One of my favorite books on marketing and branding is Seth Godin’s Purple Cow. The book is about creating marketing stories that show the public how you are “remarkable” i.e. the purple cow in a field of brown cows. Not only do you show you are different, but you also reach only the people interested in purchasing purple cows.
Before you go painting your office purple keep in mind this is just a metaphor for being distinguishable from others in your same business. I think this is a daily struggle for many veterinary practices.
Anyone with the letters, DVM, after their name is assumed to have the same skill set and knowledge as all other DVM’s (or VMD’s) by the often grossly uninformed public. Let’s face it, every time I ask a group of my students, “Have you ever had a client come to your practice who can’t tell if their dog is male or female?” 100% of them raise their hands “YES”! Shocking I know. Sometimes “Dr. Google” seems to have as much clout as all those years of veterinary education. The question is how to overcome these challenges?
The first thing a practice must do is explore the owner’s vision for the business. Who do you want to be? Try as you might, you cannot be all things to all people. It frustrates you and it frustrates your clients. Then people yell at you…not fun! You must define your practice brand.
I like to start this thought process by creating an “avatar” of your ideal client. How old are they? What do they do for a living? How many kids? How many pets? What is their income level? Where do they live? What do they do socially? What is the pet’s position in the home? Once we have answered these questions, we start to create the practice these people want to visit with their pets.
Also, keep in mind the type of practice you and your team want to work in every day. The mismatch between the medicine you desire to practice and the willingness of your clients to pay for that medicine leads to daily vexation.
Walmart has a very definite brand story… and so does Nordstrom’s. They are on opposite ends of the spectrum but the customers entering the doors know in advance what to expect. I recently asked a new consulting client “who she wanted to be” on this spectrum and her answer was “Target”. That is reasonable. Target too has a strong brand story.
When you decide “who you are” you will start to build your brand story.
If you are going to be Nordstrom’s you will define yourself with a building that impresses to staff well trained in client service and veterinary knowledge. Everything from the art on the walls to the magazines in the lobby will be carefully chosen to be in alignment with your brand. Time, Newsweek, Veranda and Architectural Digest will grace your magazine racks. Your team will wear logo embroidered uniforms. Your handouts, report cards, and even sympathy and thank you cards carry your logo. You will have a client communication tool like VitusVet that allows your busy clients to communicate with you for refills, appointments or even texting questions through your landline (because it is already programmed in their phone). You will push out notifications to your clients to remind them to give meds, etc. You will forward book appointments because busy people want us to help them juggle overcommitted schedules with time savers. Your appointments will be longer because attention must be paid to not only the pet but the owner. These clients may also only be satisfied with” Doctor” visits rather than tech appointments since they tend to want to see the “big cheese”. They refuse to see their human PA too so don’t feel bad. You will commit to being on time since your “avatar” is a successful, busy person who will not tolerate wasted time.
But what about the Target client? We define the office with a clean, uncluttered appearance. We market pricing as reasonable but of good quality. We leverage techs because we have to see more visits for people who are a little tighter with their ability to pay and tech visits help us expand our ability to do so. Client service is a focus and connections are made. An app makes the volume of calls go down so the front desk can focus on educating phone shoppers and encouraging clients to come. The practice can also push out education through newsletters and their app. Doctor time in rooms is more limited because the appointments must move faster with higher volume.
Our higher volume Walmart practice will limit doctor time with clients and in some cases, the client will never see the veterinarian. Pricing is kept low and the expectations of the clients are in keeping with the fees. Speed is the norm. Waiting is not atypical. Often these practices will only offer basic wellness care, turfing more complex cases to other practices. The team may dress in scrubs of their choosing, the building sparer, and utilitarian, the marketing message would even include “low cost” in the text. Apps help here to leverage very busy staff time to the max in responding to client appointment requests, etc. We can also push out ‘specials” and deals if desired through the app.
You can see how defining your practice plays a role in every decision made.
When we flounder and allow happenstance rather than a specified plan to define our practice we are doomed to exasperation on multiple fronts. Your brand determines who you hire, the medicine you practice, the products you purchase and the people who walk in your door. Take the time to create a brand story and then let it be the “north star” of your business decisions. Everyone wins.
If you need help with building your brand story please reach out to Debbie Boone-2 Manage Vets Consulting, LLC. For help with social media contact Cheyanne Flerx at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: I am paid for advisory services by VitusVet and accepted this position because I like their client communication tool so much.