Pet parents come in all shapes and sizes, ages and genders, backgrounds and income levels. Yet, they all share a few common concerns that guide them as they choose a veterinarian. In addition to a convenient location and budget concerns, such as pricing and the availability of financing, pet parents put a high premium on finding a veterinarian they can trust.
Why is trust so important to today’s pet parents?
Today’s pet owners live in a world that tells them they shouldn’t trust anybody. The combination of claims of ‘fake news,’ well-loved celebrities and politicians acting badly, or major corporations indulging in unethical behaviour results in a public wary to take anything on faith. The benefit of the doubt has evaporated, leaving veterinarians forced to market themselves in an environment where customers do research before committing to even the smallest purchase. (Think sports drinks and snack foods.)
Choosing to get health care for a pet is a high-consequence decision. Seventy-eight per cent of pet owners agree a pet is a member of the family.1 In July 2018, a survey conducted by Pew Internet and American Life found more than one in five people research specific physicians and hospitals before seeking care for themselves; it follows they would do the same for other members of their family.
Are all pet parents the same? No
While nearly all pet parents do some research when selecting a veterinarian, they don’t all study the same things in the same places in the same way. There are distinct generational differences in what concerns pet parents, and what kind of information they’ll need to know about you and your practice before trusting you with the care of their animal. Here’s a look at several demographics, the information they tend to seek, and their preferred method for doing research.
The generation Z pet parent
Born between 1995 and 2015, generation Z is made up of the youngest pet parents, although this group exercises tremendous financial clout. Forbes2 reports generation Z accounts for up to US$143 billion in direct spending, adding that number doesn’t take into account the impact this demographic has on total family spending. So what are they spending their money on?
Largely, the answer is birds, fish, reptiles, and small pets, including rabbits, guinea pigs, and hamsters. Generation Zers are most likely to research how to have fun with their pet, including pet costumes and pet party ideas, in addition to looking for pet care tips and information on aquariums or habitats. When researching, generation Z is most likely to turn to YouTube or a group chat with their peers.
Given they’re young, generation Z pet parents have the greatest need for easy-to-understand, basic pet care information. Consider creating short videos—lasting two to three minutes—that focus on one essential aspect of caring for an animal, such as how to clean your rabbit’s ears. Keep the tone light and factual, and optimize your video descriptions to make it easy for generation Z pet parents to find and share them.
The millennial pet parent
Millennials are the largest and most scrutinized pet parents. They also tend to get their pets younger than previous generations. Currently, most millennials get their first pet at 21 years of age and view caring for a pet as preparation for having a family.3
According to the 2017-18 American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owners Survey Debut, millennials own many of the same sorts of smaller pets as generation Zers, as well as cats and dogs. And they’ve proven they’re willing to step up and spend. When compared to baby boomers, millennials are over 20 per cent more likely to purchase natural or organic materials, bisphenol A- (BPA-) free toys, and hypoallergenic shampoo, all items they consider essential, rather than luxury, purchases.4 Millennials are also the generation most likely to give their pets oral medications and vitamins. Pet care questions, including behavioural issues and training tips, are among the top topics millennials research.
Millennials are researchers. As such, ensure your website contains informative articles they can reference when making care decisions for their pets. Share these articles on social media—Facebook is still very relevant for most older millennials—and via e-mail marketing.
When creating content for millennial pet parents, remember the focus should be on helping them make an informed decision that’s best for their pets’ health—financial considerations aren’t as relevant to them as they may be to older pet parents.
Event marketing is also extremely relevant to this group. Valuing experiences rather than possessions is a defining characteristic of this generation. Hosting or participating in events such as dog walks, pet parades, and the like gives millennials time to socialize with their pets, which is something that’s very important to them. Maximize the value of event marketing by taking lots of pictures and sharing the fun on social media and your website.
The generation X pet parent
Members of generation X range in age from their early 40s to late 50s, a time demographic researchers characterize as highly stressful, as people often have to balance their responsibilities, e.g. caring for their children and parents while managing professional obligations and juggling other demands on their time. Only roughly a quarter of generation Xers own a pet.
Extremely sensitive to economic pressures, generation X pet parents have been trying to contain their pet-related spending, with one notable exception: Veterinarian care purchases for this demographic increased by nearly 30 per cent over the course of a two-year period.5 Research topics for generation X pet owners include the expected pet care topics, as well as a focus on affordability and availability of care.
The most effective way to connect to generation X pet parents is to demonstrate you see and understand their concerns. Chronically busy and cash-strapped, generation X is the group most likely to respond positively to opportunities to save money on pet care, or to take advantage of extended or off-peak appointment times. They’re also in search of short content (e.g. articles or videos) addressing specific health concerns and treatment options.
E-mail marketing and Facebook are good communication channels for reaching the generation X pet parent. Text messages, especially in the form of reminders of upcoming appointments, are also relevant. Further, they allow for answers to quick questions or to manage prescriptions. Bear in mind that as generation X is caring for younger and older family members, they may also wind up caring for their children’s or parents’ pets. Targeted messages speaking to this experience can be highly effective.
The baby boomer pet parent
Conventional wisdom has it that people ‘age out’ of pet ownership starting at about 60 years old, but in this, as in so many previous cases, baby boomers are determined to do things differently. Baby boomers are second only to millennials in terms of pet ownership, total spending on pets, and number of pets owned.
While many baby boomers are confident in their ability to care for their pets, they do their share of online research. Much of this research mirrors what the baby boomer generation is learning about managing their own health concerns as they get older. Veterinarian services are a top topic, as well as specific pet health concerns and treatment options. While there is an interest in natural and organic alternatives for pets, baby boomers are less likely to regard these qualitative factors as essential, compared to their younger counterparts.
To connect with baby boomer pet parents, you’ll want to focus on search marketing and your website. Ninety-six per cent of baby boomers use search engines6, and they don’t mind spending time to discover what they want to know. Long-form content that comprehensively addresses pet care concerns works best for this audience, but if you’re presenting video, keep it short and use subtitles.
Baby boomer pet parents are also particularly responsive to e-mail marketing. Topics of interest for this group reflect the fact they are living lives that are markedly different than their parents did. This demographic is content to travel with pets, balance pets with entrepreneurship, and live with pets and grandchildren in the same household.
What type of pet parents are coming to your practice?
It would be exceptionally rare for a practice to have pet parents belonging exclusively to one generation. However, it’s important to know who you’re currently seeing, as well as who you’d like to see. If your current pet parent mix is composed largely of baby boomers and generation Xers, making an effort to connect with millennials can help you maintain a steady patient load as your older customers stop keeping pets.
You may have a general idea of what type of pet parents you see, but that impression isn’t always correct. If your practice hasn’t been tracking pet parent demographics, this is a good time to start. Another valuable resource is your website and social media data. Every time a visitor interacts with your digital presence, they leave behind valuable data. While it’s not possible at this time to identify individual users, you can gather enough information to discern what generation users belong to, as well as what content is of most interest to them.
The process of analyzing your digital data makes it possible to create audience segments. For example, it may be that you have a significant percentage of millennial website visitors who are very interested in small animal care. As such, creating targeted campaigns to connect with these pet parents on the channels proven to be most effective with this demographic—Facebook and e-mail marketing—can help solidify your reputation as provider of choice and help you attract more business.
How do you know it’s working?
With veterinary care, it can be easy to tell if your efforts are effective—the patient’s condition improves or it doesn’t. Focusing on your digital marketing can work the same way. Use your digital data to understand where your practice was before you launch a campaign aimed at a particular audience segment. After the campaign has elapsed, return to the data and do an analysis.
If you’ve seen an increase in engagement, appointments, and revenue, you know you’re on the right track. If the increase isn’t there, or it is smaller than you’d like it to be, this is an opportunity to refine either your campaign or select a different audience segment on which to focus. For most practices, running six to eight targeted campaigns throughout a year is ideal. This can give your community enough time to become aware of and act on opportunities that are relevant to them without boring anyone.
1 “The Millennial Pet Owner” Nathan Richter, Wakefield Research bit.ly/2furptq
2 Fromm, J. “How Much Financial Influence Does Gen Z Have?”
3 Reiland, M. “Why Do Millennials Love Pets So Much?” bit.ly/2x3mmIq
4 “The Millennial Pet Owner, Wakefield Research” Nathan Richter
5 Gibbons, J. “2016 U.S. Pet Spending by Generation—The Younger Groups Step Up!” bit.ly/2MiRSqw
6 Tama, K. “Five Things You Need to Know About Marketing to Baby Boomers” bit.ly/2QnjwWO
Jennifer Shaheen is president and founder of The Technology Therapy Group, a full-service marketing agency that helps independent retailers and growing brands connect effectively with their target audience. She is a regular speaker at events and trade shows, including New York Business Expo, Women’s Economic Development Council, and Society for Marketing Professional Services. Shaheen can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter @TechTherapist.