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Be bold and innovate to keep ahead...

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01 May 2016, at 1:00am

Simon Boulton of Virbac reports on what his company is doing with technology to improve communications between practices and clients, including the use of “augmented reality”.

AS WE GAZE AT OUR SMART PHONES AND TABLETS, the growing influence of technology on all aspects of our lives may be obvious – and not always welcome. 

Yet the opportunities offered by some emerging technologies to veterinary practices are real as we have been finding in our work over the last 12 months with a new visual marketing technology called “augmented reality”.

The competitive pressures faced by practices from both veterinary and new non-veterinary rivals have never been as fierce. The RCVS Facts 2014 report cites a 12.3% increase in veterinary premises since 2010 and, with new business models emerging, competition is set to remain a fact of life.

For a practice to thrive in this environment, in addition to attracting new clients it must keep its existing clients loyal and compliant – and it must ensure that they buy the products they need to keep their pets healthy from them, rather than allowing revenue to drift away and be spent elsewhere.

Effective communication lies at the heart of this battle – so anything practices can do to enhance communications and help them to build a stronger, more engaging relationship with their clients is vital to help them win.

Of course, in examining how they can improve their communications, practices must contend with the fact that, these days, an increasing number of us are “digital consumers”. More than three- quarters of all households now have at least one smart phone and ownership of tablets is growing fast. Our use of technology affects how we consume products and services and the way we interact with retailers and brands. These days, we are much more likely to search for information and make purchasing decisions online rather than reading a brochure or making a phone call.

A recent report from Deloitte said that digital technology is influencing 33% of in-store retail sales in the UK – almost £100 billion in 2014. The implications – and the opportunity – for veterinary sector sales are obvious.

Keen to help our customers build client loyalty and compliance, we have been working on a project at Virbac to harness a new technology called Augmented Reality (AR) since 2014. 

To give it its official definition, AR is a “live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer generated sensory input, such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data”.

In effect, AR has the effect of bringing a at image “to life”, offering an exciting and engaging new way of communicating with an audience – in this case, pet owners.

Virbac has been working with an AR company called Blippar to develop “augmented packaging” for a number of our key products. 

Packaging is important because the information it contains is a crucial link between the practice and the client and key to ensuring compliance. Yet, all too often, owners don’t bother to read it and just throw it away. We felt that adding AR would be an opportunity to transform the role of packaging and to help practices to engage with owners in a whole new way.

More than a year on, we have introduced AR packaging on a range of products, including our prescription-only spot-on ectoparasiticide Prinovox, the UK’s no 1 veterinary household spray Indorex* and our broad spectrum wormer Milpro. 

Simply by downloading the free Blippar app onto their smart device and scanning the image on the packaging – or in the case of Indorex, scanning the can or the top of the can – owners can then watch as the pack becomes animated, giving them access to an array of post-dispensing information which (unlike much information online) is regulated and accurate and presented in an engaging format. 

Prinovox packaging, for instance, offers:

  • videos on the most important parasites affecting their pets; 
  • “how to apply” videos showing how to use and store the product;
  • a text reminder system branded with the practice’s name to encourage loyalty;
  • a fun game; and
  • a digital data sheet. 

With all of our blippable products, we offer dispensing envelopes and waiting room displays which can be blipped in order to carry the technology right through our support materials and offer interaction in waiting rooms.

We are also using AR technology to give our customers access to a unique resource of clinical and support information via our interactive communications portal, “Virtual Virbac”. By blipping on the specially created Virbac swirl image, which features across a range of our promotional materials, they can stay up to date with the latest product information, videos and compliance advice. 

We update Virtual Virbac regularly as we launch new products and it can also be used to contact us directly with requests for further information.

Feedback from many of our customers confirms they are finding that the AR packaging is proving helpful in boosting owner education and compliance; in increasing product use through this increased compliance; and, importantly, in positioning them as a forward-thinking practice which is adopting technologies also used by major brands, including Heinz (try blipping a bottle of ketchup!), Argos and Pizza Hut. They are also finding Virtual Virbac a useful resource. 

As technology continues to develop at a rapid rate, we will also continue to invest in solutions with the potential to help practices win the communications war or support their business effectively in other ways.

Our advice to practices is to be bold and to be prepared to innovate to stay ahead of the competition. There is still a role for printed materials, of course, but your clients are increasingly “digital consumers”. Understanding what this really means and how you can interact with them most effectively going forward is critical to keeping them loyal and spending with you. AR is one solution – there will soon be more. Welcome to the future! 

 *GFK MAT DATA September 2015 (veterinary channel sales).