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Biggest Mistake Vets Make in Marketing Their Clinics

By Ginger Bratzel Published 12/13/2007 | Marketing

Common Mistakes Most Veterinarians Make in Marketing Their Clinics

When you went to vet schools you learned tons of valuable information-- the autoimmune disease of a cat, the musculature system of a dog, and a long list of emergency medications and indications of when to use them.  Your time was packed with learning this information to better serve your future patients and their owners.

BUT when did they teach you how to market that specialized knowledge to the public.  When did you learn how to attract clients with stayed, paid, and referred? 

It was once feasible to open up business, hang your sign, and they would come.  It is no longer just enough to be a good doctor; you need to be so much more.

It was once feasible to open up business, hang youre the sign, and they would come.  It is no longer just enough to be a good doctor; you need to be so much more.

  It is increasing difficult to compete for your future clients attention in the current world we live in.  Getting the message of your clinic out while cutting through the clutter can be overwhelming and expensive if you are untrained.

Direct client referrals are wonderful and vital to a clinic but they are not adequate enough to support healthy and sustainable growth.  Internal and external marketing that cuts through the clutter is no longer options but a must.

A common condition I see in all parts of the country is what I like to call marketing incest.  Dr. Canines Clinic sees what Dr. Felines Clinic is doing and just copies it without  proper understanding of if it is truly working (which it is not).    It is the blind leading the blind.  While that seems disappointing, it puts smart vets in a position to stand out from the crowd easily to make tremendous impact on the market to succeed.

Fortunately, advances in veterinary medicine have skyrocket to help your clients.  UNFORTUNATELY, most people are unaware of it because that information hasnt been properly marketed to get that message out to your target audience in an effective way.

Marketing costs can be expensive.  These barriers limit the average small business persons wallet.  We cannot compete with the message that McDonalds, Coca Cola, and Ford are spending with its million dollar budgets.  The conventional vehicle for advertising for most veterinarians is yellow pages.   Even this media is expensive and according to research, few business people are getting the acceptable return on investment they should.  Never mind that most veterinarians are losing big money on their yellow pages ads.

Misinformation about yellow pages advertising stems from lack of training on what to recognize.   Research shows us what makes a yellow page go from just existing to being a HIGHLY lucrative vehicle for promoting your clinic is nonexistent in 99.999% of all yellow page ads in all businesses. 

Yellow page sale representatives are trained in sales to you and graphic design but not in researched and formulated approaches that have been well tested to attract you clients. They might have marketing degrees.   Yellow page ad reps are in a position for legal reasons where they cant design a highly lucrative ad for you and a poor performing one for your competitor.  But the form of advertising this means is, often needs to be big, is locked in for a year at a time unable to be changed, never tested in advance, and lacks the key components of a successful ad.

It would be useful here to stop and give a quick lesson on image driven vs. direct response associated marketing.  Image driven marketing is what we common associate with campaigns for national fast food and automobile companies.  If I showed you a red oval and white cursive lettering you wouldnt even hesitate to say Coca Cola.  Large gold arches are synonymous with McDonalds.  This message was consciously and subconsciously beaten into our heads over decades.

Most small business owners dont have that long or that much money to play ball in these terms.

WE CAN, though, use SMART marketing to generate clients and dominate our marketplace.  Effective marketing for small business owners is universal.  Direct response marketing is the only answer.

As the name implied, direct response marketing is advertising for a targeted audience with a targeted message with a specific result in mindthe client responding.   It is cost effective, it is quick, and it is clear what you want the consumer to do to response to your ad.

Lets take each one of the above benefits and dive into further.


Cost Effective

   We all know how expensive advertising is.  The larger the ad, the bigger the price tag.  The ad rep will tell you when an ad is not responding, You need to run it longer.  It takes awhile for that message to get out and for people to see it. Just spend more money. 



That information is way off.  If an ad doesnt generate revenue it is a loss.  You cant multiple zeros.  There is something wrong with the ad.  More likely, there is many things wrong with the ad.  A few common mistakes are making the clinic the focus and not the client.  Ads need to be benefits driven.  Is there a compelling offer to take action?  Is there a deadline for action?  Is it clear that you want the person to pick up the phone and call now instead of just read the information and think?  Any one of these factors missing with literally KILL an ad; therefore just creating a one sided income for the yellow pages or the newspaper and a goose egg for you.

With the formula for direct response ads, more can be accomplished in less space.  You are talking to the reader and drawing them into your world by appealing to their needs creating a win-win relationship.  You will be able to directly track the results to that particular ad and be able to determine down to a penny, how much money it made you to determine if that is acceptable.    It shifts control from throwing out money and hoping for the best to being in a position of literally printing your own money as your market your clinic.


We already discussed how much time fast food and car giants spend to develop a relationship with consumers.  Corporate ads are designed to take years with series of progressing expensive campaigns.

  Coca Cola took decades to be a household name.  Most small business dont last that long.

With direct response marketing you want to see results the very first time you run the very first ad or campaign.  It is highly effective for small businesses because it gets to the heart of the matter and allows the owner to make well informed decisions about where his practice is headed.

Message Clear to the Consumer  

Did you see this years Super Bowl ads?  Werent they something?  Can you guess how much just one ad cost during that mega event?  How about at 2.4 million each in 2005.  Many of those companies dont even survive to see the next year.

Can you name 10 of the companies that created these ads and what they are selling?  Changes are, no.  For 2.4 million I would want you to remember EVERYTHING about me. Did you know that most companies gamble with their ad budget for a risk that doesnt pay off?

Why is that? Simple, they are obsessed with standing out but they lack a clear message to the people who matter mosttheir consumers.

Wheres the beef?

The Wendys campaign in the 1980s is memorable with Clarabelle cry out her signature phrase.  But Wendys lost money every year their signature ad campaign run.  People could identify her but not what company she represented but more important, she didnt convey the message that they were to lay down their hard earned dollar for hamburgers.

Taco Bell had the same problem with their Chihuahua dog campaigns.  They sold tons of doggie merchandise but their food sales dumped.

The hallmark of a direct response ad is to make the phone ring, the inbox to fill up with orders, or customers to walk in with fist full of dollars.  It is clear that you want them to take action and buy your good and services.  It tells consumers to consume.   Any marketing action is done for one reason only, get the consumer to come to you and buy your services or goods.  It can be entertaining but when that is the sole purpose and outcome, it is just a waste of money.

In summary, most veterinary clinics are simply incorrectly marketing their services or not marketing at all out of confusion and misinformation from representatives from yellow page directories and newspapers. 

Marketing skill training is a major deficit in the veterinarians education process.  To compete in todays marketplace for consumers attention, veterinarians need to adapt and grow in their thinking to embrace these principle to attract quality clients who stay, pay, and refer.  Any business growth is limited without measures to attract new customers, increase transaction size from existing customers, or increase frequency of visits.

Internal and external marketing are the tools to accomplish these goals.  For the purpose of this article, we focused mainly on the external and specifically on problems with most business owners advertising focus in yellow page and newspaper ads. 

We also focused on shifting the focus from image driven advertising to the benefits of direct response advertising in these media.

Ginger Bratzel is nationally recognized coach and speaker in the field of clinic growth and effective marketing for veterinarians. She has received national award recognition for her direct response marketing.  Her focus is education doctors and staff on cost effective, results driven marketing within their clinics.  She is also a freelance copywriter in direct response marketing for the health care industry.  She can be contacted directly at DiamondVets.com.