If you have your own practice, you are in the unique position of being both a consumer and an advertiser. When I first started out, marketing my vet rehab practice was a challenge for which I felt university had not equipped me at all. We learned almost nothing about marketing – the bare basics, perhaps – but marketing in the 1990s was very different to marketing in 2020.
Although the first social media platform started in 1997, it wasn’t until Facebook started in 2004 that it really took off. Since then, the online world has transformed the way we market. Digital marketing is changing on a daily basis. Just when you think you have a handle on your strategy, it no longer works, and new features and platforms arise to confuse you and break up your focus.
It wasn’t until I read the book The Marketing Rebellion by Mark Schaefer that I realised there was a major disconnect between the way I was advertising and the way I wanted to be advertised to.
Who actually likes adverts?
How do you feel about adverts on social media? To be honest, they irritate me. I click ‘Skip ad’ on YouTube videos as soon as the 5 seconds are up. If I’m scrolling on Facebook and see the word ‘sponsored’ I usually ignore it. I automatically flick past sponsored Instagram stories. Don’t even get me started on pop-ups. So if that’s how I feel about adverts, then I should not be doing any of it to my clients. But I was. I was pushing my message, shouting out, ‘This is me, look what I have to offer, make an appointment now!’
And probably the majority of those who saw my messages were scrolling right past them, just as I was. If our clients are ignoring our adverts, how do we reach and connect with them?
Mark Schaefer says, ‘The best we can hope for in our marketing today is to connect people to an emotion that results in awareness, trust, conversations and consideration over time. We aim to connect in a way that propels our story through our customers.’
In other words, we need to be building relationships and showing clients that we care.
Aha moment! That’s what social media is for. Not to advertise. Rather, to connect, engage, and build trust with our clients.
Connecting and building relationships
As vet rehab therapists, a large part of our client acquisition comes from referrals – from clients, veterinarians and other pet professionals. Our practices are similar to veterinary practices, in many ways. So last year, I did an informal survey amongst vets and pet owners. Of the vets I asked: ‘Where do you get your clients from?’ In total, 84% said that their number one way of acquiring new clients was through referrals.
I asked pet owners, ‘Where did you find out about your vet?’ In total, 62% said ‘from a friend, a family member or someone I met.’ Word of mouth, in other words.
Only 3% said from social media, 10% said from advertisements, 14% said from doing a Google search and 11% said they drove past a practice, saw the practice name and then googled it.
So … both vets and pet owners said that word of mouth was the main way they found one another. 84% of vets and 62% of pet owners. If word of mouth is so important, why are we not focusing more of our efforts on increasing this vital marketing tool?
As Mark says in his book, ‘The new job of marketing is to help customers carry our stories into this conversation storm. Most of us leave word of mouth to chance. What we really need to be doing is helping our clients create awareness about us through their daily conversations.
John Jantsch, author of The Referral Engine says, ‘100% of businesses care about word of mouth, but less than 1% have a plan for achieving it.’
Word of mouth – be intentional about it
We need to have an intentional plan to increase word of mouth referrals to our practices. Onlinepethealth members can access online training about this in our Business Basics.
We should be asking, ‘How can we encourage our clients to tell their friends and family members about us?’
What makes people talk about us?
I’ve thought about what makes me refer my friends and family to other companies. The answer is always ‘amazing customer experiences where my expectations are exceeded.’ Some aspects are:
- Exceptionally friendly staff who go out of their way to help me so that I feel special.
- Effective communication – keeping me updated with the progress of my job.
- Service that is faster than the norm for the industry.
- An outstanding product and service – not just a great one.
And it’s not just one of these things – it’s a combination of them all. It’s the customer journey from the time I first made contact with them to after the job was done. It’s every single contact I had with that company and their personnel. When my experience was remarkable, and my expectations were exceeded, I tell people around me about it.
Note that it was not when my expectations were just met; they need to be exceeded. The experience needs to be different from what I expect from that industry.
People talk when we exceed expectations
Think about what the normal customer journey is for a vet rehab therapist’s client. How can you exceed their expectations? What can you do that is different – and so different that clients notice and feel the need to say, ‘You won’t believe the experience I had at my vet rehab therapist yesterday!’
Mark asks this question in his book: ‘Don’t fight the rebellion. What should you be doing right now to adjust to a world where the customers are doing most of our marketing? What will you do to fight for that emotional connection and constant consideration?’
I think the answer is:
Find a way to stand out by being incredibly awesome and by genuinely caring about serving your clients. Become more human in the way you interact and communicate with them. In today’s marketing, Marks sums it up with, ‘The most human company wins.’
Go be awesome, Vetrehabbers!