Erase the vase: Lets talk Gen Z

June 5, 2019
Hannah Wagle, Associate Content Specialist

They scoff at physical mail and answering the phone. Theyre also going to make up 40% of all consumers by 2020. Heres what you need to know about marketing to your newest generation of veterinary clients, and how you can change your online presence today.

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Let's talk stats real quick. Those belonging to Generation Z were born between 1995 and 2012, and by 2020 they will make up 40% of all consumers. According to a recent report, this new generation is most easily influenced by peers, which means a social media presence is incredibly important for your marketing toolbox. Rather than relying on celebrity backing and advertisements, Gen Z audience members will look to “real” people for advice on what to buy.

Now let's talk literature. Yep. 

You may or may not have read Atonement by Ian McEwan, the famous novel set before, during and after World War II, revolving around a girl named Briony Tallis and her family. If you had to read it for a class, or you just have a penchant for delving into literary themes (or both, if you're a creative writing major like myself), you probably know about the vase filled with wildflowers mentioned throughout the book and the symbolism it presents.

My point is the same point McEwan tried to make in his own novel: A vase is a pretty, upstanding structure keeping pretty things like wildflowers in place to give onlookers a perfect display-and when it's destroyed, it's a mess.

This could all, in essence, be taken and boiled down to one word: authenticity. Take away the vase, and onlookers now have a clear picture of what's happening behind that beautiful façade. It might not be pretty, but it's real, and that's what people today-especially younger generations-want to see more than anything.

It's a conclusion that Danielle Lambert, the founder of Snout School, a marketing and communication-skills consulting business, came to as well, although she left literary references out of it.

“When it comes to younger clients, I think the No. 1 thing that veterinary practices need to focus on is authenticity and having their own unique story,” she told dvm360 over the phone in an exclusive interview. “The Gen Z generation has seen millennials utilize the fake persona internet presence-it's very well-crafted and intentional, but this up-and-coming generation is … well, almost annoyed by that.”

In other words, your new generation of veterinary clients are doing away with curated social media presences. This means worrying about being “on brand” no longer applies-you, in all your glorious imperfection and the experiences that make you who you are, are your brand.

Pick your platform wisely

When it comes to connecting with clients, where you present your clinic is just as important as how you present it. For Gen Z clients, that means using Instagram more than anything else.

“Facebook continues to be very, very relevant in terms of keeping in touch with clients who are maybe in their mid-30s and older,” Lambert says, “but with clients who are younger than that, you really should look at Instagram.”

Lambert's reasoning for this is sound-it's not only their app of choice, but it's a beneficial place for businesses as well.

“The app is really built for business,” she says, “so in terms of conversion [getting clients to take action on something], it's a really powerful tool to have. Post a lot of patient stories, a lot of team member stories and really use that caption space.”

The new ‘kids' on the block

I know, I know. Gen Z clientele seems like such a distant problem, and you're definitely not spending your time social media blogging at your hospital. But you might be surprised at how soon you'll be dealing with this generation, and how beneficial an online presence might be for you and your hospital. Lambert is here to set some things straight.

For starters, you shouldn't be thinking of Gen Z veterinary clients as a problem for the near future. This generation is here-they own pets, and they take those pets to veterinary clinics when they're in need of care.

“The biggest mistake practices are making is thinking that these people don't have buying power,” Lambert says, “because they absolutely do.”

The term “millennial” went from meaning nothing to becoming a blanket term for anyone under the age of 30. And, Lambert says, it's time to change that.

“I'm a millennial,” she says, “and I'm almost 32. And we're still talking about this generation like they're 12 years old. Not to burst your bubble, but we've got a whole new generation to worry about now.”

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This is where your social media presence as a business comes into play. You might not think platforms like Instagram (or even, dare I say, Facebook) matter when it comes to effectively running a veterinary practice, but the truth is they matter now more than ever before. If you think about it, your practice marketing just got upended with the thought of Gen Z customers-they look at email like millennials look at fax machines, they shudder at the thought of flyers or cards in the mail and they'll never answer their phones.

“The needs of millennials are different from Gen Z's,” Lambert explains. “The big difference, to me, is that this upcoming generation is literally not going to know how to communicate with you in these typical ways. A lot of clinics are just now getting functional with Facebook, and, unfortunately, that's just not where they're going to reach this new clientele.”

So what's a veterinary practice to do?

The first thing you and your practice can do is think about interacting with Gen Z clients online.

“Hospitals need to be ready to keep an eye on their Instagram DMs to communicate with their clients privately,” Lambert says. “They also need to know that they don't need to keep this perfect façade of really typical, sure-style marketing.” (Think wildflowers in a vase.)

Lambert says that Gen Z clients, or anyone, really, connect the most with the people and experiences that make up the clinic. What are your beliefs? What gets you, dear veterinary professional, out of bed every morning? It's time to implement more storytelling into your clinic's social media, more about the people who work in the clinic and what goes on in a typical day.

“Traditionally,” Lambert says, “what I'd taught while I was running social media for Dr. Andy Roark was to have a more polished, consistent brand. And, increasingly now, I really lean into telling stories of people who work in your clinic and the patients you see. You don't have to worry about having that perfect photo.”

This all sounds like a mess of new techniques to learn and time spent, right? It's actually easier than you think, and some of it you might already be doing it.

Take texting, for instance: “I don't answer my phone,” Lambert admits. “I had to set a reminder and take my phone off ‘Do Not Disturb' for this phone call. So I think texting for sure is super powerful.”

As someone who also never answers her phone (admittedly, I'm on the younger side of the millennial generation-just before the cut-off and start of Gen Z) and read my text messages from businesses, including the veterinarian. I know this is something that's not only a tool veterinary practices are using, but it's effective.

“You can't argue with the open rates of a text message,” Lambert says. “It's almost always going to be 100%. People open text messages.”

And when a Gen Z client is actually in your clinic, there are little steps you can take that you might already be doing.

Any client is going to want to feel special, and they're going to want their pet to feel special as well: “Make them feel like their pet is Insta-famous and hype them up. It's worked well with clients so far, and this new generation is going to want it too. You need to really honor that bond that exists by making the owner feel as special as possible. Get cute pictures in the waiting room, post them on your own social page and tag the owner.”

When you take the vase away (yes, we're circling back to the beginning), you're left with a puddle and a pile of cut stems. It won't be pretty at first. But that's the glory of working with these new clients-they don't need or even want you to be a perfect picture at all times.

“I truly do think that the biggest thing here is making your internet presence about more than just your clinic,” Lambert says. “It needs to be something that includes your clients, patients and team members, so make something that's really community-driven with a lot of accounts that connect back together. So instead of just having a clinic account, let individual team members branch out and make a presence of their own and highlight the accounts of your clients and their pets. That way, it feels like a community, not just a veterinary practice."

“Listen,” Lambert says, “they're going to want what any veterinary client wants: they're going to want an authentic experience, if not just a little more personalized.”

Editor's note: Psst! Be sure to follow us on Instagram, where we highlight veterinary accounts that we love, share our favorite stories and share fun content in between. 

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