Internet marketing for the new generation of pet owners (Proceedings)

Article

The days of marketing your veterinary practice solely through the Yellow Pages, word of mouth or local newspapers are over.

The days of marketing your veterinary practice solely through the Yellow Pages, word of mouth or local newspapers are over. At least they are over if you want to attract the new generation of pet owners!

Who is this new generation of pet owners and what do they look like? As far as demographics go, they're young, in their 20s and 30s, and live in major cities and urban areas. While they're married or in long-term relationships, most don't have children, and dual household incomes mean they have plenty of disposable cash to spend on their pets. These pet owners stand out in two areas: technological savvy and devotion to their pets.

The internet has been a way of life for the new generation of pet owners for more than 10 years. They're digital natives, just as at home on the web as they are in their own backyard. Equipped with cell phones connected to the internet, there are only a few hours each day these pet owners aren't online, even if they're not at home. They use the web for everything, from sharing photos with friends and family to buying movie tickets and making restaurant reservations.

Most of all, this new generation of pet owners is devoted to their pets. They view their pets as members of the family and want the best of everything for their best friends. Whether they are married, single, in a committed relationship, with or without children, they have plenty of disposable income to spend on their animal companions. These pet owners do not hesitate to pamper their pets with expensive toys, premium foods and professional services like grooming and doggy daycare. When looking for the best veterinarian for their pet, the internet is the first, and often only, place these pet owners look.

This new generation of pet owners uses the web to research veterinary medical information, find the best food for their pets, connect with other pet owners and, yes, look for a veterinarian. If you are not on the web, these potential new clients are not going to find you. The good news is that the web has made marketing your practice to this new generation of pet owners easier than ever. Social networking sites, blogs, and other web applications give you the power to reach out directly to new clients and add a whole new personal dimension to your practice's marketing plan.

Websites

Setting up a website is no longer an option - it's a requirement. The general public has come to rely on the web for information on everything and your clients are no different. They expect you to have a modern, professional-looking website with up-to-date and interesting information.

Your website is often the first and only glimpse that a prospective client has into your hospital. It is a reflection of who you are and represents the medicine you practice. If your website's message is not consistent with your practice image and philosophy, potential clients may get the wrong message. If your website is mediocre, difficult to use or full of outdated information, potential clients will walk away with a negative first impression of your practice.

Just having a good website is not enough. Your website must be maintained and updated on a regular basis. The information in your website needs to be current and visitors need to be able to access this information easily. If you provide a library of medical articles, new articles need to be added on a regular basis and existing articles need to be updated periodically. The new generation of pet owners expects you to have a key-word search box for locating medical articles. If you provide a shopping cart to sell products online, you must stand behind your products and make sure the cart is user-friendly.

Your website isn't "about" your company; it's an extension of your company. If it's unprofessional, you're unprofessional. If it's cluttered, you're cluttered. If it's hard to work with, you're hard to work with. By contrast, if it's well-designed, easy to use and professional, so are you. Your website creates a powerful first impression on potential clients and most veterinary hospital websites do not do their practices justice.

Email Newsletters

The new generation of pet owners is constantly connected to the internet and has almost continuous access to their email. They sign up regularly for various email newsletters and rely on them as a source of valuable information. Shouldn't you be sending them a newsletter to help them keep up with the latest developments in veterinary medicine and the new services and products that you offer?

An email newsletter drives traffic to your website, attracts new clients, and increases loyalty among your existing client base. It's also a fast, cost-effective way to communicate the latest hospital news, pet care and medical tips, and information about new services to current and prospective clients.

If you worry that your clients do not want to receive another email newsletter, you are wrong. According to a recent US survey, most adults that regularly use the internet absolutely do welcome such communications – provided they come from a familiar source. By communicating with your clients and sharing useful information with them, you build a bond of trust.

The basic premise behind an email newsletter is simple: by sending clients or potential clients a regular newsletter, you keep your business fresh in their minds. Sending out a monthly newsletter may be out of the question; however, a seasonal or quarterly newsletter is certainly manageable. The key is to consistently distribute a newsletter full of engaging content about your clients' pets and your hospital.

Social Networks

Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn are three of the most popular social networking sites on the internet. There are dozens of other networking sites, but Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn are the most popular. Facebook estimates it has more than 124 million members, while MySpace boasts more than 246 million users. LinkedIn, a relative newcomer to the social networking scene, focuses primarily on business and professional networking and currently has more than 36 million members worldwide. You may not realize it, but your clients, employees and colleagues are all among those millions of members. So are millions of other pet owners.

Social networking is all about building connections between friends, clients, and colleagues. Facebook and MySpace are excellent tools for connecting with your clients. In turn, this connects you with other pet owners in your area and potential clients who may be searching for a new veterinarian.

Each site allows you to create and customize a profile with all of your contact information. You can also post photos and videos of your practice, maintain a blog, start discussions on message boards and send out notices and event invitations to members of your network. When it comes to social networking, the key is to remain active. Search for new friends, post new content on your page at least once a week and be sure to let clients know how to find you on the web.

Blogging

Maintaining a blog is an excellent way to stay connected with your clients about medical information and hospital events. Sharing a hospital blog with clients is like "pulling back the curtain" and shows existing and potential clients what daily life at your hospital is like. Setting up a blog is fast, easy and free – Blogger, TypePad and WordPress are all great, user-friendly services that can get you blogging in just a few minutes.

Like Facebook and MySpace, frequent updates with fresh content are just as important as the initial set up. There are no limits to what you can post on your blog, from a brief notice about recent cases you've seen to photos of clients and their pets. Share a link to your blog with your clients, post a link on your Facebook and MySpace page and search out and comment on other blogs. New content keeps users coming back and keeps your practice fresh in their minds.

Twitter, Feeds and More

The web is full of other marketing and networking tools, all of which integrate with your blog and social network accounts. Sites like Twitter, Delicious, Digg and Reddit are simple, easy ways to share and discuss notes, updates and interesting articles with clients. Attracting new followers on these sites helps your internet presence grow.

How Internet Marketing Helps Your Hospital

By using blogs, social networking sites and other internet marketing tools, you can reach out directly to current and potential clients and give them a personal introduction to your veterinary hospital. As an added benefit, search engines such as Google and Yahoo turn toward Facebook, MySpace, blogs and other sites for search results. The new generation of pet owners wants as much information about your practice as possible. A strong internet marketing campaign draws potential clients away from their computers and into your practice.

All sections in the presentation will include PowerPoint slides with examples as well as easy instructions and information for setting up your hospital's website, newsletter, social networking sites and blogs.

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