Reach out and touch someone
Focused marketing efforts can cure the ups and downs of seasonality.
Not too long ago, small animal veterinary medicine had a predictable seasonality. From a revenue and transactional standpoint, it looked like a bell-shaped curve — the peak usually in midsummer, the valley in winter and the curve heading up in spring and down in fall.
That is no longer the case. Today, the curve looks more like a case of ventricular tachycardia, with the best month ever sometimes followed by the worst month ever.
Over the last few years, national trends show decreasing transactions and fewer new clients. What can be done to metaphorically bring the V-tach back to some sort of predictable rhythm? In one word: marketing
First off, we need to recognize that we cannot predict or create sick pets. Variation from day to day, week to week and month to month is more of a case of controlling well-care visits. Second, realize that new-client transactions are less controllable if you lack an aggressive and expensive marketing campaign, and even then, you need a compelling call to action for a pet owner to become a client. Finally, understand that you have a computer or file cabinet full of existing clients who are begging for more information about how to better care for their pets.
Remember when February was the shortest month of the year? Now, in veterinary practices, February is what? I hear you: It’s National Pet Dental Health Month. (Thank you, Hill’s Pet Nutrition.)
Remember when February was the nadir of your bell-shaped curve? After we focused on dental care and did some imaginative marketing, our dental care revenue and service numbers peaked in February, pushing up that point in the revenue curve. Did clients’ pets have dental needs the rest of the year? Absolutely. We just focused on dental care and — voila! — February was no longer a lost month.
How many of you have Heartworm Month? You do 80 percent of your heartworm testing and prescribing that month. Are pets at risk the rest of the year or just that month? We focused on getting clients in during Heartworm Month.
A Four-Step Process
To smooth the ups and downs:
- Create a 12-month education program addressed to a select portion of your clientele.
- Start a breed-specific marketing program to help certain pet owners understand the risks to the breed.
- Initiate an ongoing internet marketing program that focuses on education.
- Conduct follow-up and follow-through marketing.
Let’s look at each one.
Decide on 12 months of topics on which you want to educate clients. Then, create educational content, identify the clients who you think will take action and who have a pet in need, and design a call to action — something the client needs to do. Using available marketing tools, such as letters, postcards, email, text messages, your website, telephone calls or social media, tell pet owners what they don’t know, why they need to act, and how you can help.
A sample calendar:
- January: Internal parasite prevention
- February: Pet Dental Health Month
- March: Jenny Craig Month (obesity awareness)
- April: Pet population control
- May: Flea and tick prevention
- June: Traveling With Your Pet Month
- July: Avoiding cat-astrophes (cat health awareness)
- August: Summer scares (parasites)
- September: Senior care
- October: Cool weather alert (possibly pain or arthritis checkups)
- November: Pet Dental Month redux
- December: Holiday hazards
Do I suggest marketing to your entire client base every month? Absolutely not. Twenty percent of your clients provide 80 percent of your profits. Focus on them. Fifty-five percent of your clients provide 95 percent of your profits. Focus on this group next. Remember that young dogs do not qualify for senior care and that senior pets shouldn’t qualify for spay/neuter month. Selectively choose the qualifying clients and educate them on how to be a better pet owner. They want to hear from you more than once a year at vaccination time.
Specific breeds come with inherent concerns and conditions that may present themselves at different stages of a pet’s life. For example, there are young dog conditions: hip or elbow dysplasia, PDA (patent ductus), PCS or PSS (portal systemic shunts). There are the any-age conditions: patellar luxation, KCS (dry eye), glaucoma, cardiomyopathy, cancer. And there are the elder conditions: cancer, hypothyroidism, diabetes. The conditions above may be more prevalent in certain breeds.
Your action plan:
- List the most common breeds you see and the most common conditions you see in those breeds.
- Generate educational pieces describing the conditions and risks and how your hospital can identify the conditions early and start treatment.
- Search and sort your database by breed and then by age. Now, you have a group of young golden retrievers that you can target for hip or elbow radiographs. You have group of older golden retrievers that you can target for hypothyroidism. And you have a group of any-age cocker spaniels that you can market to for eye, thyroid or skin problems.
Using the variety of marketing tools available, educate, educate, educate. Become their Doctor Google before they consult the other Doctor Google.
Breed-specific marketing can be done monthly, quarterly or any other time you want.
Internet Marketing Program
Cat videos and puppy videos are cute. Cases that come to your practice are informational. Staff pictures are engaging. All of these are great posts for Facebook, tweets for Twitter or pictures for Instagram. As much as they can fill your social media platforms, they don’t inherently come with calls to action.
Here’s what you can do:
- Create a monthlong social media calendar and decide which days will be cute, which days will be educational and which days will feature hospital photos.
- Populate your social media sites with something every day or even twice a day.
- Make sure about 50 percent of your content has an educational component. It doesn’t have to be blatant marketing. Try posts that start with “Did you know?” or “You’d probably be surprised to find out that …” or “Teaching Tuesday: Today’s message is ….”
- Generate at least one post a week that encourages action for the pet owner. Encourage them to share your posts.
- Ask clients to post on your social media platforms their pet’s veterinary success story.
- Make sure you have a calendar full of ideas that engage, inform and educate your clients and potential clients.
Follow-Up and Follow-Through
This one is a no-brainer. How many rechecks don’t come back for a re-evaluation? How many prescriptions don’t get refilled for chronic conditions? How many therapeutic diets are dispensed once but never again? Don’t let the simple things slip through the cracks. You need a follow-up and follow-through system to ensure consistent care.
So, do this:
- Identify which diets, prescriptions and services need ongoing follow-up. For example, weight checks for obese patients, thyroid medications, dental care rechecks, lifelong therapeutic diets.
- Create computer reminder codes that note the frequency of re-evaluations or refills and link to the product, service or medication.
- Each week, highlight the patients that need to be seen or the products they need soon.
- Reach out via telephone, email, text message or letter. In your communication, focus on the importance of maintaining the diet, prescription or follow-up care. Educate them about what may happen if they fall off the wagon.
It’s Up to You
The peaks and valleys in practice begin with variables outside of your control. Bad weather, the school year, a slowing economy and other things happen. Given the V-tach world we practice in, staffing and inventory management can become a challenge and profitability can take a huge hit.
By integrating my advice above with other programs such as forward-booking and lost-client recovery, we can do a better job of educating clients about their pet’s needs and encouraging them to act earlier. The key to treating the ventricular tachycardia plaguing our practice is getting your entire team onboard to educate clients and then reaching out and touching them.
Dr. Peter Weinstein owns PAW Consulting and is executive director of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association.