Marketing ideas to boost equine business
The last four years have been a real downer for veterinarians—especially equine practitioners. Practices are reducing their workforce (both doctors and support staff) because of the lack of consistent business. Clients are feeling the pinch because they have less disposable income, plus it’s costing more to maintain their horses before veterinary services are calculated into the annual cost. These factors all make for the perfect storm. But there are a few survival techniques we can use in these tough times.
The short list of these techniques are perseverance, positive attitudes, and taking advantage of the opportunity to position you and your practice to be on the top of every horse owner’s mind as the economy busts out of its doldrums. Yes, it seems counter-intuitive to talk about marketing during a down economic time, but as Henry Ford once said: “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”
Just a few years ago equine veterinarians thought it was enough to market their products or services to the 18- to 49-year-old age bracket. That general approach is a thing of the past. Because the consumer marketplace has become so differentiated, it's a misconception to talk about the marketplace in any kind of general way anymore. Now, you have to decide whether to market to socioeconomic status or to gender or to region or to lifestyle or to technological sophistication. There’s no end to the number of different ways you can slice the pie. So, the question is: What is your target market and how are you going to reach them?
One way to hone in on a specific sector of the horse world is to become an established resource in one area or niche. Years ago, Starbucks elected to be an authority in the marketplace. The company was able to charge premium prices for its coffee even while also selling pastries, tea, and accessories. They continue to be the business that other coffee companies attempt to emulate. If you’re an expert in your field, your clients will pay the price for your services and products. Build up credibility by offering information through your company’s website or blog, such as tips, industry insights, or niche data that will help consumers think of you as a reliable expert in that area. The concept of giving away excellent information for free can have a positive twist for your practice and your credibility as an expert.
Clients may feel the value received from free tidbits of knowledge is a precursor to what they will receive when they pay for your service. How do others strategize during the slow economic recovery? Bob Magnus, DVM, of Wisconsin Equine Clinic & Hospital in Oconmowoc, Wis., says, “The more defined and focused campaigns have been the most successful and cost effective for us. You really need to plan and be careful—understanding your audience is crucial.” The more you can define your market and plan to meet their needs the more successful your efforts will be. Dr. Magnus gave examples for measuring the success of his marketing campaign, which included measurements of gross sales, the increase in new customer acquisition, the increase in the average invoice transaction dollar value, and event-specific metrics.
With all marketing you need to define and track your success. This means creating metrics or measurements to determine if you are achieving your goal from your marketing plans. Erica Lacher, DVM, of Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Fla., has found a few marketing ideas that are working for her. “Client education seminars and partnering with other local businesses has worked,” she says. She’s thrown a Kentucky Derby party for wellness clients, put up banners and booths at local festivals, and plans to partner with a local feed store. She also notes that the practice blog, an extension of the website, has improved ratings and has struck a chord with clients. In 2013, Dr. Lacher is planning on a new referral program for new clients. To participate, when an existing client refers a new client to the practice, her name will be placed in a hat and the practice draws one winner to receive a gift certificate to the local feed store.
Whether it is from educational meetings, social media, booths, or from one-on-one discussions with clients, put these marketing ideas to work. The key is to have a plan, be persistent, measure success, and give your marketing efforts time to grow and produce new or more knowledgeable clients. Invest in your future success by marketing your best asset—you.