Dr. Stacee Santi is a 1996 graduate of the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the founder of Vet2Pet, a technology communication platform for veterinary practices. With over 20 years of clinical experience in small animal and emergency practice, she brings an in-the-trenches approach to innovation and solutions for veterinary teams. She has served on industry advisory boards and as past president of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association. She was voted WVC’s 2021 Educator of the Year and is currently the managing director of client engagement for Vetsource.Read Articles Written by Stacee Santi
When I was a fourth-year veterinary student at Colorado State University, the business and marketing training I received was, shall we say, lean. The only things I recall are 30 minutes on how to use your new credentials — “Dr. Stacee Santi” or “Stacee Santi, DVM,” but not both at the same time — and to never run advertisements to market your veterinary practice.
But let’s be clear. It was 1996, the year AOL reached 5 million users. I don’t think my professor could have predicted then how a veterinary business would compete with online sellers like Chewy and PetMed Express in 2023. So, if you have the nagging memory that “Marketing is bad,” it’s time to update your education on the topic and explore the concept of promotional email marketing. Let’s dig in.
What types of promotional emails should I consider sending?
The big idea here is to help your clients save money. I once asked my mom: “Do you think it’s tacky for me to send a coupon to my clients? Do you think that makes me look unprofessional?” Her response shocked me. “Oh, no, honey,” she replied, “I love getting coupons so I can save money. I think most people do, especially for things they need.”
I started posing that question to lots of people, including clients, and almost everyone agreed with my mom. But, of course, a tiny percentage said they hated coupons and preferred to pay full price, reminding me that we can never please everyone.
Here are four promotional emails that might do well:
- Online store coupon: “15% off your entire basket this week.”
- Service promotion: “Complimentary heartworm test with the purchase of 12 months of a parasiticide.”
- Refer a friend perk: “Complimentary lab work upon the referral of a new client.”
- Post-wellness visit coupon: “$50 off a dental cleaning if booked within 30 days of a wellness exam.”
How frequently should I send promotional emails?
The last thing you want is for a client to consider you a nuisance. However, in today’s world of standard business emails arriving weekly, a pet owner is unlikely to think that more emails from your practice are annoying.
Given the pressure most veterinary practices face when competing with outside pharmacies, I recommend a monthly email at a minimum to weekly correspondence at a maximum. The best approach is to try different frequencies and measure the outcome.
If yours is a typical veterinary practice that sends a promotional email only once or twice a year, experiment with this step-by-step strategy:
- First, increase the email frequency to monthly for three months.
- Then, increase the frequency to every two weeks for three months.
- Then, increase the frequency to weekly for three months.
After you have finished the experiment, choose what worked best based on the monetary results, not feelings.
How do I measure the impact of promotional emails?
Using a code is generally the best way to measure the effectiveness of an email promotion. For example, if the offer is for an in-house veterinary service, add the code to your practice management software so you can track all invoices associated with that code.
Regarding your pharmacy, your dashboard might track both e-commerce and in-house purchases, allowing you to see the big picture and ensure your entire pharmacy is growing rather than shifting purchasers from one channel to another.
As for measuring email clicks and open rates, forget it. Apple introduced Mail Privacy Protection in June 2021, allowing users to hide their mail activity across iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and Macs. Because Apple Mail is extremely popular, measuring open and click rates is incredibly unreliable today.
What are the critical elements of an effective promotional email?
- Keep It Concise: Today’s trend is to keep email content short and sweet, with a maximum length of one scroll on a mobile device. Keep long paragraphs and explanations to a minimum, as most readers prefer bullet points and an article link for more information.
- Write a Catchy Subject Line: Depending on how much fun you want to have with clients, think of a subject line that paints a clear picture of what the email is about so that it stands out in the inbox.
- Validate the Message: Be sure your email contains the proper amount of information to educate the client about why what you’re advising and promoting is a good idea. Focus on the outcomes and benefits of the recommendation and how taking advantage of the promotion will help the client’s pet live a healthier life.
- Set a Short Deadline: In a fascinating study called “Procrastination of Enjoyable Experiences” by the Anderson School of Management at UCLA, the researchers discovered that people wait to redeem gifts that come with long deadlines compared to those with short redemption periods. Therefore, when possible, your promotion should have a brief window of opportunity to leverage the impulsive nature of spending.
Who should receive my emails?
Given technological advancements, sending dog content to dog owners and cat content to cat owners is simple nowadays. At the company I founded, Vet2Pet, we connect through practice management software to drill down the audience by species, breed, age and appointment date, just to name a few. The goal is to create content most relevant to the recipient.
Another feature of some client communication platforms is to target pet owners who opt in to receive special offers via email or mobile app. On the other hand, a client who downloads the practice’s app might opt out of special offers upon creating the account. At Vet2Pet, about 40% of clients opt in, which is an impressive number and validates the perspective of my mom.
At any time, clients can change their preferences. Such a permission-based marketing approach is ideal.
What should I do if clients complain?
A fear of some practices is that clients will be upset to receive promotional emails. Sure, at least one person will likely complain, but pleasing everyone is impossible when you own a business.
I suggest setting goals before you increase email frequency. First, decide which percentage of complaints would indicate a problem. I think 5% is a safe number. For example, a three-DVM practice probably has about 2,000 active clients. That means you could tolerate 100 complaints about more marketing emails before you conclude the frequency is too much. Framing the issue as math versus emotions will ensure you make pragmatic decisions about your revenue rather than tailor your strategy based on the opinion of Jane Doe.
When clients complain, remind them that opting out is easy if they click the email’s unsubscribe button. U.S. law requires that all marketing emails include a prominently displayed unsubscribe link. Thankfully, most consumers are aware of how to unsubscribe.
Should I send non-email promotions?
Yes, but be mindful of the channel. I don’t recommend text (SMS) marketing. Over the past two years, cellular carriers have cracked down on text messages that appear to be promotional spam. If they flag you as an offender, they’ll block all messages from your number. That’s similar to Facebook suspending an account because the owner posted inappropriate content.
In addition, many consumers prefer that their text inbox be for friends and family only. Therefore, when you send text messages, do it only for reminders and post-visit surveys, not marketing.
What about my practice’s mobile app?
When clients download your app, they signal that they want easier communication from you. They can customize how and when to receive notifications.
Don’t forget this important point: Since you own the content on your mobile app, you have a powerful way to build a captive audience and unique connections. While counting email clicks and opens is unreliable, app notifications are a different story. You can easily access reports on how many clients clicked on your notification.
Well, there you have it. Things have changed dramatically since 1996. Hopefully, I’ve inspired you to consider rethinking your strategy for promotional email marketing so that you reach more clients and empower them to provide the best veterinary care for their pets.
DID YOU KNOW?
As of 2022, almost half of small businesses (48%) had mobile apps to connect with customers, according to the marketing company Top Design Firms.