Veterinary practice owners and managers often find marketing to be a somewhat daunting challenge. They aren't sure where to
spend money, they may not know which marketing expenditures are most effective and finding the resources to devote to marketing
can be a significant barrier to execution of plans. Since effective marketing can positively affect profitability, it is wise
to identify which marketing initiatives are most beneficial and then focus on the successful execution of a marketing plan.
Veterinarians often decide whether to spend money on specific marketing efforts based on a gut feeling as to whether the initiative
seems like a good idea and/or based on whether the current cash flow exists to pay for the project. The problem with this
decision-making process is that there is not sufficient consideration given to whether the marketing efforts will be effective
in meeting the practice goals. This haphazard approach also ignores the importance of calculating whether the marketing initiatives
will have a favorable return on investment for the practice. Why spend money on marketing if you haven't defined the outcome
desired and forecast a favorable result?
Some practice owners establish an annual budget for marketing determined as a percentage of revenue or merely based on a figure
they are comfortable spending. While it is wise to establish a budget for your marketing plan, this approach to spending is
flawed. It doesn't take into consideration relevant factors such as the size or age of the practice, the competitive environment,
and available resources. Is it fair to say that a large, multi-specialty practice should spend three times as much on marketing
as a practice one-third its size? Maybe. Maybe not. Arbitrary marketing budgets don't factor in the need to look at establishing
desired outcomes and the importance of marketing to your goals.
Devote time to strategic planning
Organization and planning is the foundation for successful marketing plans. Before writing a marketing plan, every practice
should engage in strategic planning. Strategic planning starts with developing a clear vision, mission and goals for the practice.
The mission statement usually defines the core purpose of the organization while the vision is generally a loftier statement
that creates a picture for where the practice wants to be- it is more long-term in focus. This process creates a foundation
for marketing efforts and guides decisions made in marketing planning. Marketing initiatives need to be consistent with the
mission, vision and goals of the business.
Strategic planning also includes a situational analysis or SWOT analysis which refers to strengths, weaknesses, opportunities
and threats of the business. Strengths and weaknesses involve an internal assessment of the business while opportunities and
threats involve an external focus on the competitive environment. A thorough SWOT analysis helps practices focus on developing
appropriate and effective marketing objectives. For example, if the SWOT revealed that client service is a weakness due to
some communication problems, then marketing efforts should center on improving service. Likewise, if a potential threat to
the business is reduction in caseload due to competition, then marketing efforts should center on how to minimize or overcome
After strategic planning, begin to assess the greatest opportunities to grow and promote the practice. This marketing planning
process includes analyzing financial data and trends which will help guide marketing decisions. For example, are revenues
increasing, decreasing or stagnant? Which profit centers are stagnant or decreasing? Are new client numbers per month stagnant
or declining? How does the practice measure up based on industry benchmarks?
Next, consider the information gathered from the SWOT analysis. Is client service mediocre or exceptional? Does the practice
need to consider offering new services to be competitive? Does the staff need further training in client communication? Answering
these types of questions helps to focus marketing initiatives on those that are best for the practice. It is beneficial to
involve staff in the planning stages since team members often have creative ideas for marketing and excellent feedback regarding
how to best execute marketing tactics.
Marketing planning also involves identifying target markets and decisions on how to balance internal and external marketing
Identifying specific target markets for marketing initiatives can be valuable to increase the effectiveness of marketing plans.
Target markets are the group of clients the practice wishes to attract. Target markets may be further divided by market segmentation
which refers to dividing markets into specific groups based on specific criteria. Examples of specific target markets include:
cat owners, dog owners, potential new clients from specific neighborhoods, clients with senior pets, members of the Greyhound
rescue club, clients who do not visit the practice annually, etc.
Internal marketing refers to efforts to increase utilization of services by existing clients. Internal marketing also refers
to efforts by the practice to train and motivate staff to work together as a team to better meet client needs. Examples of
internal marketing include improvements to client service, efforts to increase utilization of a particular service such as
dentistry, offering new services to clients, staff training, and client education to enhance compliance.
External marketing refers to the written or verbal communication aimed at attracting new clients. It also involves efforts
to promote and increase awareness of the practice. Examples of external marketing include advertising, targeted mailings to
pet owners, radio spots, newspaper or magazine articles, and participation in community events.