Changing horizon of the industry... - Veterinary Practice
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Changing horizon of the industry…

ZARA BOLAND presents the second of her two reports on a recent seminar in Switzerland that covered, in addition to clinical topics, practice management areas such as marketing and branding

ON the shores of Lake Geneva in Montreux, Switzerland, in late February, a select group of 75 UK vets were invited to attend a seminar entitled Innovation beyond expectation hosted by Merial Animal Health.

Last month’s article looked at some of the clinical elements of emerging feline URT disease that were discussed, along with innovations in anti-viral drug treatment. This month will cover the veterinary practice management and marketing presentations during the three-day seminar.

Roddy Webster, Merial’s head of pets, opened the seminar and set the scene by outlining the changing horizon of the veterinary industry with a relevant quote from Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”.

He emphasised the fact that health has moved from being considered as merely the absence of disease to today’s more holistic approach, which encompasses well-being and welfare.

Quoting from the RCVS 2010 Survey and 2012 Facts, Roddy outlined the changing face of today’s veterinary profession. He stressed the need for forward planning as a profession to be able to capitalise on emerging opportunities in today’s increasingly challenging environment and also highlighted the general training gap in veterinary business skills as an ongoing issue.

He finished by acknowledging that a successful practice is created from achieving the right balance of clinical and business skills.

Large brand principles

Greig McCallum, the strategic marketing director of creative agency Balloon Dog, opened the practice management session with a lively presentation on how to apply large brand marketing principles to comparatively small veterinary businesses.

After a whistle-stop tour of various global successful brands and marketing campaigns, Greig took everyone down to earth and back to basics with a McGraw-Hill magazine poster advert from the 1950s which highlighted the importance of pre-sales marketing through advertising.

Following this, attendees were introduced to a type of dystopian hell via video clip that reflected the reality of today’s brand marketing onslaught through a wide and ever-expanding variety of communication channels. Therein followed a brief interlude as everyone was invited to play the “Brand Game”.

Aside from injecting some levity into a somewhat media-dazed, but captivated audience, this offered some fascinating insight into the power of brands. It also beautifully demonstrated the effect of core values associated with successful brand building.

The remainder of the presentation focused purely and helpfully on practical marketing, starting with the definition of a brand and moved on to why they’re so important, illustrated with various well-known global brand examples.

Perhaps most importantly, Greig was able to consistently provide a clear link back to veterinary businesses. The link? Your veterinary business is your brand.

Greig spent the remaining time providing a robust, practical and wellconstructed method of how to develop and market your veterinary brand. This starts with creating a solid brand foundation based on word-of-mouth recommendation, brand values/tonality and essence.

He offered fascinating insights into various different brand models and how to sharpen the brand through use of disruption and displacement techniques, and finished by offering practical tips on how to create an effective marketing plan, ensure a successful visual identity and appropriately manage the brand you’ve created.

As with many other elements of life, consistency was emphasised as the key factor when it comes to successful marketing and branding. Overall the session was very well received by the audience and provided a comprehensive approach to marketing, which was also effectively channelled to extract relevance from the global to the local.

Using social media

Jo Halliday and Lisa Robb from followed on from Greig to tackle the growing and omnipresent world of “social media”. Their aim? Quite simply to demonstrate the enormous communication and marketing power it can yield and encourage everyone to embrace it.

They started with an overview of UK digital statistics cited from comScore (a digital analytics website). There were some notable stand-out facts: UK consumers spend more than 37 hours online per month and this represents the largest use across Europe; the UK is the 4th largest internet audience in Europe and 57% of UK internet users are over 35.

What does this mean for UK vets? Clearly our clients are online! Jo also stressed the fact that pet owners are using the internet not only for products but also to look for advice when it comes to their pets.

Considering that 25% of pet owners are online monthly for their pets yet only visit their vet once or twice a year, there is a huge opportunity for vets to increase their visibility and brand awareness. Digital marketing and social media allows for this.

Salutary caution

There was also a salutary caution at this juncture, when we were reminded that whilst 67% of people look online to find a vet, 46% of them will do so only once. In other words, it’s crucial to create the right first impression!

Lisa then took us through the various tools of the trade when it comes to digital marketing. She ranked them in accordance with the type of media that they represent, based on whether it’s paid, owned or earned media.

The audience was broken into various small groups and each was given a scenario to resolve through use of digital marketing tools. Overall this generated a huge amount of questions and there was clear engagement from attendees.

It was a practical approach, well presented and underpinned with why we as vets can no longer afford to ignore social media in our practices.

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