What Luke Skywalker has to do with veterinary practice marketing

Vetted, Vetted June 2020, Volume 115, Issue 6

To reel in new veterinary clients—and turn them into loyal customers—you must appeal to their hidden “hero.”

If yours is like thousands of veterinary practices, this is the essence of your marketing: “Welcome to ABC Animal Hospital. We are a full-service veterinary facility. We provide preventive care, spay/neuter services, parasite control and more. Give us a call!”

Although these statements are accurate, they actually accomplish very little. This messaging reaches the cortex of your audience’s brain—the logical, linguistic region—but it fails to reach the limbic brain, the part that makes us feel something.

We in the veterinary industry often miss the mark when it comes to marketing: We don’t face communication strategies with the same intellectual rigor as we do our clinical duties.

By the end of this article, you will learn how to market your practice in a fundamentally new way. Afterward, your messaging might sound something like this: “She’s there for you when life is hard. She’s there for you when work is stressful. She’s there for you when you need a friend. Now, you get to be there for her. Give us a call, and let’s protect her together.”

The secret

Some eighty years ago, literature professor Joseph Campbell began to see a pattern in works of fiction. Publication of his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in 1949 forever changed the world of literature and mythology. Campbell discovered that there is a hidden story structure, an archetype, that can be found in virtually all stories we tell. It’s called “the hero’s journey.” You can see it throughout our world today (take Game of Thrones for a pop culture example).

This hero’s journey is a powerful tool and the secret behind Apple’s and Nike’s success. It’s actually quite simple: There is a well-worn structure that you can begin incorporating right now to create closer and more meaningful bonds with clients, furnish brand advocates and referrals, help more pets, increase your practice revenue and build a more empowered company culture.

Breaking it down

There are six primary components to the hero’s journey as it applies to marketing: A character has a problem and meets a guide who shows him a path and calls him to action, resulting in transformation. Let’s dig deeper.

The character

Almost every company markets the same way: They brag and boast about how amazing their products and services are. You’ll notice that Apple and Nike don’t follow that approach. They tell a story about their customer’s hopes, dreams, fears and aspirations. The No. 1 lesson about the power of storytelling is that you must flip the script. You are not the hero, your customer is.

The problem

When Luke Skywalker flew his X-wing skyfighter down those narrow corridors, using the Force to guide his missiles and blow up the Death Star, you probably experienced a significant emotional release. Why? The three layers of the problem had been building up throughout the entire Star Wars movie.

The first layer is external, a logistical problem. For Luke, it was the Evil Empire killing his aunt and uncle, and threatening the way of life in the galaxy. The internal layer—Luke’s questioning whether he is good enough to be a Jedi—is far more interesting.

The internal layer is always related to self-doubt and fears of inadequacy. In fact, this is probably why there is one dominant archetype in storytelling. It’s an allegory for our most basic of fears: We all just want to feel good enough, to know that we aren’t inadequate.

The third layer is philosophical. It pertains to how the hero’s struggle relates to morality and justice. In Luke’s journey, the question was whether good would triumph over evil.

You can see evidence of this theme throughout the movie. When Luke shot those missiles, he eviscerated the Evil Empire and proved that he was good enough to be a Jedi. In the end, good triumphed over evil. The layers of the problem were resolved in an instant, which is why you experienced such a profound emotional reaction while watching.

When a veterinary practice markets itself, it typically speaks to the external layer of a potential client’s problem: I need veterinary care for my pet. But the internal layer of the problem is far more important: Am I doing right by my pet? Do I deserve the intense love they have for me? And the philosophical layer is almost never mentioned: the importance of the bond that humans and animal share. This bond means everything to so many pet owners.

The guide

We instinctively look for guides in life—a teacher, parent or coach who encourage us to believe in ourselves. This is what you must become. Helping a hero address their internal problem is a powerful, sacred role. For Luke, that helper was Yoda. For pet owners, it’s you.

In my job running a web design and marketing company, we use the hero’s journey strategy every day. I have learned a few things about how to unearth what makes a particular guide special and how to see the heart and soul of a veterinary practice. My advice to you would be to get your entire team together (founders, veterinarians, technicians, client service representatives … everyone), lock the doors for 90 minutes, and come up with answers to these questions:

  • What, at its core, makes this practice special?
  • What are we most proud of?
  • What do we find most meaningful?
  • What resonates with our clients?

The best answers will demonstrate two qualities: empathy and authority.

The path and the call

The hero must have a clear path to walk. For Luke, that path was Jedi training. For pet owners, it’s forming a relationship with you. Tell them exactly what to expect ahead of time—how the appointment will work, how your team is uniquely equipped to care for them, and what the follow-up care and time between visits will be. And you must call them to action.

Let’s revisit the example used earlier in the article: “She’s there for you when life is hard. She’s there for you when work is stressful. She’s there for you when you need a friend. Now, you get to be there for her. Give us a call, and let’s protect her together.”

This works well because it’s a powerful call to action for the hero. It speaks to our inner emotional life and lays bare the significance of this relationship.

Transformation

The world is different to a hero. A hero’s life will never be perfect, but they will feel capable, unburdened by self-doubt and empowered to do what they must. Paint a picture for pet owners that shows how working with you will have a positive impact on their relationship with their pet as well as on their own emotional wellbeing, and make clear other logistical and emotional benefits you can achieve together.

Next steps

Open up a journal or a Word document and begin writing down the major themes of your practice’s “hero journey.” Then include it on your website’s home page, in your social media strategies, in your print marketing and everywhere else. Once you do, your marketing will reach the limbic brain of potential customers instead of merely the cortex.

You might not attract every pet owner in the world, but you will attract the right ones. After all, your customers are the heroes. You’ll just help them care for their pets like one.

Robert Sanchez is the founder and CEO of Digital Empathy, an award-winning web design and marketing firm for veterinary practices. He frequently lectures at national conferences, leads a team of wonderful employees, sits on the board of VetPartners, and shares his home with two very spoiled dogs—Cole and Lula.

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