Veterinary marketing should engage clients in ways that acknowledge the familial role pets play in their lives.
People see their pets as part of the family. Dogs star in holiday photos. Cats bask their days away in designated scratching mansions. Bunnies enjoy fresh-cut snacks in their custom-built runs. And their smitten human companions wouldn’t have it any other way.
Knowing this, veterinary professionals have begun to cater to the “pet parent” or “best furry friend” mentality. Accordingly, they refer to animals by first names, talk to them during appointments, and show high levels of courtesy and understanding when offering difficult end-of-life pet advice. Yet many veterinarians, animal hospitals, and emergency clinics haven’t launched marketing campaigns based on pets’ life events — something that could be incredibly touching for the clients they serve.
Understanding the Benefits of Life-Event Marketing
Life events happen routinely: birthdays, anniversaries, sorrowful occasions. They don’t just happen to people, however; they also happen to people’s pets. By celebrating the life events and milestones of pets and their companions through life-event marketing, vets have the opportunity to increase client loyalty, generate referrals, and reduce missed appointments.
There are plenty of life events that take place over the course of adopting and owning a pet, such as a cat’s fifth birthday or puppy’s first Christmas. Even National Dog Day (on Aug. 26) and Valentine’s Day can be chances for some fun, memorable veterinary marketing. Highlighting those planned touchpoints simply makes sense, particularly in an era of increased competition: According to the last “Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study,” veterinary leaders noted that they were feeling the squeeze from competitors, including rescue operations with on-site veterinary services as well as mobile animal clinics.
When it comes to the pet life events your practice should consider acknowledging through cards, letters, and more, don’t limit yourself to celebrating birthdays or expressing your deepest condolences when a dear pet passes. Here are some other life events to think about:
“Congratulations on your pet’s adoption!” after a pet’s first vet visit, spay, or neuter.
“Happy adoption day!” or “Happy birthday!” (This annual message is also a great way to include wellness and dental care reminders in your outreach.)
“We LOVE taking care of your pet!” on Valentine’s Day.
“Thank goodness for pets — and thank goodness for clients like you” on Thanksgiving.
Ad Hoc or Unplanned Touchpoints
“We’re sending our very best wishes to your pet” when a pet is ill and unlikely to recover completely and the owner might need support during the end-of-life journey.
“We hope your pet feels better soon!” while a pet recovers from an illness or surgery.
“Congratulations on your pet’s healthy journey!” when a pet takes steps toward a healthy lifestyle (think making progress toward a goal weight).
Another advantage to more personalized life-event marketing is that it differentiates and distinguishes practices. Generation Xers and Millennials are becoming pet owners at rapid rates, and capturing their attention and then building an emotional attachment with them through meaningful, memorable moments lessens the likelihood of them switching providers. Outside of the experience that occurs within the appointment setting, nothing comes close to being as impactful as life-event marketing that tells adoring pet owners: “We know and love your pet, too.”
4 Tips for Mastering Pet Life-Event Marketing
To be sure, this type of vet marketing is different from regular content marketing and advertising. It concentrates solely on the client journey — not direct lead generation. And when handled expertly, life-event marketing provides a way to solidify the existing client-veterinarian relationship. Below are several key ways to fold life-event marketing into your practice in a way that feels genuine and seamless:
1. Operationalize your life marketing plans. One of the biggest life-event marketing missteps is not mapping out a process that includes accountability.
Who orders different types of cards or marketing materials and makes sure they’re mailed on time?
Which of your team members is in charge of initiating “happy birthday” messages on the pet’s birthday or adoption day?
Who specifically will send handwritten pet sympathy cards?
Perhaps most importantly, who will create the calendar for mapping out these life events and make this strategy possible in the first place?
Everyone should know upfront the who, how, and when of executing life-event marketing touchpoints. Otherwise, it risks becoming a hit-or-miss tactic that doesn’t garner attention or appear authentic.
The good news is that veterinary staff tend to enjoy sending personalized texts and greeting cards to clients. However, they can’t prioritize this responsibility if they’re told to shoehorn a ton into their daily task lists. Take time to plan out which particular life events your practice will celebrate and commemorate, and follow up with tracking and measurement to ensure tasks are completed on time and comprehensively.
2. Leverage direct mail. Digital communications can be part of your life-event marketing, but don’t overlook the USPS as a primary delivery vehicle. Sixty-four percent of people say greeting cards make them feel special (compare that to 15% saying the same about emails). In fact, Millennials are twice as apt to feel noticed and special when receiving a greeting card.
A real greeting card feels like an intimate relationship — one that isn’t deterred easily by the competition. Does it take more effort to write, stamp, and send pet sympathy cards to grieving pet owners? Yes. And that’s precisely why they’re more impressive than a text or email. Clients know that a practice that takes the time to pop life-event cards in the mail cares deeply about the client-veterinarian relationship. And when clients receive these cards days or weeks later, it’s at a critical time in their grieving process: The initial shock of losing their pet has passed, and your card arrives at a time when they need support the most.
3. Express heartfelt concern — and hope. Not all pet life-event marketing will be happy and lighthearted. When it’s time to sit down and address tough realities, like the loss of a pet or a pet dealing with a late-stage condition, be real. Empower your staff to make correspondence personal and compassionate. Chewy does this well with its unexpected (yet highly appreciated) sympathy bouquets for pet owners.
Not sure that your team members will know what to write? Give them a tool kit upfront to make the job less complicated. This kit could include greeting cards and a list of recommended sentiments in the form of templates. Your employees won’t have to reinvent the wheel, but they can still be empathetic in an individualized way. And that’ll go far, as 64% of people want brands to truly connect with them.
When it comes to tough events in a pet’s life, it isn’t always easy to find the right words to say to their owner. Get inspiration from these sample communications when drafting up your own messages:
A sympathy note after a pet’s passing:
Our team is so very sorry to hear about the loss of ___ pet’s name___. With so many years spent together, it’s clear ___ pet’s name___ was truly a part of your family. Please take the time needed to care for yourself and those who were close to ___him/her___ during such a difficult time.
Our deepest condolences to you and the loved ones who knew ___ pet’s name___.
With love and care,
A note to acknowledge a pet’s surgery recovery:
We’re sending our very best wishes to ___ pet’s name___ during ___his/her___ recovery from surgery. This can definitely be a worrisome time, so rest assured that you can always reach out to us with any questions or concerns.
We at ___your veterinary office___ wish ___ pet’s name___ a very safe and speedy recovery.
With love and care,
4. Practice consistency to retain patients. Of course, retaining clientele is critical to the success of any business. As part of your overall pet marketing strategy, life-event marketing can help reduce client turnover and ensure routine preventive care doesn’t fall by the wayside.
Adoption anniversaries and birthdays are a great way to celebrate with your clients as well as remind them to make preventive care appointments. At the same time, there are other events in pets’ lives that are often overlooked as outreach opportunities. This might look like following up on procedures or surgeries to wish the pet and owner a speedy recovery, or it could mean sending a holiday card relevant to people and pets that includes a photo of your front office staff (and requesting clients send one back so you can put them on display).
At the same time, don’t forget that all businesses make mistakes, and one well-written follow-up apology for a late appointment or scheduling mistake means the world to people. Lastly, you can use this life-event marketing to promote new or additional services that you feel might be of value to pets depending upon their species, breed, age, and health history.
Here’s the thing, though: Life-event marketing won’t always work overnight. You might not see changes at first, but don’t fret or give up. Your diligence will pay off in time as you see an increase in how many people leave you excellent reviews, keep their pets’ checkups, or refer friends to your office. With this “from the heart” veterinary marketing, clients will see your team as the only professionals they would ever trust with their furry, feathered, and finned friends.
Your main clients might be the animals that you care for, but they won’t be able to make it to your practice without assistance from their human buddies. Therefore, make sure you’re forging strong, lifelong bonds with devoted pet owners through the power of life-event marketing.
This article was originally published in Today’s Veterinary Business.