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Marketing: are you upwardly mobile?

by
01 February 2013, at 12:00am

RICHARD LAWRENCE of Splash Marketing & Communications discusses how some equine practices are making mobile marketing work for their business

LIKE it or not, mobile and social network marketing are here to stay. 3G and 4G mobile telephony has revolutionised the use of phone technology, making high-speed audio-visual access a reality. However, the big question is: Are practices maximising the opportunities presented by mobile marketing?

A support package developed by the Merial Equine team has proven that practice mobile marketing can provide benefits to animals, owners and practices alike. The immediate benefit is in increased revenue, but Merial’s Dr Emma Batson says practices should look beyond this.

“The obvious advantage of such schemes is the additional income, but I think there is much more to the text alert schemes than just a straightforward increase in sales.

“Recent research (carried out for Merial ClientCare by Onswitch) has shown that 20% of horse owners use more than one practice. Texting services provide an opportunity to communicate at a personal level with clients by providing vaccine reminders and useful information, such as flu outbreaks in the area.

“They are a great way to develop the relationship and maintain loyalty – and we shouldn’t forget that this benefits the horses too!”

Booster reminder

ProText is an Equine Influenza (EI) vaccination booster reminder service for horse owners, and Tell Tail, a combined initiative from the Animal Health Trust and Merial, is an EI outbreak alert service for equine vets that notifies of outbreaks.

The latter has an option, Tell Tail Links, for the practice, to pass on the information to owners by text message, should they wish. “In the last two and a half years there have been 22 EI outbreaks in the UK. One Tell Tail Link text alert resulted in 47 primary courses being initiated for one practice alone in two weeks following the alert, worth over £8,460 in increased revenue,” says Dr Batson.

Wendy Furness of Scarsdale Vets was one of the first to recognise the potential of mobile marketing. The practice helped to trial ProText: “We’ve always been very proactive when it comes to client communication and have therefore always had pretty good compliance levels, but ProText has helped to push that further. Currently over 80% of our customer base are compliant with their EI vaccinations.”

Dr Batson points out that with the national average EI vaccine compliance at around 40% (GFK data), for a typical practice with 2,000 horses this could be worth up to an extra £48,000 a year. 

 Wendy Furness continues that the biggest benefit is with those owners who often overlook the value of EI vaccination. “Many of our owners are very good at maintaining vaccinations but there is always a small group that need constant reminders. It has been some time since we had a large scale EI outbreak, and therefore some in the leisure sector often overlook the need to maintain boosters.

“The beauty of these text services is that they do garner a response from a diverse range of people. This results in better healthcare for the animal and maintains contact between the vet and owner,” says Wendy.

She is also keen to point out the ease of the system. “The automated, but personal, service minimises our input at practice level. What we have seen is that our nurses now spend less time following up reminders and have more time on patient healthcare duties,” she adds.

Dr Batson says that practices have nothing to fear from mobile marketing. “We all get annoyed by unsolicited e- mails, calls and texts, but these text services bear no similarity. They provide important information for owners and the evidence that the services are very well received is overwhelming. The numbers responding to booster reminders is there for all to see.”

She points out that ProText is a sophisticated information service. “No one knows their customer better than the practice, and the great thing is that the business management software ensures that all messages are personalised with the owner, horse’s name and due date. It is activated only when a vaccination is required and has in-built safety features: for instance, should a horse have to be put down the software will automatically update the database.”

Indeed, the service appears so personalised that often owners will respond to texts, something that needs to be built into the operating software. “For the owner it is viewed as a text from their vet or vet nurse, a trusted information source, so they will often respond. These messages get passed on to the practice so that the practice can deal with them accordingly.”

Adhere to legislation

One fear of the service is the perceived time investment to get the database up and running, says Dr Batson; however, it really is quite straightforward: “We simply take the data from the practice’s own management software – it’s that easy.

“I can understand concerns that vets and VNs would naturally have when entering such an exercise but as you would expect we have to adhere to data protection legislation. Also, there is an opt-out for owners to exclude themselves – but very few do,” she notes.

Another user of Merial’s mobile marketing services is Cheshire based Wright & Morten. The practice’s Mark Tabachnik believes that ProText and Tell Tail have helped boost compliance figures, but says there’s more than just increased uptake in these services: “We’ve watched our vaccine business grow, but that’s not the whole story. We use the Tell Tail alert service to add content to our website, and Facebook notifications. It helps us portray a ‘switched on’ image.”

And he points out that their clients are very happy with mobile marketing. “The mobile is the preferred medium for many of our clients. A lot use smartphones or iPads to access the web, for texting and entertainment. It’s simply business sense to communicate with our clients through the medium they are comfortable with and carry with them most of the time.”