Giving consumers what they appear to want rather than what they need... - Veterinary Practice
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Giving consumers what they appear to want rather than what they need…

IN much the same way that we have seamlessly converted nouns into verbs with hardly a backward glance (since when was it OK to transition anything?), we have also managed to turn intellectual concepts, like celebrity and success, into a commodity.

When asked, recently, what they wanted to achieve from life, a sample of young adults saw both as being necessary attainments from their sojourn on Earth. Perhaps no one explained to them, in their Babygro phase, that both are elusive, ephemeral and transient. For most of us, happiness is an unnatural state, like unhappiness, while contentment is a more realistic norm.

In much the same way, success is a chimaera that appears, tauntingly, just out of reach for most of us most of the time, although it is a completely relative term. While I may not have amassed Alan Sugar’s fortune to leave to my offspring, we have a house to live in, food on the table and jobs to go to which are rewarding in many ways.

Of course, others would see the maintenance of health into one’s senior years as being of comparable value to a pot of gold – particularly if one hasn’t got it and, then again, compared to someone working in the fields in deepest China, our minimum wage would equate to a king’s ransom.

Sorry about the homily but recent events have drawn our attention to the comparative values of money v. reputation – a story as old as the hills and featured everywhere from Othello to Emmerdale.

Abstract concept

Here again, we have managed to see reputation as being a concrete entity rather than an abstract concept as seen in the pantomimes which incessantly occupy the media. Do we actually care if Cheryl Cole has been bounced out of the US? The answer is probably “yes” if we see these events through jingo-tinted glasses or we care deeply about the intrinsic rights of anyone to speak in the way they were brought up.

Few of us doubt that this is simply an instalment of a media pantomime which will see the Geordie Cinderella recrowned in the autumn alongside her errant media villain who will smile ruefully at his undoing and be loved all the more for it.

Will the same happen for Sepp Blatter and do we really care whether FIFA is rotten to the core if it continues to spend billions on grassroots football and bring the Champions’ League extravaganza into our homes? Would we have thought FIFA so corrupt if England had won its bid for the World Cup in 2018 and did the events unfolding around Captain Blatter’s ludicrous election attract the same media opprobrium in Scotland, Wales or Qatar?

Perhaps rather more tellingly, does the world care equally about the diabolic events in Zimbabwe as it does for the atrocities in Libya? It would appear that not only does it not care much for what Mugabe does to his people and those around him, it doesn’t care as much about Gaddafi as we do either. Are we right and they are wrong or do we all start from a different point of self-interest?

Rally round

Those defending the cause of regional accents will rally around Mrs Cole while those with oily axes to grind may see Gaddafi as a destabilising influence in a fragile caucus whose collapse would clearly threaten our investment and entire way of life.

Others still would argue that right is different from wrong and whomever the aggressor may be, the oppressed and the wronged deserve our support and protection.

This concept appears to be the keystone in the teachings of the Christian faith, in our version of democracy and the excuses we have found to go to war since before the Crusades. And now, just as then, all depends on the level of self-interest and the motivation of weaker acolytes to support the cause.

There is little doubt that the public understands these issues – the conflict between good and bad is fundamental in a culture which purports to understand the nature of mankind and to provide controls against its worst excesses but one can understand how the media’s obsession with trivia and ephemera might lead the consumer to lose sight of what really matters.

Gathering pace

For as long as we sit glued to our TVs, we will be drowned in our own homes by a tsunami of reported trivia by a medium which feeds us opinion rather than facts. None of this is new but it certainly feels as if the pace of our slide towards intellectual gruel is gathering pace.

On the world stage, the causes and events which appear on our screens and in our newspapers are increasingly concerning, particularly so if we allow ourselves to see right or truth as being commodities which can be “photo-shopped” to make the result more palatable.

Closer to home, in our own veterinary backyard, some of these trends are happening just as rapidly and we now have a situation where many people see loyalty as being an expensive impediment to self-interest and where veterinary practice is attempting to withstand the assault of modern-day consumerism with no organised means of defending ourselves or what we believe to be right.

Operating in isolation

Here I find myself confusing an abstract – veterinary practice – with an entity. There is no such thing as an organised entity representing the cause of 2,600 businesses to the consumer and because we all operate in isolation, actively avoiding any opportunity to present our case to those who use our services, we continue to see the tide of ill-informed consumer opinion shape our market offering in a process which leads us further and further away from our commercial comfort zone.

If we are to defend what we believe veterinary practice is here to do, we have either to espouse the way of doing business which the public evidently likes and to take on the other market sectors which have developed further and faster than we have, on equal terms, or to resist the change in an organised and co-ordinated manner.

At present, we’re too busy trying to give consumers what they appear to want rather than what they need if we are to continue to encourage pet ownership for the next 20 years: a new generation of consumers may fail to find the joys of owning a cat or dog are as apparent as they are to all of us.

Surely now is the time to get our collective act together and to see that the consumer becomes properly informed rather than improperly informed by a media machine which trades in the transient.

We have the means to do this: our business model is bent rather than irredemiably broken and, despite our protestations, we are affluent and successful enough to decide on and execute a campaign to replace misinformation with solid, rewarding and persuasive information which we believe consumers need to hear.

What we’ve lacked so far is not the means but the motivation to take action about this. Isn’t a 20% attrition in small animal practice footfall since 2002 sufficient motivation for us to get together to do something about it or is our professional arms-length approach just too comfortable for all that?

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