A new spin on 6 marketing musts


Your practice is unique. Maybe you offer a service others don't, or maybe you just do it better. But if you don't tell clients why you're so special, they just might miss it. And wouldn't that be a shame?

Your practice is unique. Maybe you offer a service others don't, or maybe you just do it better. But if you don’t tell clients why you're so special, they just might miss it. And wouldn't that be a shame?

Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM

That's really all marketing is—finding ways to turn the spotlight on the things your practice does really well. So think of these six marketing musts as your toolkit for growth. The question for your team is how to make them work for you—or make them work better.

A great ad

Your ad's format will depend on your marketing budget. Simply put, a larger, more colorful ad with pictures costs more. Your clients are pet lovers, so try incorporating cute pet pictures, photos of the doctors or team, and the practice logo. You'll also want to mention the unique services you offer, whether it's the fact you care for pets with hooves, paws, or claws or that you provide fun services from doggie day care to pussycat pedicures.

Cost: Several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the size of the ad, whether you customize it with pictures and colors, and the reach of marketing vehicle you choose. If you buy ads in directories, I recommend paying a little more to be included online as well.

Spin it: OK, so you advertise. Is your ad working for you? Focusing on format will result in a good ad, but placing it to reach your best audience will make it a great ad. Keep in mind, the broadest reach may not always be the best strategy for your practice.

Placement in a large-circulation newspaper may mean a lot of people see your ad, but do these people live close enough to make your practice their choice? In a small town with few clinics, every practice will be competing for every client, so it may make sense to advertise in the paper or periodical that's delivered to every home. But in large, urban areas, smaller, targeted circulars may offer you the audience you're looking for to boost your business or promote a new service. Also visit cafes and convenience stores to see what options they offer for getting your name out in your neighborhood. For example, maybe you can post your business card on a local community board or advertise in the neighborhood flyer.

Business cards

When clients call your practice, do they ask for you by name? Business cards aren't just for doctors. They give clients a direct line to you, so they know who to call if they want to check on Molly while she's boarding or have a question about Molly's dental cleaning. Create business cards for every employee, and include the practice logo, name, address, and contact information.

Cost: $50 and up, depending on whether you choose in-house or professional printing. For in-house printing, contact your usual office supply vendor for the best prices on business card perforated sheets. For professional printing, contact local printers and office supply outlets for bids.

Spin it: Business cards can also be a great way to recognize and reward your team. For example, you can purchase a business card holder (perhaps with the employee's monogrammed initials engraved on the front) and present the cards and the holder as a token of the practice's appreciation. This would make a nice gift at the end of a new team member's introductory period.

Most team members haven't worked at a practice that offers business cards, and they'll be proud to hand them out. Clients will appreciate a direct link to the people who offer their pet care.

Practice brochures

Does your practice boast a bona fide bunny expert? Are you snake-friendly? Clients want to know. Every practice needs a brochure to hand out to new, current, and potential clients. It's true that your brochure should include all of the basics, such as practice name, contact information, hours, a map with location, and doctors' names. But a great brochure will give clients a little more—whether it's biographies of the doctors and team members, highlights of some of the special services you offer, or an explanation of your practice philosophy.

Cost: Professional printing can be costly, so ask for a bid from the vendor that provides your other printing services first. Then shop around. Printing in-house can be less expensive if you've invested in a high-quality printer. With a good printer, the right publishing software, and some high-quality paper, you can fold yourself some nice brochures.

Spin it: Make your practice brochure informative and unique. Keep an eye out for other business brochures and see what catches your eye. Notice paper texture and colors. Some common errors: flowery fonts, too many colors, or low-quality (or no) photos or graphics. You can create an eye-catching handout if you keep it short and offer small, chunky bits of information.

Clinic Web site

Your clients are online, and you should be, too. Pet owners expect to find everything they need on the Web, and this includes directory guidance and general information about your practice. You have a couple of options: Do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you. You'll make this decision based on your experience, time, and the functions you expect from your site.

If you want a simple page that offers the same information as your practice brochure, it may be easy and inexpensive to set up your own site through an Internet provider. If you're dreaming of an interactive site that allows clients to request prescription refills, schedule appointments, and view their pet's medical records, then you'll need an expert.

Cost: $125 a year and up, depending on your site's features.

Spin it: Already have a Web site? Great. Now make it fun. Make it useful. Post pictures of your team members with their biographies. Post pictures of your patients. If you offer high-end boarding, consider Web cams so clients can see Shadow and Boots in real time. It's also a great idea to link to credible sources where your clients can find more information about specific health conditions, pet care, and other important issues, like pet loss.

Educational kits

Develop promotions that target groups of pets, such as puppy and kitten kits, or focus on specific services, such as dental care. Each kit should include a brochure or information from the practice printed on letterhead. You also may recommend a specific diet and include product samples and freebies customized with the practice's name and phone number. Here's a look at some of the items you should include in each packet:

  • Puppy and kitten kits. Offer samples and recommendations for an appropriate diet, and include coupons as an incentive to purchase the products their pets need at your practice. You'll also want to develop personalized clinic handouts about puppy and kitten care with your logo, address, phone number, and Web site. Vaccination information is a must, along with a place to document the dates of each vaccination given. (Also see "Who's That Dog?" Pearls of Practice, on this isuue.) Think ahead and include information about the benefits of spay and neuter procedures as well.

  • Senior wellness kits. Develop a packet for clients with older pets that answers common aging questions. For example, why is it important to schedule baseline blood work with rechecks every six to 12 months? Why is a geriatric diet best now? What signs should clients look for as the pet ages, such as incontinence, limping, and other symptoms of medical problems?

  • Dental kits. This packet should help explain why routine dental care is critical for pets' lifelong health, and you can include samples of dental hygiene products and coupons. If your practice runs a specific promotion for dental care, start handing out these packets a few months ahead of time to encourage clients to schedule appointments. Consider customizing the packet with a bag that features your logo and practice information.

Cost: The cost of your packets will depend on what goes in them, and that will be limited only by your budget and your imagination. The most important ingredient is the information.

Spin it: Create your own themed packages based on your unique clientele. For example, you could develop breeder kits, doggie spa kits—if you can dream it up, you can make it happen. These packets give your team a great way to build awareness about your services and educate clients about their pets' special needs. And you can track your program's success with coded coupons.

Community support

Reach out to pet owners by joining the activities they enjoy with their pets and families. A good place to start: Search the Web for local humane society fundraisers, cat and dog shows, and pet rescue charity events. Many families with pets also have kids, so look for opportunities to appear at career day events and offer tours of your clinic to schools, Scout clubs, and youth groups. Another idea: Consider sponsoring a youth sports team or event.

Cost: $0 and up. In most cases, you can make a huge difference simply by donating your time.

Spin it: Ready to invest a little more time and money? Consider an open house. For example, you might plan an open house around a holiday theme. Rent an Easter bunny costume, borrow a camera, and you're in business. You can feature pet pictures with the bunny. The bunny's little helpers can offer tours of the practice, and you can plan an egg hunt on the practice's front lawn. Be creative. If you think it's fun, it's likely your clients will too.

Marketing is a two-way street. You offer great information about pet care and services clients want, and they give you their business and trust. You're the experts, so make sure clients know about all the ways you can help their pets.

Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, is the hospital manager at Fox Valley Animal Referral Center in Appleton, Wis. Send questions to firstline@advanstar.com

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