Definition of Marketing
There are multiple definitions of the word 'marketing'. Marketing has to do with methods and programmes that can be used to stimulate client awareness about your services or products, or both. Marketing has to do also with attracting new clients and also retaining existing clients. Finally marketing has to do with developing more business from existing clients. Ultimately all these methods and actions that include promotion and advertisement are aiming at stimulating sales.
Application of Marketing to a Veterinary Clinic
It is important to know that people don't buy services as they buy products. They often buy 'how they imagine using the service will make them feel'--and in a pet family bond relationship we know that 'feelings' and affection are a crucial element of the decision.
Many veterinarians did not realise until recently how important marketing is for their development and their business and veterinary clinics are small businesses. In the past veterinarians would say 'I am a veterinarian, a doctor, and I, as most professionals, don't need to market my services'. With the evolution of our profession, treating the sick and the injured animal was not sufficient and veterinarians started to be more and more involved with prevention and preventive aspects of animal care, including vaccinations, and prevention of diseases; in other words veterinarians today treat healthy animals as much as we treat sick and injured pets.
Common Misconceptions about Marketing
Talking to practitioners, a good number feel that when they don't practise veterinary medicine, when they are busy implementing financial or management issues, they are spending 'non money making time'. Obviously this is a mistake and everyone knows that the time spent managing and planning is essential in any business.
Is selling services or marketing a 'sin'? Or is it a means to build a productive and profitable relationship?
We should remember that when people are in contact with a clinical service and when veterinarians, or their staff, talk about such a service...they are marketing! So when a veterinarian or the receptionist is indifferent to a client, it is 'bad marketing' for the practice; on the contrary when you and your employees make extra effort to exceed a client's expectation, and help your client, it is a good marketing action.
So there are two different ways to view marketing and communication: the pragmatic approach and the client oriented veterinary approach. For example, when a veterinarian sells pet food, is he selling something for the animal to eat (the pragmatic approach) or is he selling the known selection of the best nutritional programme for that animal? One can easily see that the perception will be valued very differently. It is obvious that it is much more rewarding to place ourselves in a 'client oriented approach'. Again consumers don't buy a product or a service, they buy the perception of a certain value for a product or a service.
What and How to Market?
First we need to know about the market and its needs. You should spend some time thinking what services and products your clients or future clients would want. How? Instead of offering what you 'think' your clients (the market) want, simply ask and question them.
Build a Marketing Plan
Once you have identified these needs and demands, the next step would be to plan and prepare the marketing of these services and products. Such a Marketing Plan is aimed at a certain target or segment of the market and then proper tools should be selected to best approach the objective. Timing and proper financing should intimately be associated with such method.
The Marketing Mix
Once the services and products that would be best suited for the clients and the practice have been identified, one should implement their delivery and prepare the so called 'marketing mix' using some well known criteria often referred as the 7 Ps.
Place: where am I delivering the service?
Procedure: what will be the process or the method that will be associated to produce and deliver the service?
People: who are the human resources involved?
Premises: which type of facilities, physical evidence, are needed to best offer such service?
Product: what is the product? The service?
Promotion: what type of promotion will be necessary to best communicate and advertise about the service and/ or the product?
Prices: what would be an acceptable price for the target audience, my clients, and is such price compatible with an acceptable profit for the practice?
Who Should You market To?
Many business concentrate essentially (and sometimes only) on marketing to attract new clients. However every marketer will tell you that getting a new client is very costly and requires a lot of effort. Indeed studies show that it is five times more costly to market to new clients. On the other hand when a new graduate starts his or her practice from scratch, this is what happens, and the target should be at attracting new clients. However once you are an established veterinarian with an existing stable clientele, your efforts should not be at gaining new clients, but at developing new services for your existing clients. This is much more rewarding and the return on your investment will be much higher.
The Difficulty to Market: The Intangibility of Services
We should remember that we are working in a service type activity: animal medical clinical services. The fundamental feature of a service is that it is intangible. There is never an ownership associated with the expense to benefit from a service. It is consumed and cannot be palpated. And yet these are the services we sell. In addition most of these services are consumed as they are produced. Finally another important feature of service is that it cannot be stocked and kept for later use. What we failed to provide today is lost... Because of the intangible aspect of services, it is important to generate documents that would transform our services into tangible products.
The Importance of Marketing Client Services
Offering and marketing services that are adapted to client needs and expectations and achieving excellence in client service is one of the major keys to success in a veterinary practice. This requires planning and setting appropriate guidelines among the team. It is not sufficient to have the strong desire to do well, it is necessary to work at it.
We are all consumers and as such we always wish to receive what we consider is a value for our money. This does not mean the cheapest possible product or service but one that we feel is giving us an expected value, our expected value.
Time Spent at Marketing
As we said before, veterinarians do not consider their time planning and marketing their services as a 'money generator' because, traditionally, time for a practitioner means producing a medical examination, a diagnosis, a treatment that will translate into a transaction. However, it is necessary that the marketing and in general all practice management actions involve the veterinarians because they are the ones directly associated with the services and the clients.
How to Select the Proper Service and Marketing Actions?
As we stated above, ideally practitioners should ask their clients which service they would like to receive and purchase at the vet hospital.
A rule of thumb that we suggest, that works in all circumstances is as follows: if the service or product you and your clients have selected is beneficial for all three major components of the veterinary transaction, you should considered it as a valid possibility and then engage a practical and financial study looking at logistic, staff, time, return on investment, etc.
The three major components of the veterinary transaction are easy to remember and actually quite obvious:
The animal or patient
The owner or client
The veterinarian or the practice
Summary and Conclusions About Marketing Within the Clinic
Remember there are three ways to increase turn-over:
1. By attracting new clients,
2. By having existing clients visit the clinic more frequently, and
3. By having existing clients spend more per visit.
The first method is by far the most difficult, and depends on many factors that the clinic cannot influence directly, because the majority of new customers come as the result of recommendation and 'word of mouth'.
The second and third options however, are under the influence of the clinic staff and the marketing efforts you and your staff will implement. The Client Practice experiences, from the first to the last one, with contribution of the full staff (including the maintenance and cleaning staff, the doctors, the nurses and the technicians) during the visit will build up an impression that will make the owner decide whether or not to trust, and to come back and be loyal to the clinic.