One thing practice owners often ask is “Do I really need to do marketing? Surely all I need to do is concentrate on being a good vet?” and whilst it’s true that people may single out a particular vet as the reason why they choose to visit, the reality is that to grow a business in today’s competitive market, a practice needs to get its story out there and in front of potential new customers. After all, if you aren’t actively growing and engaging with your customer base, there are plenty of corporate groups with large marketing departments ready to lure clients away.
Marketing is important because it helps to sell services. The bottom line of any business is to make money, and marketing is an essential channel to reach that end goal. Nearly everything that the customer knows or feels about a practice depends to some extent upon the way the brand is marketed.
What’s the difference between marketing and branding?
We have already discussed crystallising your brand identity through a brand audit, but it can be confusing to pinpoint the difference between branding and marketing; the easiest way is to imagine your brand as the story you want to tell about your company, and to think of marketing as the channels or methods to get that story out there to as many people as possible.
Through marketing, customers can get to know about the value of the service provided and additional information that might be helpful to keep their pets living longer, healthier lives.
Where to begin
The most common challenge that practice owners face when creating a marketing plan is knowing where to start. The good news is that whether you know it or not, your practice will already be engaged to some extent in marketing; the building, signage, pricing and service are all part of the story that you are telling clients. To take the next step to engage in actively marketing the clinic is simply to be more intentional in planning the messages.
Creating a plan means that success can be measured and improved without wasting time or money on things that don’t work for your practice.
At its core, marketing boils down to: identifying your practice’s ideal customers and choosing the best channels to get your message out to them. It should be possible to form a good idea of who your ideal customers are by using your brand audit as a guide – is your practice’s service and image targeted to attract affluent older retirees, or perhaps young professional families?
Who your ideal customer is will determine what “voice” to use in marketing, and where to display the message. For instance, a younger audience will be more likely to use social media whereas an older demographic might respond more favourably to newspaper or radio advertising.
To ensure customers know about an amazing offer on dentals or neutering, it is important to have already established a connection where the customer has given the practice permission to reach out to them and tell them about it.
The veterinary business is a relationship business, and marketing creates trust. Nurturing this trusting relationship with marketing makes customers more loyal and gives them the confidence to engage with your practice.
Engagement is key
Customer engagement is at the heart of any successful marketing plan – this is especially true for independent vets. Engaging customers is different from shouting about your offers. Engagement means establishing a two-way dialogue to give customers relevant information and share insights into the company’s ethos. Marketing also solves the question of how to keep a conversation going once a customer has left the practice after their annual vaccination.
Research shows that the best way to keep a conversation going is by creating fresh content to share with clients. Social media is naturally the best platform to share this content with customers. Perhaps you’re already using short videos and fun pet content to engage with your customer base on Facebook and Instagram. Those members of your audience who are your practice’s true fans want to form a relationship with your brand, and social media can be used to do just that.
While current loyal customers should always be the main priority, marketing can help a practice to expand by attracting new customers and turning existing customers into true fans who tell others about your practice. In essence, marketing done well secures a business’s future through new and old customer engagement.