It’s not enough anymore to place an ad in the Yellow Pages and count on referrals from existing clients to market a veterinary practice. The Internet has changed the way people search for all types of businesses, including veterinarians.
It’s time for most veterinary practices to reassess what they are doing and make new marketing decisions. It’s not as hard as you might think; keep in mind that marketing is really about understanding what your clients want and need and communicating how you can meet their needs in ways that are relevant and appealing to them.
People in medical professions are often uncomfortable with marketing.
They often have companies knocking on their doors promising quick-fix, instant-result marketing programs.
Most medical people do not have the training or expertise to make these decisions and can make costly and ineffective choices.
Marketing should get the phone to ring and the door to swing, retain existing clients and attract new ones. The key is identifying marketing efforts that will produce the best results for the lowest investment.
A good place to start is to assess what your colleagues are doing and compare your marketing activities to theirs. What do you need to do to stand out from everyone else? Identify what’s working for you and what is not; then look at new options to differentiate yourself from others.
The top three marketing areas that most veterinarians focus on are the Internet, Yellow Pages and client communications.
You can both provide value to existing clients and also reach out to prospective clients in your community online. Of course, the primary Internet tool is your website. When was the last time you evaluated it?
Websites must add value and provide engaging, useful information. Does yours, or does it look stilted and dated?
And if you are active in social media, do you link those posts back to your website to integrate your online presence?
One of the biggest design mistakes people make with their websites is making them too word heavy. They put up “word walls” because they want to tell prospective clients everything.
Too many words make a website unattractive and hard to navigate.
It’s much better to tell your story in fewer words. Use photos to tell what you can do for pets. Warm, appealing photos with captions evoke emotion and interest and help visitors put themselves in the picture.
There are three “must-haves” for every veterinarian’s website:
• Prominently show your practice’s phone number and area code.
• Post or link to driving directions to your hospital.
• Include a photo tour of your facility with calm, happy people and pets in them.
Designing a good website is only half the battle. Now, you need to get it seen. This means understanding and using keywords.
Keywords are words and phrases that are related to what you do that Google uses to determine where you “rank” when someone searches for “cats with arthritis” or “puppy care.” Program keywords into your Website headers and pages. This can be somewhat technical and it is usually best to ask your Web designer or programmer for help.
Yellow Pages and Locators
The Yellow Pages directory has been around forever but today, it’s moving online. Because use of the hard-copy Yellow Pages is declining, it makes sense to minimize your listings there and shift more advertising online.
Consider using other popular resources that pet owners use to find a veterinarian in their community, such as CareCredit’s online Doctor Locator.
Many of the 20 million people who used their CareCredit card at their dentist, audiologist or other healthcare provider also go online to the Doctor Locator to find a veterinarian who offers CareCredit. In fact, more than 400,000 people a month use this free online service and it can be a great way to get your hospital’s name in front of potential new clients.
Another effective marketing activity is person-to-person client communications. Most veterinary practices are very comfortable making phone calls to check on pets at home.
Making these calls, or calls to new patients just to say “Thank you for choosing our practice,” can have a significant effect on client satisfaction and loyalty.
Be sure to choose the right person to call clients. Someone who is introverted and uncomfortable talking to clients will not come across well; instead, select staff members who have warm and personable communication styles.
Clients appreciate hand-written notes and cards, especially in the age of the “automated-attendant,” where most communication is computer generated, unsigned and mechanical. Notes and cards are another way to differentiate your practice from others at a low investment cost—if it fits your practice’s personality and style.
Marketing today needs to be a mix of the old and the new. Some of the newest marketing opportunities veterinarians need to consider are in social media. Many practices have already joined Facebook. It’s a low-cost/no cost way to stay connected to existing clients and it is a good way to get them talking to others about you.
Facebook is ideal for providing practical information, facts, fun pet trivia and useful tips to your clients that they may want to pass on to other pet owners.
Or, try a more direct route to encourage clients to tell others about you: Run promotions and contests. You could, for instance, hold a contest for the silliest pet name and give the winner a gift basket of goodies for her dog or cat.
Announce the contest by inviting your current clients and friends on Twitter and Facebook to participate and to forward it on to their friends.
You can also use social media to better understand clients. Go online and see what your clients and other pet owners are talking about—do you have information or services that would be helpful to their discussions? If so, jump into the conversations and get your name out there in a helpful way.
Best Marketing ROI
A sometimes undervalued marketing opportunity for veterinary practices is to go local.
Veterinarians have “strategic agility” to gain exposure in their communities. They know what’s going on locally and they are small enough to take advantage of inexpensive, highly effective opportunities that bigger companies won’t even know about.
For example, is there a local dog park in your community? If so, consider sponsoring the doggy poop bags. This is a targeted marketing opportunity aimed directly at dog owners in your community, where it will do you the most good.
New marketing opportunites emerge daily. In making choices for your practice, never lose site of the fact that the best marketing starts with finding out what your clients want and need.
Use that information to offer pet owners solutions and help caring for their pets in language they can understand and appreciate. Finally, go where the pet owners are—from dog parks to the Internet—to engage them in conversations that make them want to choose you.
This Education Series article was underwritten by CareCredit of Costa Mesa, Calif.