Your veterinary clinic's marketing must differentiate between felines and canines to appeal to their respective owners.
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Many of us heard “A cat is not a small dog” again and again during veterinary school, reminding us to individualize our treatment of felines rather than adapt from the more commonplace canine medicine e. Unfortunately, cats have always played second fiddle to their canine companions. We see fewer of them in our exam rooms, we offer them fewer therapeutic options, and they face a host of challenges when inside the practice that dogs do not.
As a result, many veterinary practices find it easier to market using a predominantly canine focus. Look at any clinic website or social media page and you’ll likely see at least a 70-30 ratio of dog-to-cat content. You might respond by posting more feline photos, but research shows that marketing to cat owners requires a different approach.
Here’s what we know about veterinary marketing and how you can effectively change yours.
Cats Are Underrepresented
Practice websites, social media channels, signage and email material typically underrepresent felines. The omission means cat-only owners are less likely to connect with a clinic when the team members’ online presence shows them perpetually holding puppies and talking about canine diseases. Therefore, start by generating more content that resonates better: cat photos, team members caring for cats and talking about their cats, and feline health information.
A fun fact: Several years ago, my staff photo showed me with one of my cats, simply because all the other doctors brought in their dogs. I got at least six cat appointments that year from new clients who noticed that I was the only doctor photographed with a cat.
Recent studies looked at cat owner behaviors and personalities. The owners generally are more likely to be shy, cautious, independent and serious, but also more creative, self-sufficient and highly educated. In addition, they tend to have a prevention mindset compared to dog owners’ risk-seeking mindset.
Appealing to shy cat owners might be better done asynchronously rather than face-to-face. Educating them before, during, and after a visit via your marketing channels can reduce confusion, set better expectations and improve the overall experience. Ask about their communication preferences (email, text or phone, for example), document the selections in your practice management software and try to adhere to their choices whenever possible.
Cat owners are more likely to respond to cold, hard facts and science-backed data. Sharing the latest research, data points and case studies resonates with them, particularly those who might not yet know the many conditions cats hide when they don’t get regular exams. In addition, sharing bloodwork results and health-point trends might help the owners better understand the value and need for annual checkups and diagnostics.
Social media and marketing content aimed at cat owners could include:
Disease statistics, such as the percentage of cats with kidney or arthritic issues and the prevalence of tick-borne illnesses in your area.
Patient stories involving new veterinary products and therapies.
Remember that cat owners are more likely to buy medications from their veterinarians, citing the doctors’ expertise as the reason for not turning to pet stores or online vendors. Therefore, use your marketing channels to promote the products you recommend and why to improve compliance and revenue.
Not surprisingly, self-sufficient owners find their spirit animal in their cats. Over 80% believe their cat is self-sufficient, too. These independent owners look for ways to address their personal needs and their cats’ on their own. Providing them with accessible options and multiple touchpoints helps meet that need. Key examples include offering:
Feline health education on your website.
Online ordering, appointment booking, and billing.
Online access to pet records.
Those features are a win for short-staffed clinics. According to American Association of Feline Practitioners studies, 52% of clients would like their veterinary practice to provide additional payment options, and 40% say annual wellness plans would lead to more frequent visits. Promote those conveniences regularly on your marketing channels.
In addition, according to AAFP, 56% of clients would take their cat to the veterinarian more often if the visit could prevent problems. Therefore, help them understand your preventive care recommendations and the value of being proactive. When you tell them their cats are due for vaccinations, explain why, and educate them about disease processes and what you look for in annual bloodwork. In addition, share practical advice for dealing with common issues in the home regarding diet, behavior and litter boxes. Finally, emphasize that preventive medicine is more affordable than reactive care, and thank your clients for being proactive.
Here are a few critical action steps:
Work with your team to identify topics that cat owners frequently ask about or struggle with.
Double your social media cat content this month. Take and post more patient photos and videos (with the owners’ permission), and share helpful content from AAFP and catfriendly.com.
Represent cats and dogs equally in your website’s photos and health information.
Check out team education and client-friendly resources from AAFP and the International Society of Feline Medicine.
Segment your audience. If you use newsletters, email, text messages or push notifications to provide regular content, try sending a feline-focused version to cat owners and canine-geared communication to dog owners.
By the Numbers
Take note of these demographic and economic facts:
U.S. cat ownership rose in 2020, reversing declines studied in 2011 and 2016.
The U.S. feline population is approximately 61 million.
Cats are present in 26% of U.S. households.
19% of cat-owning households don’t spend a dollar on feline veterinary care.
65% of cat owners purchase medications from their veterinarians instead of other sources.
Cat owners spent an average of $253 in veterinary care in the past year.