Socially Acceptable columnist Caitlin DeWilde, DVM, is the founder of The Social DVM, a consulting firm helping veterinary professionals learn to manage and grow their social media, online reputation and marketing strategies. She earned her DVM from the University of Illinois and is a recipient of its Outstanding Young Alumni Award. Before stepping back to focus on her marketing passion, she served as medical director for a large hospital in St. Louis. Today, she divides her time between practice, consulting and writing. She is the author of the “Social Media and Marketing for Veterinary Professionals” textbook.Read Articles Written by Caitlin DeWilde
When online veterinary pharmacies emerged more than a decade ago, many practices accepted them begrudgingly to meet client demand for convenience and to reduce the need to stock nearly every product on the market. Some practices quietly added a link to their clinic website, and clients learned of the online option only if they asked. Today, nearly 90% of veterinary hospitals partner with an online pharmacy, but a recent study found that just 16% of pet owners were aware of the opportunity.
Why is marketing your online pharmacy important? Because doing it can help your practice, your clients and, most importantly, your patients. Clients want the convenience they’ve come to expect when ordering human drugs. Also, consider that U.S. pet owners spent more than $34 billion on veterinary care and products in 2021 and that an estimated 70% want their clinic to sell flea, tick and heartworm preventives online.
Another study, from 2019, found that practices partnering with an online store reported increased revenue, positive client feedback and stronger client bonding, among other benefits.
The bottom line is this: When practices use a trusted online pharmacy, satisfied clients bond to the clinic and pets get the medicine they need.
So, how do you make sure your clients know about your online pharmacy? Successful marketing requires a multimodal approach. Throwing a vendor-issued link onto your website and into an occasional social post isn’t going to grab someone’s attention.
Here’s how to do it better.
On Your Social Media
Make posts about your online pharmacy part of the monthly social media rotation. While many online pharmacies use stock images, repurpose your own photos to match your practice’s branding and messaging. Emphasize the convenience your online pharmacy offers and how you work to keep pets in tip-top shape.
On Your Website
Don’t bury your website’s online pharmacy link under the “Resources” or “Services” menus. Instead, give it a separate tab and consider linking from the footer to make it even more visible. In addition, a team member can blog about how and why to use the online pharmacy. Focus on the convenience of home delivery, low-cost or free shipping, auto-ship features that ensure a pet never misses a dose, and 24/7 ordering.
On Your Practice App
If your practice has a mobile app, I suggest scheduling and sending push notifications. Consider a quarterly push notification reminding pet owners of your online partner, and link to it.
You can pair the notification with a heartworm or flea preventive reminder at the start of warm weather or promote Dental Care Month.
Email marketing is an infrequently used medium in most practices. You can ask clients to opt in for targeted emails from online pharmacies. For example, cat owners could receive flea prevention emails from the company, the owners of big dogs could learn about joint supplements, and your client base could take advantage of discounts or promo codes.
An alternative is to create and send marketing emails on your own. Depending on your goals and capabilities, emails sent directly from your practice might resonate better with clients. Done independently, your emails could:
- Introduce or reintroduce your online pharmacy partner.
- At least quarterly, feature products relevant to your community or the season.
- Go to specific clients you know would appreciate the online service, who are due for a refill, or who tend to request refills at the last minute or after the prescription runs out.
Be sure to include a direct link to the online store in the email. In addition, insert a clickable call-to-action button in your email signature.
Via Print Marketing
If you’re filling a prescription that would be better served by home delivery or auto-ship, consider adding a bag sticker or enclosing a small card that nudges clients to your online store. QR codes with the text “Scan to refill!” also work great.
Via Your Team
Sometimes, there is no better marketing than words from a trusted source’s mouth. Make sure your entire team is well versed in the advantages of the online pharmacy, how it works, how clients can access it and when to recommend it. This approach is particularly helpful for pet owners who choose not to purchase products at checkout but might need them in the coming weeks and months. If you tell them about your online pharmacy, they’ll be less likely to Google an alternate source when they run out.
Marketing your online store will help keep the profits in your practice, reduce the number of annoying 5 p.m. refill requests and faxes, and give your doctors virtually unlimited choices when prescribing medications. Furthermore, it offers pet owners a safe way to get their supplies and demonstrates that your practice is adapting to today’s market and technology.
ILLUSTRATING SOCIAL POSTS
The effective promotion of an online pharmacy on your practice’s social media channels requires easy-to-learn creativity. Here are four ideas:
- Show a pet owner and dog sitting at a computer or with a tablet or smartphone. Mockup generators like Smartmockups and Placeit can assist.
- Share an in-clinic photo of a recently arrived cat in a cardboard box. (Leave a box on the floor and a patient will eventually crawl inside.)
- Post a photo of a dog waiting for the mail or at the mailbox.
- Post a video explaining how to access your online pharmacy, or use an animated GIF showing its location on your website.
When creating graphics that promote specific aspects of your online pharmacy, feature what likely appeals most to clients. For instance:
- Home delivery
- Free shipping
- Fast delivery
For example, the text can read:
Visit our online pharmacy to order all your pet’s needs.
Plus, have everything shipped directly to your door, or enroll in auto-ship so that your pet never misses a dose (or treat) again!