Why you must stop thinking like a vet and start thinking like a pet owner...

01 May 2013, at 12:00am

PAUL GREEN of Vets Practice Growth, says that forming the habit of regularly looking at your practice as a client and not as a vet will give you a powerful competitive advantage

ONE of the problems holding back many practice owners is the way they think: too much like vets and not enough like pet owners.

It’s an easy enough trap to fall into. Your whole world is veterinary. You’re surrounded by it every day; you attend veterinary events, read veterinary magazines, talk to other vets. Do this for years and years, and you can see how you would lose touch with how “ordinary” people think.

This isn’t a criticism. It’s an observation based on the hundreds of veterinary practice owners I have spoken to. Sometimes it’s quite scary how quickly a vet’s thinking can get out of sync with their clients.

Let me give you an example. I have a colleague called Michael who takes his dog George to a local practice. During a consultation a few weeks ago, he noticed they were heavily promoting Frontline spot-on solution in the window display.

“How many people come in asking about the Frontline spot-on solution?” Michael asked.

“Well, it’s strange,” the vet replied. “We put some stuff in the window and no one mentioned it. So we put more stuff in the window and put up some posters, but they still don’t mention it!”

Of course the vet had forgotten that the average person on the street has no idea what Frontline spot-on solution is. It certainly has little to do with the primary reason they are visiting the practice.

99.9% of ordinary people seeing that window display would not be encouraged to enter the practice. That kind of incorrect brand positioning in your mind is one of three marketing mindset mistakes that you must be aware of:

Mistake 1: You have lost touch with public perceptions of veterinary brands

There are some wonderful brands available that have built up a real following, such as Hill’s Science Plan. But while they are big within the sector, the awareness of them within the general public is lower than you think.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. That brand in particular benefits from being a “best kept secret” – once someone knows about it, they feel like they are in an exclusive club and are more likely to buy it.

The problem is when you just listen to the reps and start stocking brands that you know, without realising that most of the public have never heard of them. And when they haven’t heard of them, there is no brand equity – no emotional reaction to the brand.

Why do people pay good money for Pedigree? Because Pedigree spends millions each year creating an emotional response to their name and logo. Those happy and healthy dogs on the adverts are there for a reason. That’s the power of a well-formed brand. And it’s why a brand that someone hasn’t heard of is just an expensive bag of dog food.

Mistake 2: You believe the public already knows what foods and accessories are best

Most of them don’t. Frankly, they haven’t a clue what toothbrush to use when cleaning their dog’s teeth or what the benefits are of different foods.

Sure, they might be aware that there is a range of different branded accessories and foods available, but they quickly forget what they are and why they are so important to their pet’s development and care. This is why, if your practice is struggling to sell accessories and foods, you’re probably positioning it the wrong way.

Consider, “Do you want this bag of Purina Proplan, it’s £10.”

Against, “We highly recommend you use Purina Proplan as your choice of dog food. It’s packed full of fantastic nutrients that your pet needs to grow healthily. We stock Purina Proplan because all of our vets trust this source of food with their own pets. Would you like me to fetch a bag for you?”

Mistake 3: You believe you’re not in competition with the corporate chains and online meds stores

No matter how well established your practice, you’re in competition with everyone, especially the corporate chains. They already control 12.5% of the 3,700 practices in the UK that see small animals. That’s going to increase, and they’re going to get better and better at marketing.

Marketing is about perception not reality. If a prospective client is trying to decide whether or not to pick your practice or the local “budget” vets, that’s a problem. You know the downsides of cheap veterinary care. They don’t.

If you can form the habit of regularly looking at your practice as a client and not a vet, it will give you a powerful competitive advantage.