I was at a business meeting recently where the presenter was talking up direct mail and how to improve vaccine conversions.While this retains some validity (I still send out vaccine reminders via the mail – but only if email/text has missed the mark) the fact that this is where the conversation is in veterinary marketing just shows far behind the curve we are.
The way people connect with businesses is changing fast. In a connected, online world, people are talking. Of course they are talking about dull stuff like what they had for breakfast, but they are also talking about stuff that matters too. Like how much fun their pet had (or not) when they visited the vet. We call this social influence and it’s big news.
The reluctance to move with the times in our sector is going to be big problem. But only for those that do nothing. For those that choose to build social influence the opportunity is huge and will begin to attract a stream of new clients like never before.
How marketing has changed
Once upon a time we relied upon the traditional four Ps of marketing
- Place – where you were mattered.
- Product – the quality of what you sold mattered.
- Price – what you charged for the product mattered.
- Promotion – how loud you shouted was directly related to how much you sold.
Get this mix right and you made money – simple.
The marketing rule book is in tatters
While the first three of these things still hold true (you still need to have a good product, be visible and set prices to matches quality), the fact is that the playbook of promotion is in a trouble. Or to put it another way, it has been jumped up and down on, rammed through the shredder and then burned. Trust me – it’s gone!
Promotion is about getting people to choose your practice over a competitor.
Traditionally this was achieved by being local, and then a little word of mouth crept in. But as I mentioned in my past blog, this is changing fast and the internet is having an increasing influence.
Trust me, I’m a stranger
When I say internet, I’m not necessarily talking about having a good practice website. To be honest that’s starting to look a little less relevant! Because what you put on your website is still content you created yourself – in other words self-promotion.
We’re all getting a little too savvy to believe what anyone writes about their products and services. We’ve had our fill of broken promises and poor experiences that didn’t match the marketing brochure.
What’s really kicking off online is the complete circumvention of the marketing loop. Customers are authoring their own web pages and blogs about your business. But this is not a selfless act on your behalf. It’s entirely for their fellow consumers.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on the all powerful customer review sites. Like them or loath them, review sites are, in my opinion, the most important trend in digital marketing. Their power is supreme.
These days, people hold the opinion of a complete stranger in high regard. They trust what is written about the products and services they use. And more importantly, they act on it. Think about it, how many products have you bought based on an online review?
I’ll bet the answer is lots. I, for example, almost never buy goods or services without checking out these reviews, whether it’s a hotel room, or a trip to the dentist.
That’s the real power of social media – not what you write, but what others publish about you on Facebook, and the hundreds of other public, uncensored places they talk about us without or say-so or awareness.
It’s ironic the number of veterinary practice owners I meet while presenting at conferences around the world that on one hand are struggling to believe this is relevant to their clinic. Yet in their other hand is a smart phone that they will be using to search for and choose what restaurant to eat in based on reviews on Google!
I am willing to bet that while you don’t think it can help your business as a vet, you are also quite happily using social tools to make purchases differently in your everyday life.
How I buy music in 2013
Let’s step outside the vet profession for a second to get some perspective.
Spotify is an online music service, allowing you to stream whatever music you wish from their huge online bank of tunes and listen across the internet. No downloads, no empty CD cases, no actual physical ownership of the music at all.
Now that’s a different model, but that’s not the interesting bit. What’s interesting is what this tool has done to expand your musical horizons while shrinking your wallet. You can do two things with this service, both of which are powerful influences on who you listen to and what you then buy.
1. You can tune in to an artist’s “radio station” – a service where a range of similar bands work is showcased in one never ending reel of music you didn’t ask for, but probably will quite enjoy.
2. You can also see what your friends are listening to as well. I find this creepily addictive.
These social tools influence what I listen to, and what artists I subsequently buy, put onto my iPod and buy concert ticket to see.
All in all this is a great example of social influence exposing me to new things and directly affecting where I spend my money.
So can this influence be applied to other industries and purchase decisions, like what vet to go to for example?
The smart money says yes. Google, True Local, Yelp and a host of other sites around the world are already doing just that by allowing clients to post reviews of businesses online. And it works well; I regularly get new clients who chose my clinic because we have good online reviews.
And now another big player has done something rather exciting which raises the bar for businesses up a notch (or ten).
The latest buzz in social media is the ‘Search’ feature Facebook have developed which will allow you to search all of their content for things that matter to you.
So that might be what restaurant to take you fiancée to for dinner, or it might be what country is best to visit for an adventure holiday. And it might just (I’m being subtle so not to scare further) mean that individual pet owners search their friends’ content for what vet is nice, knows their stuff and looks after their customers well. This content will feature photos you didn’t take, videos you didn’t shoot and reviews you didn’t ask for….all readily available to search for on Facebook.
Are you getting the picture yet? Are you seeing the problem with wasting time worrying about the colour of your vaccine reminders or your advert in the local paper?
Let me spell it out. You will soon be invisible to new clients if you don’t show up in online searches.
This is all pretty scary stuff, it’s scary for me and I think I know a thing or two about digital marketing. So how you are feeling right now I can only guess.
But whether we are scared or not is completely irrelevant, because like it or not, this is happening.
We all have a choice. Die the slow death and keep fussing over and tweaking your mail shots and reminders – at least you’ll be distracted as the end approaches. Or you can wake the hell up and start communicating using the tools that your customers are using right now, in ever increasing numbers.
The fact we are still talking up vaccine reminders makes me think few will be in a position to really take advantage of the way the world is changing.
For the rest of us….it’s going to be a fascinating ride.
If you want me I’ll be on Facebook!
And if you want to learn how to build social influence then check out my book on digital marketing as an essential start point.