Learning lessons through digital data - Veterinary Practice
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Learning lessons through digital data

The Mercury Column, in which a guest columnist takes the temperature of the profession – and the world around.

THERE’S NOTHING LIKE A SHORT STAY IN HOSPITAL to alert the senses to one’s own intimations of mortality and, on emerging into the sunlight, everything seems bright, fresh and hugely important once again.

Of course, enforced rest means a diet of voracious reading and all kinds of articles, facts and figures resonated with me as I consumed anything and everything in print.

I hadn’t planned to go into hospital and so had made no preparatory charging of my iPad and I am of a generation whose myopia means that even a smart phone screen makes serious reading impossible. So, having read every veterinary journal within reach and eked out the battery on the iPad, I feel drawn to share with you three pieces of information which appear to me to be linked.

Would it surprise you to know that over half of people internationally have at least one pet; that Argentina, Mexico and Brazil have the highest percentage of pet owners, followed by Russia and the USA or that Asians are the least likely to own a pet?

I’m drawing on an online survey conducted by GfK and published in late May and among their published conclusions was the statement that while “Asians have the lowest percentage of their online population owning pets, these countries comprise a significant and growing share of the global pet market. This is due to the overall size and growth rate of their human population.”

Looking at data from a wider range of pet care research, the key markets to watch over the next 12 months are China, India and Latin America where rising disposable income from a growing percentage of comparatively affluent consumers is moving them away from table scraps and home-prepared food and towards prepared pet food.

This is a familiar story and one which we experienced in Western Europe around 30 years ago. However, when it comes to pet ownership, an average across all markets showed that 33% of respondents owned a dog and 23% a cat. In the UK, the figure for ownership of either species was 27% which compares with 50% dogs:39% cats in the US and 29% dogs and 57% cats in Russia.

Signalling change

It is an interesting set of statistics largely because it signals change in the developing world and big differences between key markets in the developed world. It also suggests we should compare UK and US data with some circumspection given the very different spread of pet ownership.

Of course, this was an online survey and the purists might question the methodology if any specific socioeconomic sector might be penalised for having a lower level of online capability, but we might be surprised by the figures showing internet usage across the age ranges.

In a survey of 2014 internet usage, published on the This is Money financial website:

  • 75% of Britons now shop online
  • 53% of adults bank online – compared to 30% in 2007
  • People living in the UK and Denmark are among the most likely in the European Union to shop online
  • 40% of over 65s have shopped online this year – up from 36% just last year

We can add the information that 76% of US internet users regularly access at least one social media platform, there are 2.3 billion active social media users worldwide and, of these, 1.97 billion are active on mobile devices or, to put it a different way, 85% of all social media users are mobile.

Where will our marketing money go?

Perhaps the most powerful realisation from my enforced reading vigil was that, by 2020, almost one-quarter of all marketing budgets will be invested through social media so, in all businesses great and small including yours and mine, if we’re not using social media to its full potential, we soon will be.

Perhaps, like me, you recognise that social media marketing is core to our business aims but haven’t yet capitalised on its potential but, if we are to believe Media Post’s recent press release, Instagram is the top-ranking channel where marketers plan to invest most budget and Facebook still hosts more than eight billion video views each day. Oh, yes, I forgot to add that 2020 is now just three-and-a-half years away!

It’s easy to assume that because we see something happening now it will continue to remain constant, but that’s never been less true.

Among adults we use the convenient categorisations of: “Silent” to describe those born between 1928-1945, “Baby Boomers” from 1946-1964, “GenX” from 1965-1980 and “Millennials” from 1981-1996. (I refer only to the categories that describe real or potential clients in today’s market.)

Of these, many of our current client bases will come from the last three categories and, within a short period of time, most will come from the last two.

Both will be entirely familiar with technology that is seamlessly assimilated into day-to-day life and, for the Millennials, they will expect to be the early adopters who will move technology forward and have pioneered streaming media on mobile devices so, when we read that a third of Millennials now want to engage with our businesses where they spend their time, i.e. on social media, we need to be prepared to respond to these consumers in a familiar but useful and timely way on their chosen platforms.

This is the group which has devised a badge to be awarded to those businesses which respond most quickly to customers’ messages on Facebook, so we have been warned!

If we think that, in the recent Vets for Choice survey of pet owners’ dissatisfaction with their insurer choosing the referral practice, this represents a minor triumph for the status quo, I suspect we may have read too much into the result.

What this really signals is that consumers will want, as always, to make the decisions about where their money goes and in the future, the technology behind social media could escalate contentious issues far more quickly than companies are able to resolve them.

We should perhaps take care when we hand consumers any sharp object with which to poke the lion.

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