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Don’t be a fraidy-cat when marketing

Advertising is a whole different animal. You first need to focus on a marketing plan that is actionable and measurable.

Don’t be a fraidy-cat when marketing

I vividly remember a conversation from my childhood. Driving with my dad to his office, we passed a billboard of an attorney with whom my dad had graduated. My 10-year-old self eagerly exclaimed, “You should get a billboard, too!”

I’ll never forget his response: “If you need a billboard, you aren’t a very good attorney.”

Enter my sales and marketing career in veterinary medicine, where I still see this mindset permeating our industry. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating for or against billboards or advertising, but I challenge practice managers and owners with this question: Do your annual business plans include a marketing plan?

Why? Your competitors, both brick and mortar retailers and online merchants, aren’t afraid to market their products and services to your veterinary clients.

The concepts marketing and advertising are often used interchangeably, but they are very different.

Marketing is the process of planning and allocating your efforts, tactics and money while also determining the areas you want to grow. You wouldn’t go on a road trip without a map or GPS, would you? A marketing plan serves as your “how we will get there” tool.

Advertising is the vehicle and use of the tools at your disposal. Things like Welcome Wagon ads, postcards, social media platforms, your blog, open house options, and yes, the dreaded billboard. Advertising isn’t a dirty word. It’s the “how” in your toolbox that will best connect your message to your clients.

What’s the best type of plan? One that is actionable and measurable and provides a return on your investment. ROI doesn’t have to only mean “financial,” but it’s linked to the goals of your marketing plan and your marketing efforts, or campaigns.

To get started, follow these three steps:

1. What and How

Determine what areas of your hospital you want to grow. New clients? New services? Educational awareness? Of those you choose to incorporate into your marketing plan, what percentage of growth do you hope to see? Your marketing plan can sound as simple as: “In 2020, we will focus on three core aspects of hospital growth: dentistry, dermatology and new-client attainment.” That’s the “what” of your marketing plan.

As for the how, here’s an example: “We will grow our dermatology services by 15% over our prior-year efforts. Last year, our dermatology services accounted for X% of our total services and X dollars. A 15% growth would mean ….” See? You have a what, a how and, most importantly, a measurable goal.

2. Planning

Repeat after me: Prior planning prevents poor performance. (So said my piano teacher, and she didn’t have a billboard either.) Marketing campaigns should be specifically outlined and follow a timeline. Consider a six-to-eight week rotation for planning, implementation and follow-up. Also, consider the financial investment. Textbook marketing often suggests a 1-to-4 spend ratio, meaning that for every $1 spent you should gain $4 in revenue.

Taking the scenario above, a dermatology campaign could sound like this:

“We will focus our efforts on growing dermatology from March through May. Our target audience is internal clients who have dogs from ages 2 to 7. We will focus on our testing services, allergy awareness and options for treatments. We will offer a dermatology special on diagnostics, which will be driven by tech appointments and doctor follow-up. We will educate our clients through a direct-mail campaign, a six-week series on our Facebook page, before-and-after pictures on our Instagram page and two articles on our blog. We will contact our product vendors for giveaway items and promotional messaging on dermatology products. We will also ask vendors for social media messages and digital pictures of the products we carry. Finally, we will promote success stories from our clients on social media and in our newsletter.”

3. Measure

The one step I see consistently neglected is the measurement and review of marketing efforts. Usually, because of time constraints, we do a lot of spaghetti marketing — “Let’s throw something on the wall and see what sticks.” Then, we move to the next thing. And then someone will remember the campaign and say, “Oh yeah. We only got five bites on that. That didn’t work.” What if those “five bites” meant 5,000 new dollars over last year? Is that a bad thing?

Specific review and follow-up is vital. Did the campaign help attain our goal? If not, what did we accomplish? What could we do differently? If it worked well, what can we replicate another time?

Share your plans and results with the team. Including your team in marketing efforts connects everyone to the overall success of the hospital.

And guess what? If you didn’t achieve the goal, review what was accomplished in percentages and dollar amounts. What did it mean to the hospital? Was it more than last year? That’s a win! And even more so, how did your marketing effort find solutions for pets and their owners? Measurement, tracking and sharing success are key components of marketing, so don’t overlook this key tactic.

One last thing: We focus on new-client growth in our industry, something that is important to include in an annual marketing plan. However, a great source of growth rests with your current client base. Compliance measurements in areas such as annual checkups, senior care and dermatology are important to include in a marketing plan.

Think about your opportunities in dentistry with current clients. Determine what percentage of clients have an annual anesthetized dental procedure. What could setting a specific, achievable and measurable goal for dental products and services mean for practice’s growth? Your client base serves as an untapped market for growth.

Finally, go back to my pop’s comment. We are in a new age of intense and visible communication. Limiting or neglecting your marketing efforts gives your competitors the upper hand. Your present and future clients want to hear from you. Where should they look for education? Why should they buy from you?

Remember, your competitors aren’t afraid to market to your clients. Market your hospital to your clients before your competitors do.

No more billboard jokes.

Kelly Burich is national key account program manager at Virbac Corp.

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