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Veterinary Forum May 2009 (Vol 26, No 5)

Business Skills — Direct marketing for success

by Steve Kornfeld, DVM, CPCC

    Editor's Note: In these challenging times, a great marketing program can help ensure financial success for your practice. Dr. Kornfeld explains the steps to a successful marketing program. — Stephen Fisher, DVM, Column Editor

    One of the most misunderstood areas in veterinary practice management is marketing. Each time a veterinarian speaks with a client, the conversation represents an opportunity to market the practice and its services, and each time veterinarians communicate with staff, they are marketing their vision and goals. Even if it goes unrecognized, marketing is an ever-present part of veterinary practice.

    A hospital can offer great services, but if clients don't know about them, the veterinary expertise may be wasted. If your marketing strategy only involves sending clients a periodic reminder card, they are less likely to bring in their pets or listen to your recommendations. Sending reminders does not constitute productive contact or contribute to building a durable relationship with clients. If clients aren't in regular contact with your practice, you have to sell them on value and credibility each time they visit.

    How, then, can marketing be effective? Marketing equals education, and for the most part clients want to be better educated. Likewise, education equals value, and studies have shown that when the value of a service is high, the cost of that service becomes less important in the purchase decision.

    When clients value a veterinary service — even if the cost may be high — they will still approve that service. If they believe the value of the service is low — even if the cost is low — they are more likely to decline the service.

    Because a strong marketing program can educate clients about high-value services, you are more likely to obtain client consent for a costly procedure. In addition, clients will be familiar with your services before they bring in their pets, thereby allowing you to focus on a specific procedure rather than on its cost.

    There are two general types of marketing: carpet marketing and direct marketing. Carpet marketing is when indiscriminate messages are sent to potential customers. The "Valpak" coupon books that come by bulk mail are an example. The return on this type of marketing is small — typically less than 1%.

    Direct marketing, however, has a higher return. Direct marketing messages should be informative, educational and engaging and should invite clients to respond. In addition, the messages should be repeated and should instill some urgency to help clients recognize the importance of the service and take action accordingly.

    According to Successful Direct Marketing Methods by Bob Stone, studies conducted in the marketing industry have found that clients stay committed to a business when they receive a minimum of 24 messages a year. In other words, you should be sending clients twice-monthly messages that are structured to instill the value of your services.

    A good marketing program begins with creating a client communication strategy. You need to visualize the intended outcome or goal you want to achieve each year. On the other hand, when planning daily or monthly marketing strategies, staff conduct may be your prime marketing tool, so be aware of the effects of your team on your clients' decision to buy your services and come back for more.

    First, meet with your staff to discuss and review your practice vision and core values. Without the staff being in tune with practice ideals, it becomes difficult to communicate your messages. It is important for your staff to give clients a convincing answer to the question, "Why do I need this for my pet?"

    Next, decide which services you would like to emphasize for the year. You and your staff will need to prepare marketing materials and, as necessary, receive some hands-on training on how best to deliver the messages for each service.

    Last, decide which services you are going to market each month and which clients are more inclined to respond to your messages. All clients are different, just as all patients are different — pets that need dental care may not be obese, and pets that are obese may not need internal parasite control. The more specific the targeted group, the more likely that clients will respond to your messages, so to be successful, each monthly campaign should be geared to a specific group of patients.

    To generate greater response to your messages, it is important to use multiple avenues, such as letters, emails and telephone calls. The more avenues you use, the quicker and better the results will be. Do not be concerned about the number of messages you send your clients — within reason. As long as your messages are interesting, clients will welcome them and grow to expect them.

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