In the last couple of years, I came to believe that one thing we needed to add to our Nationwide® veterinary student summer externship was a day spent on marketing and social media. At first, we used our own in-house experts, but then Robin Brogdon of the BluePrints Veterinary Marketing Group stepped up and volunteered to help.
I knew Robin from VetPartners, and from her being one of our Southern California “neighbors” here in Orange County. I wasn’t at all surprised at what a great job she and her team at BluePrints did for our externs, and how engaging and helpful they were. I was delighted after last summer’s “trial run,” she agreed to help out next summer, too.
One of the reasons is because our profession needs more of this kind of help. On the negative side, we’ve seen how badly veterinarians and veterinary practices can be hurt by online bullying, undeserved bad reviews and other creatures of the Internet Swamp. Our young colleagues — well, all of us, really! — need to know how to react to behavior of this sort. This is very important: At least one of our colleagues took her own life after online bullies ruined her life and her business. I want our externs to have the tools they need so they never end up in such a dire state.
On the positive side, we have a great profession, and the work we do is important. But too often we don’t shout it to the world, and we should. How to market ourselves, our practices and our profession is a skill set we all need, and who better to equip us than an expert in the field of veterinary marketing? After Robin and her team took our externs through their training, I felt confident that these students had the information they needed to start sharing the good news, and the skills they needed to keep up with the ever-changing world of social media.
I think Robin’s a good candidate for our “Three Questions for …” series. Marketing and the veterinary profession isn’t something we think about much, but we really should!
How did you find your niche in building a company that offers marketing services for veterinary specialty and emergency practices?
After several years as Practice Administrator for an oncology group and then Executive Director for large specialty center (City of Angels Veterinary Specialty Center), I was keenly aware of the need for enhanced communication between primary-care clinics and referral practices.
Over this five-year period I also spoke at a few conferences to primarily specialist audiences. I listened to their challenges earning the trust of primary-care veterinarians and building true referral relationships where patients were consistently offered the opportunity to consult with a specialist and early enough in the disease process for the referral to make a difference in the outcome. So I was motivated by two things:
- I saw the need for specialists to do a better and more strategic job of reaching out to primary care veterinarians to build those mutually beneficial relationships; and
- As a pet owner who learned of specialists through a referral by my family veterinarian, I wanted to make sure that more pet owners like me were aware of and had access to specialty care for their pets.
When I started BluePrints Veterinary Marketing Group, the economy was strong and many regions of the country were beginning to get a bit crowded with multiple choices for referral. Through my experience with City of Angels, I was able to help get them get launched and profitable in a fairly short period of time given the enormous cost to build, by focusing on building a brand, not just a marketing campaign. This was done by clearly differentiating City of Angels.
The one thing that I believe is essential for any company to create long-term success is to build a brand, not just a practice. That means taking the steps necessary to understand who you are, what you want to be known for and to work strategically to accomplish that. Then, all marketing and outreach initiatives can be created based on specific goals of the brand and where possible, the investment can be measured and tracked over time. Having a clearly defined brand is also a critical component of engaging the team in a uniform and consistent manner. It is the glue that keeps the practice focused on the right things and the core essence or personality of the experience a pet owner or veterinarian can expect to have when interacting with the practice.
How do you see social media marketing changing the way veterinary practices communicate with their clients over the next 8-10 years?
I’m not sure I can honestly look out 8-10 years because social media and all digital communication is changing and so rapidly, but let’s just say if you are not out in front of it, you will get left behind.
What I mean by this is,: You must be prepared to communicate with your clients the way they want to receive and exchange information. I don’t know anyone who uses a fax machine in their personal life, for example, yet so many practices are still communicating with each other this way.
If you have not fully integrated social media into your mix of marketing and outreach programs, consult with a specialist who can help you determine where you need to be and how to manage it. Marketing in general is about serving the needs of your current and prospective clients, and doing so in a way that makes their life easier to provide optimal care for their pets. With digital natives (those who grew up digitally connected) becoming a large subset of pet owners, if you do not provide them with simple and quick ways to communicate, they will go elsewhere.
I’m not saying the phone is dead, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a millennial who wants to make a phone call to schedule an appointment or receive an appointment reminder call. It’s considered intrusive and inefficient. I’m much older than a millennial and I don’t want it either, for that matter.
On the flip side, I believe that pet owners will learn so much about caring for their pets through social media that if practices can engage these individuals with quality content and information that is of value, they will have the opportunity to attract more educated clientele which will result in better care for more companion animals. That’s what it’s all about anyway, it’s just a new way to do it.
Thanks, Robin! (By the way, the top picture is of the BluePrints team running to raise money for rescue dogs. Good work!!)