Effective marketing starts with a solid plan (Proceedings)


Effective marketing starts with a solid plan (Proceedings)

Aug 01, 2009

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.

Budget considerations

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 this threat.

Marketing planning

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 efforts.

Target markets

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

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

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.