Twenty-first Century Marketing Tips
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2013
Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA
PAW Consulting, Irvine, CA, USA

Marketing: The Creation of Relationships

How many veterinarians get up in the morning excited about diagnosing a case of Cushing's disease or doing an exploratory surgery?

On the other hand, how many veterinarians get up in the morning excited about the thought that they get to market their veterinary practice?

Why is marketing such a distressing thought for veterinarians of all genders and generations?

Because the terms marketing and sales have long been synonymous in veterinary medicine. And neither one has had a positive connotation.

When you went to vet school, you were excited about the opportunity to make animals healthy or prevent disease. The same is true if you became a technician. In fact, very few members of the veterinary hospital team took jobs to market or sell. But you do, everyday, every appointment, every phone call, and every contact.

You market your business by the way you dress, answer the phone, greet a client, and even handle the pets.

You market your business with the colors that you choose for your business cards or hospital décor.

You market your business when you go to a restaurant, the movies or the bank.

You and everyone on your staff is your business and they are in the business of marketing your business. Why you ask? Because marketing your business is the actions that you take to initiate, build, and maintain a relationship with your customers and subsequently your clients.

What it is the difference between a customer and a client? The second visit. Customers are consumers seeking a product or service from a business with which they do not yet have a relationship. If they come back for additional services or care, they indicate the desire to build a relationship and become clients! Clients are the lifeblood of your practice. Without clients you have no business. Thus, marketing is everything you do to capture a customer and transform them into a client.

When we think of marketing, we think of Madison Avenue, radio and television commercials, newspaper ads and inserts, direct mail solicitations, telemarketers, etc. And when we think of all of these, we get a queasy feeling when we extrapolate it to veterinary medicine.

Marketing is too expensive!

Marketing cheapens the image of veterinary health care.

Marketing is unethical.

Marketing is unprofessional.

Of course, if this is the current mindset that you have, then you are 100% correct about marketing. On the other hand, if we focus on marketing as a means of educating clients about the problems that their pets may have and the fact that you have solutions for those problems, it is much more palatable. If we educate clients about not only what solutions you can offer, but also why the solutions you have are something their pet needs, marketing becomes a teaching tool! This is a softer version of the so-called hard sell marketing that we are used to, thus it should be more acceptable.

Your goal is to provide the information and resources needed for a client to make an educated decision that is in the best interest of their pets!

Important point: Marketing is not selling! Marketing is education! Marketing is providing the information to make a decision.


In a recent survey conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business, 55% of small businesses think that their businesses do not need much marketing since their products or services pretty much sell themselves. 42% disagree.

The distinction between marketing and selling is sharp for virtually as many as the distinction is non-existent. 28% think that the two concepts are the same thing, while 29% think they are very different. 40% think marketing and selling are very different.

From a budgeting standpoint, 48% of small businesses have a separate annual marketing budget within their overall budget, while 43% do not have a separate annual marketing budget.

Experience and customer observation are substantially more likely to influence small business owner marketing decisions than formal, systematic approaches. 83% assert that they base most of their marketing decision on what they learn from day-to-day contact with customers. 74% think it is important to rely on gut feeling when making marketing decisions. In these cases, the use of formal market research is modest.

Finally, more small businesses intend their marketing efforts to lead customers (61%) rather than to respond to them (28%).

Of the promotional means that small businesses directly and immediately control, personal selling and business location generate more sales revenues for more firms than other means. Advertising and web sites also appear reasonably effective in generating sales revenues for the small businesses using them.

The single most important means of advertising small businesses are the:

 Internet (16%)

 Word-of-mouth (15%)

 Newspapers (15%)

 Direct Mail (14%)

50% of those who advertise, advertise steadily throughout the year and another 25% do so with periodic ups and downs. Just 13% confine their advertising to a season or short period. The content of advertising material is typically (57%) developed by someone inside the business.

Virtually, all small businesses use subjective means to evaluate the effectiveness of their advertising.

51% of small businesses have a website, but their owners do not think that their site contributes much toward generating sales. 21% are equipped to make a secured financial transaction.

64% change the content on their website less frequently than once per month. Only 5% do it daily or more often

66% of small businesses have a logo or trademark, including 84% employing 20 or more people.

Veterinary Practice Marketing

The position of Marketing within our practice starts with and is driven by your Vision, Core Values, and Mission. If image, outreach, education and communication are not part of your vision, then marketing won't be either.

Why do many small business owners get frustrated with their marketing? Because they want instant results from something that is not designed to deliver instant results.

Effective marketing can make your practice almost a household word in your community. But it does take time.

Marketing and exercise have a lot in common:

 You rarely get results right away

 You need to do it on regular and frequent basis for best results

 The longer you do it the better it works

"Deliver your message to your market as many times as you can within your budget."

The more people see or hear your message, the more they will remember it. The more they remember your message, the more likely they are to believe and trust it. Therefore, they will be more likely to do business with you.

You need to keep your message in front of people on an ongoing basis. What you lack in concentrated marketing, you make up for with repetition.

I like to think of marketing in two ways:

1.  Acquisition Marketing - marketing to 'acquire' new clients to replace those you have lost or to add new clients to your base.

2.  Retention Marketing - doing everything you can to keep a client for the entire life of their pets and for the life of subsequent pets.

Included within both is Referral Marketing, in which you use your existing client base to help you to grow by having them refer in friends, family, acquaintances, etc.

Twenty-first Century Marketing Ideas

Acquisition Marketing is readily perceived as external marketing, because for the most part you are going to a population that you don't have a relationship with, and encouraging them to give you a try so that you can start a relationship with them.

Retention Marketing is directed at strengthening the already existing relationship that you have with your clients, so that they have absolutely no desire to leave the warm, cozy comforts of you, your practice team, and your practice. It is based upon ongoing communication and education with a We care attitude.

Referral Marketing bridges both Acquisition and Referral Marketing, because it seeks to acquire new clients by tapping into the relationships that you have with your already existing client base.

The Cost Benefit Ratios of 21st Century Marketing

As it stands, not every veterinary practice has a budget and for those that do have a budget, a line item for marketing/advertising and promotion is frequently rolled into other areas.

In marketing it is very easy to say something didn't work, if you don't make tangible measures of where you were before the marketing began, and even more detailed measures while you are involved with your marketing programs. If you think you don't do enough dentals, do you know how many you currently do? How many more do you want to be doing? What is the plan to get there? If you don't know where you are and you don't know where you want to be, it is impossible to create a marketing plan to get you there.

You've heard it before but it bears repeating - If you don't measure it, you can't manage it! So, before, during, and after marketing you need:

 A budget

 A starting point

 An ending point

Acquisition Marketing is expensive. In the past, it has involved newspaper ads, radio spots, big telephone book ads, coupons, etc. You pay for 1000s and hope for 10s in return. In many cases, it is unpredictable and requires giving something away to get action. The relationship that occurs at the first visit will start out superficial at best and will take more work to strengthen. Many 'customers' acquired via acquisition marketing never become clients.

Retention Marketing is directed at relationship building and strengthening. Through the use of various communication tools and education, your existing client bonds are tightened.

The emphasis on marketing in this case is through more personal media such as letters, e- mails, telephone, postcards. It may include some less personal touches such as newsletters and health alerts. The financial return for these education and communication pieces is significantly higher than in acquisition marketing sometimes reaching a $10 return for every dollar invested. And the return fully strengthens the relationship.

Referral Marketing is also directed at building and strengthening a relationship. And, when done correctly, the relationship already has a foundation provided by an existing client. Thus, the work needed to build the relationship is much less than working with someone that doesn't come in already prescreened by one of your clients. Referral Marketing clients are some of your best clients and routinely come at a very low price. The price may be as simple as recognition of the referring client or may be more complex. In any case, Referral Marketing routinely has a very high return on both time and money.

The Long Haul

If you expose people to your message frequently, regularly and through multiple media, you develop awareness of your brand. Do this long enough and your brand becomes part of their long-term memory, part of their world!

You get the best results from your marketing when you focus on building awareness and credibility for your brand over the long term. The more people know you and trust you, the more they will want to do business with you.

Final point: For marketing to be successful, plan to be in it for the long haul. If we use the metaphor of marketing and relate it to vaccinations and the immune response, one shot is usually not enough to stimulate the immune system to afford sufficient long-term protection from the disease being vaccinated for. Similarly, marketing is rarely effective as a single shot that has long-lasting impressions on either your clients or your potential clients. In the case of vaccinations, early in the animal's life there is usually a series of shots necessary to provide sufficient immune response to afford a long-term protection, and even then boosters are needed down the road. For marketing, constant exposure, education, and communication (the vaccinations) are needed to provide enough interest and motivation for the client/customer to take action. And then, repeat marketing is needed to keep the front door swinging.

So, think of marketing as constantly educating your clients to the point that they are asking for the products and services that you provide. And after they have been fully educated, telling their friends and family members how great your products and services are.

Maybe thinking about marketing that way will make getting up in the morning and thinking that you have to do some marketing less painful.


Speaker Information
(click the speaker's name to view other papers and abstracts submitted by this speaker)

Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA
PAW Consulting
Irvine, CA, USA

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