If you market, they will come
EFFECTIVE MARKETING FOCUSES on your clients, not on your practice. So to develop marketing strategies that work, you need to know how existing and potential clients perceive your practice, what they want from a veterinarian, and what factors they consider when choosing a practitioner. Then and only then can you turn your thinking to the tactics that you'll use—such as telephone-directory advertising and event sponsorships—to tell the community what you offer.
"You wouldn't treat a patient before doing an exam and performing necessary diagnostics," says Linda Wasche, founder and president of LW Marketworks Inc. in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. "Running an ad before you've done the background research is like saying, 'Let's try this antibiotic' before you've looked at Fluffy." Plus, when you know what message to send to clients and how best to reach them, the decisions about where to spend marketing dollars become much easier.
If you put off marketing efforts, the costs may be one excuse you give. Yet you don't need to spend an exorbitant amount, says Wasche. Your budget will depend on what you want to achieve.If you've set your sights on aggressive growth, then you'll be looking at a higher price tag to accomplish your goals. But if you just want to strengthen your practice, you can get away with a smaller investment, she says.
Not having enough time to think through your approach is another common excuse for giving your marketing strategy short shrift, says Rebecca Hart, an accredited public relations professional and co-founder of http://TheVetZone.com/. "But like any area in life, you make time for what's important to you," she says.
Wasche agrees that making time for marketing is worth the effort. "Professionals, whether they're physicians, attorneys, or veterinarians, think that because they run an outstanding practice and they're great at what they do, people will come," she says. "But your client can't evaluate the quality of that surgery you performed. Clients decide whether they'll work with you based on other factors."
Getting to know your clients
"You've got to understand what motivates clients and what they want from you. Then deliver what they're looking for. Then you can go tell people about it," says Wasche. "Until you know what makes a client so committed to you that they go tell a friend, you're just putting stuff out there. This doesn't mean you should abandon traditional marketing tools; it means you should find more sophisticated ways to use them."
Wasche recommends this four-step approach to gain a better understanding of your clients:
1. Learn about your market through diagnostics. You want to know the key elements that strengthen your relationships with clients. Sure, you could undertake an extensive survey to find out all you can about your clients, potential clients, and area competitors, but you could also just ask around and gain some insightful data. "You don't need to spend a lot to better understand clients and the local market," Wasche says.
"In any situation, I advocate more pulse-taking than doing huge studies. Sometimes you can get a good idea of what's important to clients by talking to as few as 10 people if you see trends and patterns emerge. Of course, this is absolutely not scientifically reliable, but it gives you an idea of what's going on and will help you make decisions."
For example, she says, you could call current clients and do a short interview. Wasche recently performed this kind of informal research by getting in touch with six horse owners. She asked about how they found their veterinarian, what they wanted in a doctor, what they value about their veterinarian, and so on.