas is only limited by your imagination. All these idea are low cost and go to the people with the highest potential of spending money at your practice. 

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