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Common sense, practical answers to key marketing questions (Proceedings)


What is the best way to tell your clients about the new things you do? Which marketing activities are the most effective for your practice? What should you change or stop doing?

What is the best way to tell your clients about the new things you do? Which marketing activities are the most effective for your practice? What should you change or stop doing?

The following 10 questions and answers will help you think through what you're doing, avoid common mistakes and make better marketing choices for growing your practice.

Q-1 What is the single most important decision I can make for my practice?

Location, location, location! A well-located practice has a hard time failing. A good location means:

  • The sign and building have good exposure to passing traffic.

  • There is sufficient parking.

  • It is easy to get to from the road.

  • The building is attractive and inviting.

  • The space is affordable.

  • Moderate competition.

Q-2 How much money should I be spending on Yellow Pages advertising?

After location, your Yellow Pages listing(s) is/are your next most important marketing decision. You can keep your expenses under control by carefully selecting the book(s) you will be in to target attractive areas and by placing your online directory listing with the same company.

Your listing should be visually attractive and stand out from others. Your ad should highlight your location since this will help convenience-oriented pet owners select your practice. Also, advertise any special services you provide, such as exotics, boarding or grooming, and prescription food which can help build traffic for your hospital. Finally, keep it simple. If you are using a display ad, think of it as a mini billboard. It should clearly and succinctly telegraph your message. Make sure to list your web page address in your Yellow Pages listing.

Q-3 Are "on-hold" messages a good idea?

The worst thing you can do is to have nothing play when people are on hold. This makes the wait seem longer and callers may think they've been disconnected. "On-hold" messages make sense because they remind pet owners of things they should be doing for their pets, like heartworm checks, and tell them about new products and services your practice can provide. The best use for on-hold messages is to reach out and touch clients with humor, pet trivia, factoids and news-to-use. This helps bond them with the practice. Use "on-hold" to touch and teach your clients!

Q-4 What's an easy, effective marketing activity for my practice?

An often-overlooked opportunity is to use in-office displays or signs that tie-into seasonal or topical issues. For instance, listing the signs of arthritis in pets can help pet owners recognize symptoms. Anything we can do to help pet owners understand what to look for and what to do is good because the more they know, the more they do for their pets. To make your message even more effective, tie it in with a targeted mailing to clients on the same subject. To make it easier, ask your staff to help. They usually have great ideas!

Q-5 Do I have to be open 24/7 to be competitive?

No. But you do have to be open smart hours: Ask yourself, what are the busiest days of the week at my hospital? What are the busiest times each day? What appointment hours do clients ask for that we don't provide? You may actually find that you can be more productive and work fewer hours if you match the hours you are open to those that are best for your clients. For instance, you may be able to close Fridays at noon if you'll work until 3 PM on Saturdays. You may be able to close on Wednesdays, if you provide early admissions/late discharges on other days in the week.

Q-6 Don't I need a lot of staff to provide good client service?

No. You need a few well-trained, competent, outgoing people. Quality wins over quantity every time. Smart scheduling and training can make your practice run smoothly with fewer people. You can usually afford to pay them more, too, which can make it easier to attract and keep good people.

Q-7 How can I make my reminder cards more effective?

The number-one way to improve reminder cards is to make sure you're sending them on a regular basis and for everything that you should. For instance, do you send reminders for dental or senior pet appointments, lab re-checks to monitor chronic diseases, etc.? The more personalized the card the better: "It's time for Bear's checkup and vaccinations." Finally, always give clients a second chance: If you don't hear from them in two weeks, send a second reminder card. If you don't hear from them after that, call to find out what's wrong!

Q-8 Do we need a practice brochure?

Practice brochures originally came into vogue in the 1980's. At that time, they were little more than brag sheets. If you do a practice brochure today, why not put it online? You can take clients on a tour of hospital, introduce your staff, and explain the services you provide as well as provide quick, easy driving directions to your hospital.

If you choose to provide a print brochure, it should tie into your website and it should be personalized to the pet. Use a folder rather than a brochure so that you fill it with customized information and easily change inserts to keep it up-to-date.

The inside folder cover should show your hospital's name, address and phone number, emergency number, logo and website address. If you have a mission statement, this is a good place to display it. Fill the inside with things that pertain only to that owner and her pet(s). For instance if she only has cats, only give her only cat information. You should also include certain general pieces that talk about your veterinarians and staff, but even these should be inserts so that they can be easily changed and updated.

Q-9 Do I need a practice newsletter?

If a newsletter is done well it can be a very good idea. Make it interesting for clients to learn about the services you provide. Let them know that you provide laser surgery or ultrasound by telling them how you helped one sick little pet. Use pictures and words to tell your pet's story. Clients enjoy learning this way and they will remember little "George's" story because of the emotional connection.

See "on hold" messages for more ideas to include in your newsletter. Also think about collecting client's e-mail addresses so that you can send it them your newsletter online and save postage cost. If you send a paper newsletter, make sure to include your website address and hospital telephone number to make it easy for clients to contact you about something they've read.

Q-10 Do I need to a Web site for my hospital?

Web sites show that you are progressive and they help you attract new clients and provide better service. If you decide to do one, it is best used for these primary purposes

  • To attract new clients

  • To provide information to current clients

  • To improve client service

Make sure that your web page:

  • Reflects well on you and is visually engaging, it is the "window" to your practice

  • Is well-organized and easy to navigate

  • Shows your hospital telephone number and area code on every page

  • Provides an easy-to-find map and directions to the hospital

  • Solves a problem – such as providing the information sought (often your location!) or the ability to request a prescription or diet refill

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