Marketing: from cost to investment - Veterinary Practice
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Marketing: from cost to investment

MARIO PRAESTHOLM RIEWERTS stresses the need for practices to have a marketing budget and to spend it wisely.

IT is not unusual for veterinary practices, as other small and medium-sized businesses, to consider marketing as a cost on their budget.

But that should not and need not be true. Effective marketing is not a matter of either luck or big budgets, but is pretty much about following a few basic rules.

At the budget meeting you have reached the point of marketing. It’s late, everyone is tired and you have covered the interesting points of equipment and refurbishment and now it comes to the boring part.

Marketing, you feel, is a necessary evil, something that you have to experience while doing business. The pragmatic question is, “How much did we spend last year?” A quick check of the accounts and within three minutes the marketing budget for the coming year is agreed. This is often without evaluation of last year’s marketing or setting goals for the coming year.

You can’t make one without the other!

What are we doing?

So you now have your marketing budget: this alone is not enough no matter how large it may be. It needs to be supported by a marketing plan with purpose and objectives. So what comes first: a budget reflecting the economic environment and limitations of a marketing plan? Or a plan which threatens to kick the economic environment into touch?

The very first question you should ask before both the budget and a plan are set is: “What are we doing with our marketing next year?” What are our objectives, and our criteria to evaluate success?

Marketing is not something that should be reactive, or because this is something you have always done. When we know why we are marketing and the benefits we expect from our investment, we can begin to plan our marketing activities.


A marketing plan should include at least a summary of the company’s vision and mission; it is, after all, what the plan aims and will support. It also requires an evaluation of last year’s activities, along with a review on any changing conditions internally or externally, consider objectives, focus areas and a detailed calendar of activities. This cannot be done in three minutes at the end of the budget meeting.

To get these answers it is often best to make a small marketing committee within your practice: no law dictates that directors need be involved and they are often best left being a vet!

The committee can then draft a plan and budget to be presented for approval at the budget meeting.

As regards the budget, in my experience within the veterinary industry, a reasonable marketing budget is between 1.6 and 2% of turnover. This can be slightly higher during the years when there might be special activities such as construction of a new website or similar. However, it also depends on what items you include in a marketing budget. Letterhead, envelopes, postage and intranet should not be included in your marketing budget.

Have the courage to opt out

If your marketing investment is expected to create a reasonable return, one of your key disciplines that you should manage, but at the same time one of the most difficult to learn, is to choose not to advertise in certain media.

The fear of invisibility has caused many questionable transactions in the marketing budget. The result is often thin media coverage with a very low visibility to follow.

The challenge of media choices is that they are often made on assumptions rather than factual knowledge. That is precisely why it also makes sense that you regularly complete a customer satisfaction survey, where you can ask your customers about their media usage.

The right media choice is very much about having the courage to change. In recent years I have repeatedly been asked whether we should still place ads in publications such as the Yellow Pages.

It is my position, which incidentally is based on my own assumption, that the media survive only on the basis of fear to opt out.

No clear rules

In this context it should be noted that customers who have followed my advice and opted out of this type of media advertising have been unable to detect any negative impact because of their opting-out.

Does that mean that these publications online and in paper form have had no effect whatsoever?

There are no clear rules for appropriate media choices, the choice should reflect the objective of your marketing activities and support the focus areas identified in the marketing plan. The latest medium for practices is your website, and is a useful window into your practice.

The professional designation to trim the site in relation to SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is important. Remember, a good website can attract new customers, but as easily a bad website can scare them away.


Veterinarians’ passion and commitment to their profession can make marketing a challenge. Wording may be more like a clinical paper with a language that will challenge most normal pet owners.

When you formulate and disseminate your message, it is about relevance to the recipient (your client) and not relevance to the vet, his family, friends, colleagues and competitors.

Here come the words “less is more” into the picture. As consumers, we are exposed to a meteor storm of messages from all different corners of the world during a single day. If you must break through this sea of information and influences, it is a question of formulating a sharp, concise and, most of all, relevant message. In addition, communication should be at the right level for the receivers, so they can understand and feel enthused. This means it is equally important that your marketing committee identifies the recipient or the audience of your marketing. Conversely, it also requires you to deselect those who do not fall within the category – difficult but a necessary exercise if you want a high profile in the market.

More than words

If you are able to follow these few basic rules you are well on the way to turning your marketing into an investment rather than an expense. Return on investment can be judged in many different ways: increased publicity, better positioning, 300 new customers, increased turnover, customer awareness or something completely different.

But no matter how planned, thoughtful and incisive marketing is, make sure it is not just empty words. The customer now has expectations of you, so it is equally important that these are, and must be met. The good marketing starts long before the budget and marketing plan. It starts here, where the practice defines who, what and how you will practise. How you deliver service, professionalism, care and all the other virtues are carried out, and are not just empty words!!


  • Identify focus areas and lay out an annual plan for marketing activities.
  • Set a realistic budget – minimum 1.6% of turnover.
  • Appoint a marketing officer or a committee, preferably not a partner.
  • Do what you do best – and let others do what they do best.
  • Effective marketing costing £1,000 is less expensive than inefficient marketing costing £500.
  • Focus on media choice and have the courage to opt out.
  • Prioritise the internet and search engine optimisation – SEO.
  • Know your audience: the message must be clear, concise, understandable and above all, relevant.
  • Deliver the goods – marketing creates expectations that must be met or you may lose a client rather than gain one.

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