8 Marketing Trends Vets Cannot Ignore in 2017

Historically, being the only vet in the area was enough to ensure the phone never stopped ringing. Since the rise of the corporate giants, it’s more important for independent practices to own their marketing.

The competition is more fierce than ever, and I’m led to believe customers are not as loyal as they were twenty or thirty years ago. As the internet becomes more readily accessible, it’s simple for pet owners and farmers to cherry-pick products and services. They might get their annual vaccinations in one spot, their medicine from online and they’re professional advice elsewhere. So how do we build that relationship with customers?

Below are some tools to utilise for 2017. Note, this post will benefit those more with a grasp on the basics of marketing, but if it’s completely alien to you, I would still encourage reading on. I have put together a list of practical tips (bottom) for those of you who haven’t the time to read the entire post.

You will notice that all eight marketing trends are related to digital. Many vets have successfully harnessed the power of the worldwide web, but others continue to be intimidated by it. Unfortunately, it’s no longer possible to hide from social media, sponsored advertising, SEO… the internet has the full attention of your current and future customers. It’s time to buckle up and get involved!

The line between digital marketing and other areas has blurred; it plays a hand in the promotion of services at all levels. No one is expecting every vet to be a social media guru, but it’s good practice to be aware of the latest trends. Or at the very least, accept the continual importance of online marketing and hiring somebody to help (or encouraging an employee with an interest).

As budgets go, I don’t believe more money necessarily means more return. A lean budget can challenge you to ‘trim the fat’, focus on what works, and avoids waste. What am I getting at; if your marketing budget is limited this post is still for you (it’s probably more relevant). A small practice has several advantages when it comes to an effective marketing strategy, most importantly the ability to move fast. Hopefully, more of this will become more relevant as you read on. I would love to hear your opinions. What have I missed? Any advice for fellow readers? Feel free to share and get in touch.

1. Customer Experience

This begins long before a client sets foot in your practice or has a visit from a vet. Customer experience starts the moment a customer interacts with your business online.

To not have a website that operates smoothly in 2017 is unforgivable.

We’re not going to go into this in too much detail, but if your landing page is clunky, difficult to navigate and not mobile-responsive, what does this say about you as a business? You can use sites like Wix or Squarespace now to make an attractive homepage. Or if it’s more cost-effective, hire a website developer.

The word ‘Personalisation’ will play a prominent role in 2017. Experienced online users can recognise a sales pitch a mile away. Find ways to customise your communication to your customers using data and the tools discussed. For a smaller outfit, this can be a killer advantage. One idea could be to document a pet’s time in the hospital for routine visits, to keep the owner informed. They use using personalised videos in other sectors to build customer trust and satisfaction. See it for yourself, click here.

‘Automation’ will be another word hear a lot this year, but for a good reason. Automated systems are convenient for your customer, but they can free time and prove financially rewarding. Most commonly used in email marketing for sending tailor-made emails, but other mediums exist such as treatment notifications and customer reminders.

Personally, I believe online booking systems are underutilised. The increased custom from overnight appointment scheduling must be significant. Not only this, it takes the pressure off the phones during the day and is an additional feather in your cap.

Another example is the ‘chatbot’. This is a computer program designed to stimulate conversation with human users. It might be a bit advanced for the small business, but even manual chat (if implemented properly) is fantastic. Rather than being kept on hold or waiting days for an email response, many companies have adopted ‘instant chat’. Not only limited to administrative help, some hospitals now use it to provide professional advice, as ‘telemedicine’ continues to grow.

2. Native Advertising

‘Native advertising’ is when sponsored ads are in-keeping with the environment they sit in. The most well-known online example is Google Adwords. However, Facebook Ads has surpassed it in value due to the network’s powerful targeting features. It also has automated messenger tools as well as the shop section to showcase any products you may sell.

A little can go a long way on Facebook. If you take anything from this post, I urge you to have a play with paid advertising using this platform. You can also advertise using Instagram, but I would imagine in 2017 Facebook will prove more beneficial for veterinary businesses. Click here to find out more.

3. Content Marketing

Content marketing is the strategic creation and distribution of information to attract a target audience. Content marketing continues to be a major player for many businesses, as it has been over the last three years. Such examples include articles, blogs, email newsletters, but visual content is set to take centre stage. Watch out for a lot more images, videos and infographics fighting for attention online.

The rules for content marketing are changing. Short blog posts will lose out to more in-depth articles. This will affect how your website ranks in search engines (research SEO for more information). The need for more ‘immersive’ content marketing is paving the way for augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR). Interestingly, I came across Holovet, recently launched by the Webinar Vet. Utilising AR and VR to optimise CPD training, pretty exciting stuff. Click here to find out more.

Anyway, I digress.

Back to content marketing, consistency is key. This relates to branding, timing and your message. A good tip for implementing a content marketing strategy is to lay down a top-line theme and work from there.

Examples could be ‘Ask Our Vets Anything Thursdays’ where you answer clients online queries every week. Or ‘This Month’s Top 3 Tips from Dr Smith’ that arrive once a month by email. The options are endless. If you’re not creative, somebody in your practice will be. Set them a task of coming up with an idea.

Be aware, a close second to ‘consistency’ is ‘value’. Your content has to provide value to those who view/read it, give your following the opportunity to engage, relate and feedback. It’s all about storytelling, it’s human nature to eat that stuff up.

4. Livestreaming

The thought of streaming a recording live online will turn the stomachs of most. But through Facebook Live and Periscope, this will continue to grow in popularity. But you could be doing the hard work already. If you host training for farmers or pet-owner information evenings, why not set up your smartphone and stream the event live? You’d look pretty nifty offering this added service.

5. Influencer Marketing

I know a lot of vets who already do this well, but haven’t quite realised how valuable this form of marketing continues to be. Collaborating with a local key opinion leader could be a prime promotional opportunity. Have a local politician who brings their Bichon-Frise to you for regular check-ups? Or maybe a retired sports personality whose just had his Angus herd TB-tested? Why not ask if they would mind a quick photo, or even better a short article or blog?

Not lucky enough to have an animal-loving celeb on the books? Identify the types of people who have same values as your brand and reach out to them. They don’t necessarily have to be famous, just well-respected in the community. Ask them to come along and unveil your new ultrasound scanner, or promote the great work you do with a rehoming charity? Local media love these stories, and it’s good PR for your practice and is often free.

6. Get an Awesome Video

This ties back into the importance of content marketing; visual content is key to keeping the attention of visitors to your website. I know from personal experience if I land on a page full of text, I tend to scan read and leave. This process will take less than a few seconds. If there is the option to watch a video with good audio and visual messaging it will hold my attention for a lot longer, even a few minutes!

It’s something you can do yourself, but I would invest in a local film company that will do the whole shebang to a professional standard. Shop around, ask for quotes, be clear what you are looking for and compare the work of different agencies. Most waiting rooms have a television now, where the video can also be incorporated.

7. Be Different

Nothing beats originality. Be creative, be different and have fun. Ideas: give all your farmers an aerial photo of their farm, open a drive-thru window for prescription medicines, paint your hospital glow-in-the-dark (easy to find during out-of-hours) … I don’t know, anything!

Vanilla is boring, do something to stand out.

8. Snapchat and Instagram Moments

I haven’t come across any vet practice that has employed the use of Snapchat or Instagram Moments. A daily upload from behind the scenes could be a method for engaging your most loyal clientele. Maybe it’s a bit too early to adopt, but it will take off in the vet-customer arena so why not be ahead of the curve. It’s free, you’ve got nothing to lose.

Practical tips

  • Start using Facebook advertising.
  • Be consistent content marketing; storytelling and providing value will build an engaged audience.
  • If you host regular events, stream them on Facebook Live or Periscope.
  • Promote partnerships with influencers.
  • Get a professional to make you a promotional video.
  • Try different things; vanilla is boring.
  • Open a Snapchat account.