Eric D. Garcia
Socially Acceptable columnist Eric D. Garcia is an IT and digital consultant who works exclusively with veterinary practices and speaks at veterinary conferences around the world. He founded Simply Done Tech Solutions to help veterinary practices improve their services and marketing communications efforts. He is a member of VetPartners, an association for veterinary practice development. He was named Practice Management Speaker of the Year at VMX 2020. Learn more at ericgarciafl.com
With so much access to technology, pet owners of all ages and backgrounds are presented with more marketing messages today than ever before. Whether these come as 30-second commercials playing before a YouTube video, pop-up advertisements on a computer screen or traditional highway billboards, differentiating which messages truly matter and which are cookie-cutter promotions becomes increasingly difficult.
I’ve noticed, however, after consulting with hundreds of veterinary practices and creating numerous case studies, one factor that brings more impact to marketing efforts of all types and across mediums. This is the power of narrative.
Statistics Alone Won’t Do It
Narrative tells a story and transcends a simple statistic or generic marketing approach. If your social media channel or blog is peppered with statistics about, let’s say periodontal disease, the information is unlikely to have the effect on pet owners that it’s ultimately capable of. That is, of course, unless it’s attached to the right narrative.
Just seeing a statistic isn’t going to make pet owners get up and call their veterinary practice to schedule the next appointment. But if that statistic is attached to a compelling and personalized narrative that elicits a strong emotional reaction, it’s an entirely different story.
The same thing is true for all types of issues on which we educate pet owners. If you take to your practice’s Facebook account and share the percentages of dogs and cats that get heartworms annually, the numbers might be interesting or even alarming, but are they going to serve as a call to action? Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, nailed it when she called this the “invisible victim” scenario. There’s no real way to identify personally with the statistic being given, so the fact is stated but no real action is taken as a result.
Feel-Good Stories Work
The scenario changes drastically once a narrative is used and you communicate the prevalence of a preventable disease. Why not share the story of a dog that was treated in your practice for heartworms? Now, the disease isn’t just an anonymous threat; it is real and relevant to your local community. Any feel-good story or important message, if communicated with a genuine and compelling story, is going to be exponentially more effective.
Many practice teams have told me that clients are willing to share their stories to ensure that other pets don’t suffer like theirs did. This is especially true with preventable diseases and illnesses. Sharing authentic stories and successful outcomes is a winning scenario across the board. The content helps you to stand out, inform clients and empower the pet owners who allowed you to use their story. (Yes, you need client consent to share personal stories).
What is important to note is that this type of dedicated effort helps combat misinformation. Sure, we’ve gotten upset when a pet owner read a faux fact online and then came rushing in to tell us about it. But what are we doing to combat misinformation? By sharing stories of your patients and the diseases you protect against, you raise awareness about the issue and personalize the process as a whole.
Use the Good and the Bad
While successful outcomes are easier to share and what I typically recommend, occasionally a negative outcome is important to reveal as well. I encourage this if you know the client well and asking her to share the story won’t be considered obtrusive or upsetting. For example, a practice told me about a cat with a urinary blockage that came in too late and was euthanized. The veterinarian asked the owner for permission to share the cat’s story on social media. The owner agreed. She told the veterinarian she didn’t want other cats to suffer like hers did.
Ultimately, the story was presented as a cautionary tale that informed pet owners about how common the issue truly is and how sometimes it can be overlooked. The pet owner was comforted knowing that her pet’s case was used to promote healthy awareness of the issue and would help prevent other premature deaths.
This is perhaps the best possible use of a negative outcome story: raising awareness of an issue while paying homage to a pet that succumbed to an illness or disease. If other pet owners are inspired to take action by scheduling a wellness visit or asking a question, they may avert the same fate for their pet.
When sharing positive or negative stories via Facebook, your posts will gain far more traction if they receive organic comments and likes. If you post flat statistics that don’t connect with your audience, Facebook will begin to reduce the number of people whom your posts can reach in the future. Sharing a lone stat is easy, but will it have an impact? No.
Share Tender Moments
I tell practices, “Find beauty in what you do.” Find the beauty and amplify it with care and attention. If you do, clients will be more likely to take your recommendations.
For instance, your Facebook page, website or Google listing probably says that your veterinary practice provides compassionate care. The question then becomes, what does this mean to the average pet owner? Narratives can amplify your brand and show the true meaning behind your practice.
Look at all the little things you do each day to show compassion within your practice. Perhaps it’s snuggling up with a pet that just finished surgery, or a technician administering IV medication to prevent nausea, or a veterinarian handling a cat with the gentlest restraining technique possible.
At the end of the day, practices that share tender moments and personalized stories —sometimes all you need is a photo — will stand out time and time again. Stories help to build trust with new and existing pet owners and show that your practice truly goes above and beyond to provide compassionate care with a tender touch.
Your commitment to each one of these pets and their individual story is what makes your veterinary practice unique and your messages authentic. It’s the stories we remember. And it’s the stories that remind us of how caring for animals is truly incredible.