Update your marketing mindset to the 21st century... - Veterinary Practice
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Update your marketing mindset to the 21st century…

Paul Green looks at what practices can do to market themselves effectively and says that good marketing cannot be judged by your own preferences but by what actually works these days.

Fifteen years ago, marketing a veterinary practice was a lot simpler than it is today.

You put the word vet on your sign, whacked a few adverts into the local newspaper, and sat back to wait for the clients to roll in.

Today it’s a lot harder. For a start there’s more competition than ever before – and the corporates are getting better and better at marketing.

Don’t believe me? Have a look at Vets4Pets’ Vaccine 4 Life. The client pays just £99 and gets free vaccines for as long as their pet lives.

This is a genius idea. Clients see it as a real no brainer, and even years down the line will feel reluctant to go elsewhere for vaccines they have “already paid for”. It’s a promotion that has retention built into it.

[In case you’ve ever wondered how Vets4Pets can afford to do that, it’s likely they use a business model called front end/back end. You lose money at the front end (vaccines) to win a client and make the money in the back end (treatments and procedures).]

On top of increased competition, advertising is no longer as effective as it used to be. An advert in the local paper or radio station will give you a significantly lower return than it did years ago. Most practices have seen this but have never figured out why it’s happening.

The problem is that this kind of advertising is what’s known as “interruption marketing”. You are interrupting someone who has picked up a newspaper for the news, or is listening to the radio for the travel, information or music.

That was the only way of marketing for 100 years or more. And it worked just fine. But these days it’s simply no longer cost-effective.

Instead, the internet has made it simple to put your practice in front of the small group of people who are looking for a business like yours right now.

Why attempt to interrupt everyone with an advert blasting out your message in the media when you can invest small amounts of resource into targeting people who type “vet” and “your town” into Google.

All these changes mean that if you’ve been a practice owner for a decade or more, it’s time to update your marketing mindset to the 21st century.

Here are three things I suggest you do.

1. Throw all your old marketing knowledge in the bin

What you learned about veterinary marketing 15 years ago will have changed. Sure, the fundamentals are the same. Most people still pick a vet with their heart rather than their brain. They want someone they can trust; many want a deal; and most have very little awareness of veterinary issues (how many of your clients know what the RCVS is?).

But these days the mechanism that allows them to compare practices is significantly different.

Today no one uses Yellow Pages, and only a handful type yell.com into their browser. Most people use Google, and they make their decision whether to use your practice or another based on your website.

Even word of mouth is affected by your website. In the past, a personal recommendation would drive someone to your doors; these days it drives them to your website. And if your website is like most, it has no real differentiation. It’s too focused on the building rather than the people. It talks about the facilities and clinical experience, when it should be communicating passion, and trust.

This means that for the first time in history, a small practice can significantly outperform a bigger rival. Size is no longer an advantage. The ability to communicate effectively online is more important.

And it’s why you must…

2. Start taking your online presence more seriously

It’s not just about your website, it’s about your Google and social media profiles. It’s about who’s following your business online; and what is said about you on review sites.

This is your online presence. It’s more important than ever before and will continue to become even more critical. What is said about your practice online is your reputation. Yet so few practice owners put any resource into this.

Done well, the more resource you invest into your online presence, the higher the return for your practice.

That means constantly adding new content to your website. Claiming your Google listing and enhancing your profile. Truly interacting with people on Facebook, not just uploading a few pictures of cats every week.

There’s a final part of your mindset that must change…

3. Communicate with clients and prospects the way that suits them, not you

Traditionally, practices have just sent out a few reminder letters to clients and that’s been it. These days some practices are going a little further, using e-mails or text messages.

But I still think there’s so much further you can go. The way people communicate with each other has changed dramatically in just a few years. There are dozens of different ways of communicating with people; and most of them are not used by practices.

If a client prefers to get a private direct message through Twitter rather than a letter or an e-mail, why not communicate with them that way? Why not send text messages (and I don’t mean getting vaccine companies to do it for you) or e-mails or make outgoing phone calls?

Or best of all, a mix of methods. Our practice owner clients who are seeing the highest levels of return for reminder communications are those who use a mix of letters, e-mails and phone calls, all within a short space of time. So instead of communicating with the client three times over a six month period, they communicate three times in a single week.

Is that too much? Maybe for you personally. But it’s not too much for everyone. Many clients welcome the fact that the practice is trying harder to remind them, as they know it’s important to book; they’re just busy and haven’t got round to it yet.

You cannot judge good marketing by your own preferences: you have to judge it by what works these days, and what gives you the best return.

That’s an important part of your new 21st century marketing mindset.

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