Richard C. Nap, DVM, PhD, DECVS, DECVCN
A brand is the collection of knowledge and emotions in the mind of the consumer when confronted with the brand name and/or logo. A logo is part of a brand and will ideally instantly generate an association with the brand to which it belongs. We all know these world famous brands such as Coca-Cola, Nike, Puma, BMW, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and many others such as Shell, Esso, Microsoft and Apple and newer names such as Google, Facebook and Twitter. These aforementioned brands are well known by most of the general public in the developed world and represent high value. The companies who own those brands invest incredible amounts of money to "build the brands" and keep them at the high awareness level with their (potential) consumers. Companies have an impressive group of staff focusing on the brand management and teams with people in positions ranging from Vice President of Marketing to the entry level of assistant brand-manager. Marketing and brand management today is a science and represents significant budgets. For many products, especially in the top segments and luxury market segments, the costs of marketing are a major part of the cost price of the goods and services sold. For high-end fragrances, the marketing budget far exceeds the costs of goods.
Products that are marketed and sold under a brand name benefit from the brand awareness that has been built before the product came to market and consumers have an instant positive relationship with the product. The market introduction of branded products as part of the overall portfolio of the company is highly facilitated.
It is also appreciated that a family name can develop into a well-known brand worldwide. Good examples are the brands Heineken and Phillips. Both names are the family name of the founder of the company. Other examples are Porsche and Toyota. In the fashion world, the name of the designer is often the brand name that represents the value. Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, etc., are examples. A newer concept is the recognition that the name of a well-known sports and music hero can become a brand in itself. Maybe some of the best examples are David Beckham and Madonna.
So what is the point of talking about brands and brand management when we are dealing with veterinary products and services? The point is that a lot of the law and science that is applicable to marketing in general is applicable to the veterinary profession.
The name of a hospital or the name of a well-known doctor in the community represents the image of that hospital or doctor. People know the clinic and the moment they hear the name or see the logo, they have a collection of knowledge and emotions in their mind based on previous visits and/or peer information. The information can come from friends (including Facebook and Twitter), family, as well as other pet owners. The name of the clinic and/or the name of the (senior) partner doctor became the brand name for the business.
A young veterinary professional will benefit at the moment of her/his market introduction (the moment she/he starts to practice) from the brand value of the well-known doctor where he or she practices. The people come for doctor W.L. Known or Doctora I. Trust, and they trust the young doctor more because (s)he works under her/his supervision. The principle is the same. The brand gives the client a feeling of security and trust.
A more important consequence of the fact that the name of the veterinarian and the hospital or chain of hospitals (Banfield and VCA Animal Hospitals to mention some bigger corporate chains) can be considered a brand is that they can be managed in the same way brands are managed. Veterinarians can consult business books and attend marketing classes to learn about brand management in order to optimize the way they market themselves as well as their products and services.
One important aspect of brand management that has to be decided in an early phase is the definition of the target group. Who are the clients that are the primary target for the services and products provided? It has been well recognized in all markets for all products and services that a pyramid exists that has the typical wider base and the more narrow top. The wide base represents volume products and services with relatively low quality that are sold at a relatively low price, whereas the top represents the products and services which are positioned and perceived to be high quality and sold at higher prices. Brands typically target a specific segment of the pyramid and for many good reasons very few brands and products exist that are successfully implementing a marketing strategy that can be summarized as "one size fits all." Clients are different and they have individual wishes and expectations. Veterinarians should ask themselves "Who are the clients that are in my target group?" and "How do I optimally manage my brand to communicate the quality of products and services to this target group?" "What is my 'go-to-market strategy'?" Clients that are not attracted to this brand positioning can be served by other veterinary professionals that have a positioning either lower or higher in the quality-price pyramid. Once it has been identified that they have entered "in the wrong shop," they can be kindly advised to go to the place that will optimally serve their personal expectations. People who are looking for a Volkswagen should not be forced to buy a Rolls-Royce and vice versa.
1. Moreau PH, Nap RC. Essentials of Veterinary Practice. An Introduction to the Science of Practice Management. Hereford, UK: Henston Publishing; 2010.