Routine equine veterinary care is seasonal in nature. There is a breeding season, a show season, a time for vaccinations, a fall check-up period, and a need to schedule dental exams. This cycle lends itself to a 12-month marketing strategy that can support any practice in its business goals.
Toria Waldron, DVM, the equine medical director of Wisconsin’s Badger Equine Veterinary Services, concurs. “If we can have more opportunities to educate and reach our clientele throughout the year, it leads to healthier horses, happier owners, and it’s better for business,” she said. “We need as much contact as possible with our clientele to help keep us as their trusted source for information in the health care of their horses.”
Marketing is usually involved in the promoting and selling of products or services. Planned marketing initiatives, even those that educate rather than sell, are important for developing meaningful relationships with clients.
A traditional marketing plan is a formal document that typically is several pages long. Depending on the template used, there are six or seven components. The marketing plan includes sections devoted to market research, a description of the target audience, a “positioning” or perception of the business in the marketplace, a competitive analysis, a market strategy, a budget and metrics.
While business plans tend to focus three to five years into the future, a marketing plan is designed to last one year. This is long enough to be effective while providing the flexibility to respond to a changing industry and economic trends.
Devoting the time and resources to developing a multi-page plan might seem difficult for smaller practices. The good news is that even a one-person practice can develop an effective marketing plan to support its business goals.
A simple internet search for “one-page marketing plans” returns multiple options for templates that have already been created. These templates summarize the key components into an easy-to-use format to help you get started.
The most successful plans consider who the target client is, how those clients will be reached and how to retain those customers. In this article, Waldron and her colleagues share insights into the process they follow in creating a yearlong marketing plan.
Getting started can be the most challenging part of creating a marketing plan. Templates like those offered by Smallbiztrends.com offer a starting place (go to smallbiztrends.com and search for “one-page marketing plan").
The planning can even begin in an Excel spreadsheet. A simple way to plot out a year-long plan is to assign each month a column and list the goals and activities for that timeframe.
Waldron and her team plan their marketing initiatives on a month-by-month basis.
When planning the educational information for their blog and social media, they think about what equine health services fall in each season and plan to focus communications on that topic slightly ahead of the need.
“We talk about breeding a little before spring, and we talk about green grass and laminitis risks right before the grass comes in,” she said.
Her team, which includes doctors and technicians, meets monthly to discuss social media content for the following month. Every team member is assigned different topics and asked to create content for that subject.
“This keeps the team engaged and the topics relevant to what we’re talking about with our clients out in the field,” she said.
Marketing is often thought of through the narrow scope of selling and generating revenue. But marketing strategies are equally important for generating customer loyalty. Badger Equine Veterinary Services’ marketing plan includes annual activities that encourage client participation, which creates a bond. Clients look forward to seeing the staff participate in a Fourth of July parade. The practice also hosts a trail ride in the early fall and a client education event in November.
“All of these events help us make contact with our clients and build loyalty, and they are something we all look forward to every year,” Waldron said.
The Tactical Plan
A marketing plan can look good on paper, but unless it’s implemented, it won’t be worth the time invested to create it. Traditional print ads, mailed postcards or flyers, social media, radio and television advertising are all options for marketing your business or a new service. Choosing the outlet that fits the practice’s budget and reaches the right audience is key.
“Mailed invitations have been the most successful for our client events and social events,” Waldron said. “It feels much more personal and loyal. We haven’t used a lot of mail-out coupons or promotions; however, this could be useful to try in the future.”
Some platforms, including television and radio, can be costly, but creative thinking can sometimes present an opportunity for free air time. Local radio hosts and TV news anchors often include features with an expert on a home or pet care topic. Offering to serve as “the expert” for such a topic can earn quality exposure at little to no cost.
Social media has been the most recent go-to marketing tool because it is free or inexpensive to buy an ad—and accessible. Pairing the right type of marketing is the key to success for social media. Waldron has found that social media is most useful for educational purposes. It can encourage client interaction, especially with their “vet truck trivia,” but typically reaches the same crowd of clients who are already engaged rather than new individuals.
Ultimately, an effective marketing plan enables a practice to increase its revenue and reach new clients. However, specials and promotions are most effective when they are valuable to clients.
“We try to promote products and services that our clientele will find useful or want as opposed to things we feel the need or desire to sell,” Waldron said. “Most of our marketing is aimed at trying to build trust with our clientele and educate at the same time.”
What Does a 12- Month Plan Look Like?
The activities included in a marketing plan can be as unique as the practice. Inspiration can be found outside of the equine industry. With creative thinking, an initiative from an unrelated business can be a big success with horse owners.
Unsure of how to start your 12-month marketing plan?
Here are ideas for each month of the year to help you begin the planning process.
January: The new year is often equated with a fresh start. Asking clients for feedback about the services they find most useful, services they would like to see added or what isn’t working for them is a good way to encourage interaction and strengthen relationships.
February: Spring is on the horizon. Clients are thinking about spring cleaning and tuning up their cars. Badger Equine Veterinary Services uses this time of year to promote getting ready for spring. Staff created a “Top 10 Spring Checklist” blog that was shared on social media platforms.
March: Spring wellness visits are on most clients’ minds this time of year. Promoting a spring check-up package that includes an all-inclusive special price for vaccinations, fecal egg counts, etc. can be attractive to clients.
April: Pick a service for which you’d like to increase sales and offer a discount. For example, 15 percent off of diagnostic exams.
May: In Wisconsin, grazing season begins in May. Badger Equine Veterinary Services uses social media and in-person visits to remind clients that the first lush grass of spring and laminitis can be problematic for some horses.
June: Host a giveaway. For example, offer clients who provide referrals an opportunity to win a free service or product. If you have a new supplement or fly care product you’d like to encourage clients to use, feature it in a giveaway.
July: July is a good month to create messaging for clients around larger recognition days and national holidays. Fourth of July, National Farriers’ Week and the National Day of the Cowboy are all prime marketing opportunities this month. Letting clients know about these celebratory events isn’t necessarily selling a service, but it is supporting a shared passion for the industry and keeping your name in people’s minds.
August: Sign up for a speaking engagement. Volunteer to speak on a wellness topic at a county fair or similar gathering where current and potential clients are likely to be.
September: Students are heading back to school. An educational day for clients and/or getting involved with a veterinary program at a local college are well timed around the beginning of the new school year.
October: Host an event for clients. For Badger Equine Veterinary Services, it could be a client trail ride or an educational workshop. Or it could be an open house with a BBQ or sponsoring another local event that is popular among clients.
November: Although mares most likely won’t be bred until spring, now is the time mare owners should be thinking about what they need to prepare for the breeding season. Create educational information that can be distributed via print or social media.
December: The last month of the year is filled with holidays that are easily paired with marketing activities. If you have an online store, it’s the season for promoting or offering discounts on products clients will likely use.
It’s important to evaluate your marketing plan every quarter to make sure it’s achieving the goals you have in mind. If not, there are opportunities to make adjustments throughout the year. As the year winds down, it’s time to begin planning for the next year. Incorporate what has worked, try something new and replace what isn’t working.