How to develop a marketing plan for your veterinary practice

November 5, 2020
Shawn P. Messonnier, DVM
Shawn P. Messonnier, DVM

Shawn P. Messonnier, DVM, owns Paws & Claws Holistic Animal Hospital in Plano, Texas, and serves on the dvm360 Editorial Advisory Board. He has written multiple books on marketing as well as holistic veterinary medicine.

Volume 115, Issue 11

A marketing plan is simply a blueprint for what you want to accomplish and how you will do it.

Marketing involves finding out what pet owners want and devising and executing a plan to fulfill that need. Marketing tactics can be external (with the goal of bringing new clients to your practice) or internal (in which, the goal is introducing current clients to existing or new products or services). External marketing tends to cost more than internal marketing because it often involves some type of paid advertising.

Essential components of a marketing plan

Ideally, every marketing plan should include the following components in written form. Putting your plan in writing helps you focus on your goals, facilitates understanding and evaluation of the plan, helps ensure implementation, and gets the entire staff involved.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume your goal is to do more dental cleanings. This is an internal marketing plan because all aspects are completed by your team. But regardless of what you want to accomplish for your hospital, the marketing plan components outlined here will serve you well.

Objective

Your marketing objective must be specific and measurable. Simply “doing more dental cleanings” is not a measurable goal. In this example, performing 1 more cleaning per day is a measurable and attainable goal.

Target audience

The target audience for your marketing messages is usually either existing or new clients, depending on your objective. In this case, targeting existing clients whose pets have periodontal disease makes the most sense. Targeting prospective clients involves a separate external marketing plan.

Competition

In general, your competitors are other veterinary practices within a 5- to 10-mile radius of your clinic. Although it seems like most procedures and services can be “shopped” by pet owners, and some practices in your area may offer lower dental fees, clients who are loyal to your practice likely won’t shop around.

Budget

Your budget, or the cost of implementing your plan, is a major factor in identifying a marketing strategy. Ideally, you should set aside a certain sum annually for marketing, and this is where that money is spent. In this example, your budget is $10 for printing 100 client handouts. Keep in mind that this figure does not include costs for staff time spent planning and running the program.

Strategy, timing, and execution

Your strategy is what you will do to accomplish your marketing objective. In this example, your practice manager and/or an associate veterinarian will create a 1-page handout explaining why it is important to treat dental disease in pets. Technicians will give the handout to pet owners during wellness visits after reviewing each pet’s oral health.

The timing is how long it takes to execute your strategy and how long it will run, and execution involves who will oversee the plan and how it will be accomplished. Here, the plan starts 1 week after distribution of handouts begins. The practice technicians will recommend forward-booking dental treatments at time of the wellness appointment. If no appointment is booked, they will send a follow-up communication (call, text, or email) 1 week later, and again 3 weeks after that for those who have not booked a dental appointment.

This marketing plan will be executed over 3 months to its test effectiveness. For some plans, the timing is open-ended. In this example, if the strategy is effective and you reach or exceed your goal, you may choose to continue using the strategy indefinitely.

Measuring effectiveness and return on investment

The practice manager will keep track of every dental cleaning completed for 3 months and determine whether there has been an increase based on this marketing strategy.

Calculate your return on investment (ROI), or how much money you earn as a result of your efforts, based on net profit (money earned minus amount budgeted). ROI can be determined daily, weekly, monthly, or annually, depending on the timeline for your plan and how much effort you want to expend. In this case, it makes sense to measure ROI monthly.

Because the objective in this marketing plan is specific, it can be measured easily to determine whether it was effective in reaching your goal. If you don’t achieve your goal, review it to determine whether it was truly attainable. If it is a worthy goal, you may need to increase your budget or change your strategy, timing, or execution.

In this scenario, if you book just 1 additional dental cleaning in the next 3 months (an obvious failure, based on the stated goal), and your average fee per cleaning is $400, you have still made an extra $390 ($400 for the 1 extra cleaning minus the $10 for handout printing, again not including staff time to implement and run the plan). Although this is a poor response, the practice still earns a net profit because the plan is inexpensive to institute.

Getting started

Now, here’s your homework. Within the next week, come up with a plan for marketing a service your practice provides. Talking with your staff about potential marketing efforts is important, because marketing is a team effort that likely will require more effort on their part than on yours. But when you focus on the needs of your patients and clients, and map out a solid plan that incorporates the benefits, you’ll soon begin to improve the quality of care you provide while also boosting your bottom line.

Shawn P. Messonnier, DVM, owns Paws & Claws Holistic Animal Hospital in Plano, Texas, and serves on the dvm360 Editorial Advisory Board. He has written multiple books on marketing as well as holistic veterinary medicine.

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