Taking action: Marketing initiatives to grow your practice (Proceedings)
Marketing planning includes reviewing the practice's key performance indicators or KPIs to assess the areas of opportunity to grow your practice. Once you have made analyzed your hospital data and KPIs, you can take action to develop and execute specific marketing initiatives that will result in the greatest benefit for the practice. Try to create the appropriate balance between marketing initiatives that are targeted towards gaining new clients and those that are targeted towards increasing service utilization by your existing client base. Depending on your number of new clients per month, the competitive environment, your plans for growth or expansion, and other variables, you may need to devote more or less resources to marketing efforts that are aimed at new clients vs. existing clients.
It is helpful to determine specific target markets when developing marketing initiatives. 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, clients with senior pets, potential new clients from specific neighborhoods, members of the Greyhound rescue club, clients who do not visit the practice annually, etc. When you focus on a specific target market, your marketing is more focused and your results may be easier to measure.
Attracting New ClientsFor veterinary practices to grow and thrive, new clients must be added to the client list each month. To attract new clients, focus on branding and specific external marketing tactics. Branding refers to the trusted image or reputation of a business. Brands are associated with various degrees of quality and service. For example, the name Ritz Carlton is synonymous with 5-star hotel accommodations and customer service. The name Wal-Mart immediately brings to mind lower prices. What is your practice known for? What is your reputation in the community? Branding is accomplished by differentiating the practice in terms of the medical care and services offered. Branding is created over a period of time as a result of the consistent message and service that is provided to clients. The practice name and logo help to achieve branding by representing the value and service associated with the hospital.
External marketing refers to written and verbal communication or any other efforts to promote and increase awareness of the practice which will help to attract new clients. There are a number of external marketing tools that can be utilized to attract new clients. These include making sure the hospital has excellent signage, an appealing exterior appearance, use of marketing collateral such as brochures, business cards, and pens with logos, advertising, websites, social media and community involvement.
When deciding which marketing initiatives will be the most beneficial for your practice, you will need to consider your budget, other resources such as available personnel, and the expected return on investment. Needless to say you won't be able to do extensive advertising or expensive remodeling without the necessary cash flow. On the other hand, other initiatives such as community involvement may cost nothing more than your time. Even if you have a significant marketing budget, always carefully try to determine the expected outcome before spending substantial sums of money on marketing. For example, if you plan to spend $2,000 on advertising or a targeted mailing to clients, strive to calculate the return on investment for this initiative. How many new clients will you attract? How much will they spend? Why spend money on marketing if you have not defined the outcome desired and forecast a favorable result?
One of best ways to differentiate your practice is with the use of technology to provide value to clients. Potential barriers to leveraging technology are undoubtedly a lack of resources-namely time and money. Busy practice owners and managers don't always take the time to explore all their marketing options involving technology. Savvy businesses are wise to overcome these barriers by devoting time to look at some of the following ways to use technology to connect with clients.
The vast majority of veterinary practices have websites but if you don't this is a must. Unfortunately, practices that do have websites don't always use the website to its full potential for client service. Consider whether your website has the following information and/or benefits for clients:
• Profiles for all doctors and full-time employees including color photos
• Easy to navigate links for directions to the practice
• Complete information on hours and all services
• Links to other websites of interest such as local pet adoptions, humane society, reputable groomers, dog trainers and boarding facilities, pet insurance, etc
• After-hours emergency information with links for area referral practices and directions
• Pet portals so clients can manage their pets healthcare and communicate with the practice
• Articles on pet healthcare
• Links to credible websites for owners to learn more about various medical conditions
• Subscription to monthly or quarterly e-newsletter
• "What's New" section or calendar with information about community pet events
• A photo gallery or "In Memory of" area to post photos and notes about pets
• Information about third party payment plans with applications
• Something fun and interactive for clients that changes periodically such as contests, monthly drawings, etc
• Client satisfaction surveys
• Prescription refills
• Short videos about the practice or pet care topics
Establishing electronic communication with your clients can be done through your website and/or you can create email lists to use for electronic newsletters, client reminders for routine healthcare, hospital announcements, etc. Now is the time to start collecting email addresses if you have not already done so.
There are a number of companies currently that support your efforts to keep in touch with clients. These companies can help you send out reminders or other publications that are professionally designed and full of useful information.
Social Media and Networking Sites
Like it or not, social media and social networking on the internet are current trends and a primary form of communication for many people. Many businesses and organizations now use Facebook and Twitter to disseminate information and stay in touch with their target audience. Creating a blog is another means to stay in touch with pet owners although this means of communication isn't for everyone and takes time. If you do decide to pursue social media outlets, make sure you establish a process to govern usage for your practice.
Wow Clients with Your Client Service
When I facilitate strategic planning sessions with veterinary teams, we talk about the strengths of the practice and inevitably client service or client communication is part of the discussion. Typically, staff and doctors alike reference aspects of client service that are important to continue but they aren't necessarily unique to that hospital. To really differentiate your practice with client service, be creative and think about exceeding client expectations not just meeting them. Work with your team to brainstorm ideas on how you can raise the level of your client service. For example, you might make simple changes to your reception area to make clients more comfortable such as offering gourmet coffee or candy. Other ideas include keeping small bottles of water on hand to give to clients or adding a digital photo frame with pictures of clients' pets. Other ways to surprise and delight clients include sending them home with bandanas or toys for their pets after they have been hospitalized.
Anything you can do to make your service more convenient for clients tends to be well-received. Consider offering a pet pick up and drop-off service for clients who may be extremely busy or have difficulty getting to the practice. Set up a protocol to text clients rather than call them if this is their preferred means of communication. Offer monthly dog obedience classes so clients don't have to seek out a dog trainer on their own. The list of what you can do for clients is endless. Work with your team to find ways to distinguish your service which will attract new clients and build client loyalty.