Marketing is a key part of growth and success with any business. As much as we may not agree with the idea that a veterinary practice (or healthcare in general) should be considered a business, we live in a culture where it is, so that's what we have to work with.
As a vet, when you're opening your own practice, you want to market it to your area to draw in patients. After all, no one will bring their animals in for treatment (or ask you for house calls) if they don't know you exist, and while word of mouth is a powerful source of referrals, it's only viable once you have a patient base to get you started.
So, how can you market your veterinary practice in creative, effective ways? Here are ten ideas you can try.
1: Make Use of Local SEO and Content Marketing
Content marketing is, well, what you're reading right now. It's the art and science of creating content like blog posts for the internet, which can be found by your client base, who will then read it, build trust in you, and when they have need of your services, come find you instead of the competition.
Good content marketing for a vet will involve creating a regular flow of content – weekly or biweekly blog posts as a place to start – that meets the needs of your patients.
Identify common issues your patients face, like specific kinds of injuries or illnesses going around, and write about them.
Focus on the kinds of animals you prefer to treat; don't write about horses and cattle just because it's a large niche unless you intend to treat livestock.
Write about and reference elements of local culture. Name-dropping a local dog park where kennel cough has been circulating, a common injury caused by the local hunting culture, or even just the neighborhood names in your content can go a long way toward making your content visible.
Content marketing isn't fast, and it isn't easy. You can consider hiring a content marketing firm to handle it for you or hiring local marketers to work on your behalf. Over time, it will snowball into a powerful resource for your area, bringing in plenty of trust and new clients.
2: Claim Business Listings
Whenever you search for a business or service near you, whether it's an urgent care, a fast food outlet, a hotel, or anything else, you're going to see certain sites pop up time and time again. Yelp, YP, and even Google itself offer these directories. You need to create accounts on each of these sites, claim your business page and listing, and fill out the information on the profile for each. This allows you to have a more robust online presence, aggregate reviews, and ensure proper information about your practice.
In addition to sites like Yelp, focus on:
Vet Help Direct
If there are any city-level, county-level, or state-level directories you can get into as well, do it. These are all great places to boost the reputation and availability of your practice and help people know you exist.
3: Create and Promote Useful Marketing Campaigns
Many vets pick a rotating monthly schedule of promotions, often tailored to the region, weather, common problems, and services offered. For example, when ticks are in full swing, promoting discounts on check-ups and anti-tick medications can be useful. In winter, promoting a free doggy coat or cat sweater with new patient sign-ups can be effective.
Giving out products, offering discounts on services, and a variety of other tricks can all be useful to get attention and bring in new patients.
4: Create Compassionate Content
Distinct from content marketing, many vets are starting to promote themselves through compassionate content. This is usually video – TikTok, Instagram, and other social networks are popular platforms – and it showcases heartwarming cases, informational tips and tricks, and other kinds of free information for your patients and potential patients. You don't need to strive to be a national influencer, but if you can build a reputation as a knowledgeable, friendly, compassionate, and skilled veterinarian through weekly video content, you can build a patient base more quickly than you otherwise might.
Content ideas can include:
With permission from the pet owner, show off and talk about a tricky case from a local pet who pulled through. Everyone loves a feel-good story!
PSAs about local issues, like pesticide usage, current epidemics of diseases or parasites, or common safety tips.
Q&A sessions with locals, answering the questions they send in.
There's a lot you can do. Thankfully, it's also easy to look at what other vets on social media are doing and copy their strategies.
5: Offer a Referral Program
Veterinary care isn't a low-impact retail service; it's a frequently high-cost, high-barrier decision that pet owners need to make. Incentivizing making that decision can be beneficial, but the rewards need to be worthwhile. Sign-up bonuses and referral bonuses to the people who tell a new patient about you can go a long way. You might consider things like a free first check-up, a cash bonus, or some kind of relevant discount, depending on how your finances look and how effective a word-of-mouth campaign ends up being for you.
These kinds of programs can be as formal or informal as you want to manage them. Informally, you can just ask people how they heard about you when it's their first time in and reward them for their sign-up. Formally, there are entire software suites you can use for your scheduling system to help track and reward referrals. It's up to you how deep you want to go into it.
6: Hold Regular Photo Contests
Everybody loves cute animals. Holding regular photo contests can be beneficial in a lot of ways. For example, you might be able to use the photos submitted to you for regular mailers, newsletters, and promotional material. You can post them on social media and get engagement from them. You can also get people talking to one another about submitting to the contest or winning it.
Offering a prize can help, though the larger the prize, the less frequently you can hold the contests sustainably. You'll also probably want to restrict submissions to patients; otherwise, you aren't actually incentivizing signing up with you over a competitor.
We also recommend keeping a list of past winners and only letting any given pet win once in a given period, like once a year. Otherwise, the more popular or photogenic pets are likely to sweep the contests over and over, and that doesn't benefit you nearly as much as a wider variety of winners.
7: Work and Partner with Local Agencies
Whether it's local animal control, local spay/neuter-and-release programs for feral animals, local shelters, or other nonprofits, working with local groups can get your name out and build a reputation for you.
You may lose money on the act, but that's fine; the reward is working with the community and building a reputation, which in turn helps build your client base and helps you grow within the community. It's also heartwarming and compassionate, and sometimes, knowing you're doing good in the community is valuable for your own mental health.
8: Piggyback on Trends
Topics often trend in communities, and those trends can be capitalized on by an on-point marketing team.
During back to school, you can promote classes for dog training.
During National Immunization Month, you can promote vaccines and push back against the growing wave of vaccine skepticism.
During any of the wide range of pet-focused pseudo-holidays like "Give Your Dog a Bone Week" and "National Puppuccino Day," you can promote some related content.
These kinds of trends pick up every year, and while the specifics can come and go out of favor, there's always going to be something you can capitalize on if you're paying attention.
9: Know What Sets You Apart
The USP, or Unique Selling Point, is what separates you from the competition. What are the other vets in the area doing, and how are you doing things differently? Does another local vet have a poor bedside manner, so you can promote your compassion? Are the other practices much more corporate, so you can promote being part of a local community? Do you offer specific services or products that the other local vets can't or won't? Whatever the case may be, knowing what makes you different gives you ammunition to promote yourself through any form of media you end up using.
Being a holistic vet.
Being the only local specialist for exotic pets like birds and lizards.
Being the only local vet willing to make house calls or provide in-home euthanasia services.
Having generally better reviews and average scores than other local vets.
There's always some kind of unique selling point; you just need to find it.
10: Bite the Bullet and Pay
At the end of the day, unfortunately, one of the best forms of marketing is simply paying money. Whether you're running digital ads on Facebook or Google, running print mailers for your local area, or paying for ads on the radio or local TV stations, there are a ton of different ways to convert money into new potential patients.
Paid marketing is very complex, so make sure to do your research (or hire professionals) before you waste a bunch of money and end up with nothing to show for it.
A Note on Compliance
Before we close out, one thing that can be very important to veterinary marketing is compliance. There are often laws about what you can and can't advertise, particularly surrounding medicine and healthcare.
As far as veterinary marketing is concerned, the two biggest aspects you'll need to keep in mind are false advertising laws and laws surrounding controlled substances.
"False advertising laws: As professionals, veterinarians must not engage in advertising or marketing that is false, deceptive, or misleading. For instance, in Texas, veterinary medicine is regulated by the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. This board prohibits any Texas-licensed veterinarian from engaging in advertising that "intends to create or is likely to create an inflated or unjustified expectation" or "an expressed or implied material misrepresentation of fact." For example, a practice can't advertise that it is open all hours for any emergency if a veterinarian is not present at the premises 24/7. Violations can result in sanctions such as revocation of the veterinary license and fines of up to $1,000.
Prescription drugs and controlled substances laws: Because veterinary practices prescribe drugs and medications, they are subject to federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) requirements as well as state-specific laws and registry and reporting requirements. As any practice grows, navigating these requirements becomes more complex and requires additional licensed and certified staff to support compliance." – Wolters Kluwer.
Maintaining legal compliance with these and other state-level laws and regulations can be tricky. Mostly, though, it just means you can't make claims that aren't true or that are exaggerated, and you can't directly market the availability of controlled substances. If need be, you may want to consult with a lawyer before embarking on an ad campaign that could be crossing the line.
Working for the Good of All
When you're working to grow your veterinary practice, marketing is just one part of the equation. Whatever stage of growth you've reached, knowing how to progress can be tricky, and there's always a need for more assistance and more expertise.
That's where we come in. We're not business consultants, but we are vets, and we can help lighten the load. While you spend time figuring out how to grow your practice, we offer consultations to help make decisions on tricky cases or cases outside of your expertise. Whether that means oncology, dermatology, neurology, or another area, you can count on us. Reach out for a consult today! And, as always, if you ever have any questions, please feel free to let us know! We'd love to help you out!