Marketing? In 2021? Yep, You Should: Here Are Five Things to Consider First

by Caitlin DeWilde, DVM | Trends® Magazine



In the days of yore (a.k.a. all the years before this one), we’d see the end of the year approaching and think of it as a new beginning dawning. We’d wistfully reflect on the year’s marketing successes and make bigger and better plans for the next one. But 2020 was different.

There was no time for reflection, or celebrating, or, heck, even planning what to post tomorrow. Practices and team members have done their very best to simply stay afloat. Marketing plans were quickly thrown aside, except to create new signs for parking lots and pleas for patience on Facebook. The words planning and strategy now seem nearly laughable, knowing that best-laid plans may be upended, this year more than ever.

But as the chaos starts to slow and the temporary protocols now become “normal,” our practices still must function as businesses. We still have pets to care for, public health to uphold, and teams to employ. It’s time to again market our practices, what we do, and how we do it. As you start to dust off your trusty content calendars and selfie sticks, here are five things your practice needs to consider heading into 2021.

1. You Gotta Know Why You’re Doing It

If your practice doesn’t have a clear reason for using social media, email marketing, push notifications, digital ads, or any combination of these, stop right now. You must have an objective before moving forward. It’s entirely possible that this objective has changed—where many practices once had the primary objective of gaining more clients, a better use of energy now might be using social media strategy to encourage the use of online booking and online pharmacies or sharing info about the practice’s current protocols. Whatever the objective, make sure your marketing efforts facilitate meeting that goal. Share this goal with not only your marketing team but your entire staff, and encourage their input and engagement on social media.

Action Steps

☐ Identify your practice’s top one to two objectives for marketing.

☐ Set at least one acheivable goal for the first quarter of 2021.

2. Solve Their Problems from Afar

Think about what problems our pet owners are facing. How can the practice be of value and of help to them, even if they’re not in immediate need of an appointment? Try to solve the needs of your practice’s clientele using your marketing efforts, and continue to be a resource they trust and value.

For many, this may center on convenience offerings. With time, money, and access limited by the pandemic, owners are increasingly turning to the internet for purchasing pet food, medications, and even cat litter. Promoting your practice’s online pharmacy and store, and even providing a refill-request form with curbside pickup can help provide your pet owners with a valuable service they were going to find on their own, but for which they now have your practice to thank. Further, it offers owners a safe way to get their supplies and demonstrates that your practice is adapting to put them first and make sure their pets have what they need.

For other pet owners, the new puppy at home may be in need of indoor exercise and mental stimulation as we head into colder months and changing schedules. Sharing helpful tips and videos—ideally from your team—can be helpful and appreciated. Consider creating a digital community with these puppy owners—letting them help each other, but providing guidance, information, and support to a larger group with a single effort.

Action Steps

☐ Pick three convenience offerings (online pharmacy, online refill request, telemedicine appointments, online scheduling, digital store, etc.) and schedule a post about them each month.

☐ Create at least two posts a month addressing a common pet owner pain point relative to your area or season (cold weather safety, new puppy boredom busters, etc.).

3. Remember It’s Not About You, It’s About Them

If your content doesn’t resonate with your audience, it will fall flat. Engagement will suffer and objectives won’t be met. The needs, wants, and screen time of our followers have all changed—but has your content? Sure, the cute puppy pictures are a welcome distraction in a sea of stressful news and opinion slinging on social media. But are they enough? Make sure your marketing efforts are rewarding to your clients and rewarding for the practice.

If you’re not sure what your clients truly want to see and engage with, why not ask them? Post a survey on your practice’s Facebook page or email one to your top clients and ask them what they want to see more of on your channels. You may be surprised at the answers, and this feedback can help you craft content differently. Your team members may also be a good source of info—ask what they are hearing from clients and what questions they’re answering on repeat. A video or blog can address those issues and allow staff to send a link to its posting on your practice’s channels, saving them time and giving owners info they want.

Action Steps

☐ Survey your clients about what they want to see. Keep it short and sweet, and consider offering a small incentive (free bag of treats, small amount off next exam, etc.) to encourage participation.

☐ Survey your team members for content ideas.

4. Work Smarter, Not Harder

Now, more than ever, time is a valuable commodity. Look for ways to improve efficiency, even if there is a financial cost. Ultimately, these tools can end up saving hours of staff time and likely improve the quality of the content the practice is producing. Here are a few to consider.

Productivity

  • Slack: Set up a #socialmedia channel and have all team members drop in pictures with descriptions and share ideas and feedback. This makes bulk scheduling of photos easier for the social media team and helps them pair the pictures with the right names and details. As Slack is a free program available as an app and on desktop, every team member can access it easily.


  • Asana: Assign tasks and schedule due dates—great for blog deadlines, sharing a social media calendar and budget for approval, and for multimember marketing team collaboration.


Design

  • Canva: The king of graphic design without the need for a design degree or Photoshop, this online tool (better on desktop) can make creating, saving, and now, even direct publishing, simpler. Splurge on the pro version to be able to quickly resize designs, default with your practice’s brand colors and fonts, get more free stock photos and elements, and take advantage of advanced features.


Outsourcing Design and Editing

  • Upwork: Have those three awesome video clips saved in your camera roll for months but never had time to get them edited, branded, and captioned? There’s no shame in outsourcing to end up with a polished product. It’s still your original content, but take something off your work list and find a freelancer who will work within your budget to make this “to-do” a “done.”


Social Media Scheduling

  • Facebook Creator Studio/Business Suite: Facebook’s new tools have made scheduling to both Facebook and Instagram much easier. Plan out your content and schedule two to four weeks at a time to improve efficiency.


  • Buffer: Posting to more than just Facebook and want additional analytics? Use Buffer’s scheduling software to schedule posts up to several months in advance, plus take advantage of its analytics, team collaboration, and “queue” features. Fill your practice’s social media feeds with evergreen content that will fill any voids in your calendar, plus easily “buffer” (a.k.a. reshare) previous content without having to craft the caption and find the image again.


Shared Content

Look to your industry partners—at both their social media channels and your client portals—for content that’s done for you. While it certainly shouldn’t be the basis of your content, don’t reinvent the wheel if you’re desperate for posts or looking to share something new about a particular product or service. Check out AAHA’s Publicity Toolbox, your online pharmacy, your app company, and your top brand-name pharmaceuticals for helpful social media assets that have been professionally designed!

Action Steps

☐ Choose one of the above tools to help improve marketing efficiency and workflow and try it for three months.

5. Now’s the Time for Tracking

In the rush to facilitate contactless registration forms and curbside check-ins, many practices cut their registration forms to the bare minimum and transitioned to a quick digital form. As a result, the question “How did you hear about us?” wasn’t asked, and wasn’t tracked in practice management software. I get it! We had to focus on what was really important in those moments—like the owner’s phone number, pet info, and car “breed.” But as a result, we lost several months of critical data in terms of quantifying our marketing return on investment and catching on to trends in client acquisition.

Even if your practice didn’t (or doesn’t) have the goal of getting more clients or spending money on ads for booking appointments, this is still valuable information. Even without a financial budget, successful marketing on any platform takes a significant time budget. Don’t waste your team members’ work on a platform that isn’t generating business.

Action Steps

☐ Update your client registration form (paper and digital) to include asking clients how they heard about your practice. Be specific—include checkboxes for multiple platforms and other venues for better data (think Google, Facebook, Instagram, Yelp, Nextdoor, word of mouth, and other).

☐ Make sure your practice management system facilitates tracking this information as a referral source. Educate your team on the “why” and “how” of making sure this information gets into the system so reports can be run quarterly to check for results and trends.

This year is shaping up to be another like we could have never imagined. Make your marketing efforts work to take some of the load off your team while continuing to serve your client base. Hang in there! 

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