What do pet owners REALLY want?

Posted by Mark Olcott, DVM on Jan 12, 2016 3:14:56 PM

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What do your clients REALLY want?  To use economist-speak, why do they consume veterinary services?  They don't want annual exams or vaccines or lab work or HW preventative.   They want a healthy pet who lives long and well.  You might even say you're in the business of empowering unconditional love.  The services you provide are means to an end, but we shouldn’t forget why our clients come to us in the first place.  

One of the reasons Kodak is basically dead is that they forgot what business they were in.  For decades, the people at Eastman Kodak thought they were in the film business.  They were right for a long time, but they missed new competition from companies like Fuji that took a completely different viewpoint.  The makers of early digital film technology realized that people didn’t want film….they wanted to capture their memories of friends, family, and life in general.  Film was just a means to that end.  I could go on about how Kodak is a case study of “missing the bus,” because they didn’t just make one mistake.  They ignored several warning signs over many, many years that ultimately led to their demise.  Imperial Hubris, to borrow the title of a recent book.

Is this happening in veterinary medicine?  There’s clearly no Kodak in our profession, but there are corollaries we should look at.  Part of helping our pets live long and well includes answering the questions that come up day in/day out in the lives of our clients.  To the extent possible, I think we should maintain our position as the experts on all things related to animal health and wellness.  Can you do that in the 1 hr per year your client spends in your office?  

As far as year-round engagement and educational content, newsletters have been around for decades.  Their effectiveness is dramatically decreasing because people don’t consume information in long sittings anymore.  One of the reasons for the demise of many magazines (remember Time?) and newspapers is that “long form content” is not as popular in our super busy, mobile-dominated world.  Instead, people prefer snippets they can read in the bathroom or while waiting for the train.  In order to resonate and drive behavior, the topics cannot be vague or not relevant.  From the standpoint of client retention and long term profitability, coupons and discounts stink....they are transactional, instead of strategic, and are almost always money losers in the long run ESPECIALLY for an average veterinary practice that has a net profit margin in the single digits.

Why are visits declining while Dr. Google is more popular than ever?  Dr. Google is an extreme example of year round availability easily consumed in a mobile format.  Granted, much of the content there is bad advice, but your clients don’t know the difference.  Can you do better in your practice?  Of course!  

Where do I start?

Start a practice blog where you talk about problems particular to certain breeds.  Write a list of the top 3 things Lab owners can do to control allergies and itching.  Or film a video of how to make your dog “heel” when you’re walking so they don’t pull you down a snowy embankment.  Write about the things that you are passionate about while recognizing that pet owners by in large are not interested in the clinical signs of Cushing’s Disease.  Make sure it looks good on a mobile device (your website IS “responsive,” right?) And write things that can be read in the time it takes to go to the bathroom.  

Building engagement through client education takes time but has a massive payoff.  It leads to a higher “willingness to pay” which increases compliance.  Increased compliance leads to higher revenue which should lead to higher profits.  Unless you’re discounting it all away through an ill-conceived loyalty program, but that’s a topic for another blog.  

Topics: Marketing For Veterinary Practices