The UK is a nation of pet lovers, with an estimated 12 million households owning a combined total of 50 million pets (Jones, 2023). And with multiple pets comes the need for regular check-ups by veterinary professionals. In fact, there are currently 29,000 vets in the UK, and UK pet owners spend nearly £5 billion annually on vet services (Jones, 2023).
Despite vets seeing a 40 percent increase in the number of patients since the COVID-19 pandemic (Jones, 2023), the cost-of-living crisis has begun to reverse this trend. The Dogs Trust has recently announced that it has received a record number of calls from people having no other option than to give up their dogs to shelters – over 4,370 enquiries were received in July 2022 alone.
However, there are still a significant number of pets and pet-friendly households across the UK in need of veterinary services. This, of course, means that the pool of new customers is significant. So, in this article, we will explore why marketing is so important for veterinary practices, what different ideas can be implemented to reach new customers and how to market your practice.
Why is marketing important for veterinary practices?
Even with such a huge audience pool, there is significant competition to win more business, thanks to the number of vets across the UK. Even with the cost-of-living crisis and purse strings tightening, veterinary practices should consider investing in marketing to drive profits, engage with existing customers and reach new customers.
As with any business, a proper plan which encompasses an effective marketing strategy can mean the difference between operating successfully and profitably or falling short against the competition.
A proper plan which encompasses an effective marketing strategy can mean the difference between operating successfully and profitably or falling short against the competition
Marketing helps keep brands and businesses visible and plays a huge role in enabling businesses in any sector to continue making money through the retention of current customers and by attracting new ones. Veterinary practices should be mindful that they are at risk of losing the trust of their customers if this visibility is removed. By investing in marketing across multiple channels, veterinary practices will have the edge over competitors and be more effective in telling their stories and communicating why they should be the vet of choice.
Membership schemes that target customers and offer the opportunity to share knowledge, have regular contact with their vet and receive exclusive discounts will build brand advocacy.
One company has demonstrated just how effective this can be with a puppy and kitten club scheme: in 2021, membership grew 107 percent year-on-year, with members spending more per year compared to non-members. The brand also saw subscriptions grow by 45 percent to over 1.4 million year-on-year, which generated over £110 million in annualised recurring revenue.
Despite the cost-of-living crisis, there are still more pet owners and pets than ever before, so creating exclusive membership schemes where everyone, human and pet, can come together and support each other enables veterinary practices to reap the benefits of the industry.
Data, data, data
Veterinary practices are likely to have a significant range of data pools available to them, from a huge, segmented customer relationship management (CRM) system, to a little black book of clients. It is important to remember how valuable data is and consider using it to reach out to people and share the amazing things that the practice does daily. For example, was a life saved today? Let people know!
Data can support veterinary practices in retaining their existing customers and growing their client base by attracting new ones. Whether the data pool is large or small, there are opportunities through cross-channel marketing for veterinary practices to keep in touch with their customer base. You can even prompt people to remember that their beloved pet needs a check-up at the vets.
Looking to other brands can provide inspiration on using this data. For example, one company introduced a new pet lifetime value model in 2021 that brings together retail and veterinary data. The model is now being used to predict the lifetime spend across all major dog breeds (that’s 4 million dogs, to be exact!). This insight will allow them to suggest helpful products that speak to their customers and furry companions – not to mention improving the planning of sales, resources and treatments at a veterinary practice level.
Make the most of opportunities
Sometimes it is crucial to think outside the box, and marketing can play a central part in allowing a veterinary practice to stand out from the crowd. Considering the news agenda and major events, such as COVID-19 and the cost-of-living crisis, can help you turn them into something that can positively impact business.
Themes and initiatives like [a click-and-collect service] might require a shift in supply chain and digital transformation, but with good plans in place and the right marketing support, they can support a very healthy business
What about a click-and-collect service? Veterinary practices are well known for recommending and selling food and other products to keep their furry customers happy and healthy. So, offering customers the choice to click and collect, or setting up a standing order of what they need, will engage with clients and provide another channel to drive sales and support customers.
Schemes and initiatives like this might require a shift in supply chain and digital transformation, but with good plans in place and the right marketing support they can support a very healthy business.
Setting up for success
When it comes to reaching new customers, an effective marketing strategy is crucial. However, it’s essential to consider whether a veterinary practice is to really set itself up for success in the long term.
People love their pets, and an effective long-term marketing strategy will have stories at its heart; any business or brand involved in the pet industry automatically has a huge advantage when it comes to storytelling. By engaging with patients through stories, veterinary practices will win by association and build brand advocacy.
An effective long-term marketing strategy will have stories at its heart; any business or brand involved in the pet industry automatically has a huge advantage when it comes to storytelling
Considering seasonal trends is also crucial to ensuring a practice can maximise the opportunities available at any time of the year and mitigate any potential negative impacts. For example, January is often a month when the purse strings are tightened. If veterinary practices plan for this, they can ensure that customers continue to come in for regular check-ups and annual injections and to purchase products such as food, grooming supplies and litter.