Data-Driven Marketing for Equine Veterinarians

Here are tips on using data to create more successful marketing campaigns.
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A CBC (complete blood count) and a chemistry profile are essential tools for gathering critical information about a horse’s overall wellness. Through analyzing the results, you’re able to make proper recommendations for treatment or long-term care.

“We closely analyze a CBC count and use those insights to create a treatment plan,” said Mike Pownall, DVM, MBA, of McKee-Pownall Equine Services in Ontario, Canada. Pownall is part of the Oculus Insights team; he is also the founder of the Veterinary Business Matters blog and podcast.

“We don’t—but should—do that with the information we have about our customers, to create more effective marketing strategies,” he said.

The marketing strategist’s equivalent to a CBC blood panel is data-driven marketing. Data-driven marketing was once a catchphrase reserved for the savviest marketers.

“Data-driven marketing refers to the marketing insights and decisions that arise from the analysis of data about or from consumers,” said Amy L. Grice, VMD, MBA, from Virginia City, Montana. Grice is an experienced veterinarian with strong business skills that she uses to offer consulting services that focus on strategic analyses and planning.

Data-driven marketing has evolved into an integral component of nearly all advertising strategies. Large and small companies alike gobble up as many details as possible about existing customers, potential customers and product experiences. By understanding why clients make the decisions they do, marketers and business owners can create targeted, personalized messages that speak directly to a customer’s values and preferences.

According to Teradata, a company that provides software and analytics related to data collection, today’s customers have grown accustomed to marketers’ knowledge of their preferences and anticipation of their needs. Fractured or conflicting messages from a brand make marketers seem unorganized and annoy customers, sometimes even driving them away.

In this article Pownall and Grice offer practical advice for collecting and using data to develop more effective marketing messages. That data can help you better connect with your customers to provide better service and ultimately increase sales.

Identify Your Goals

Pownall said that setting goals is the first step to using data in marketing campaigns.

“People often get caught up in looking at the number of ‘likes’ they have on a Facebook post or the clickthrough rate of an electronic newsletter, but you have to determine a goal before you can decide if the results are effective,” he said. These metrics aren’t meaningful if they aren’t tied to a measurable goal.

“Say that, through the addition of dentistry services to the practice, your goal is to increase overall sales for the year by 10 percent,” he said. Providing demonstrations at barns, writing a story in your practice’s electronic newsletter and promoting the service on Facebook might all be part of the marketing plan to sell the new service. But without clearly identifying goals at the outset (i.e., increasing annual sales by 10 percent), it is difficult to determine whether or not the time and investment were worthwhile.

Data Collection

Collecting or finding data is the next step to implementing a data-driven marketing strategy. The data that is used in the planning phase to create a marketing campaign can come from a variety of sources. One way is to generate your own data through surveying your clients.

“Understanding what clients value and have interest in allows the targeting on personalized marketing messages,” Grice said. “By understanding why new clients have chosen the practice, equine veterinarians get feedback on what they are doing well.”

Another source for data is industry organizations.

“The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and the American Horse Council (AHC) collect general data that can be helpful in developing marketing strategies,” Grice said.

The AAEP Touch website compiles feedback that the association has collected from more than 6,000 horse owners, trainers, breeders and farm managers in the United States. This has uncovered the attributes these clients most desire in their equine veterinarians and the healthcare services they most value for their horses.

Grice highlighted the finding of the 2012 AAEP Owner Trainer survey that revealed the availability of “on-farm” ambulatory emergency services was one of the top three factors in deciding which veterinarian to use.

“As a result, many practices advertise 24/7/365 emergency services prominently on their websites, Facebook pages and business cards,” she said.

The AHC periodically conducts national and state economic impact studies. These studies provide invaluable demographic data and insights into professions and related industries that are impacted by equine ownership. AHC primarily uses its results for educating the public and the media, as well as elected officials in Congress and state legislatures, regarding the industry’s impact and importance. However, veterinarians can find useful information about what motivates owners, trainers, breeders, etc., in the AHC survey results.

Outside the horse industry, it’s possible to access and/or buy data related to unemployment rates, demographics by geographic region and more.

“Research can help you decide whether or not to open a satellite location in another area,” Pownall said. “The average income per household and unemployment rates in an area can help you decide if an area is a good fit.”

The tricky part about using this type of information is that horse owners might not necessarily live in the same area where their horses are kept.

Dive Into Data

Discover what your clients really want, not what they say they want. “By understanding what clients need and value the most, veterinarians can emphasize how their practices provide for these needs,” Grice said.

Pownall offers a personal experience to emphasize the importance of digging beneath the surface of seemingly helpful data. Before purchasing a standing MRI, he asked clients how often they had horses with undiagnosed lamenesses. Then he asked how often the clients thought they would use an MRI service. The responses were overwhelmingly positive.

Once the unit arrived, the reality was that those clients who indicated an interest in the service rarely used it. “The clients who thought they’d use it once a month haven’t used it at all,” he said. “If I had known then what I know now, I may have done things differently.”

To avoid a similar situation, he recommended conducting a formal survey that reaches a wider client population. “I also would have included the potential cost for the service and asked the clients for feedback based on the expense,” he said.

Digging into the data also means reviewing your customers based on who they are, their interactions with email and their interactions with your website. When you ask a customer how he or she prefers to receive information from you, provide it to that person in that format. If that person says he or she prefers email, save the postage on a mailing for a customer who prefers a hard copy.

While the emphasis is largely on collecting and analyzing data, remember not to get so caught up in the prospect of gathering information that you lose sight of what you want to do with the data once you have it.

Measure Success

Chances are you don’t have a lot of time in the day to devote to gathering, analyzing and using data to create marketing messages. Pownall recommended starting the process by understanding the data available from the social sites you use.

“If your goal is to promote a new service and the majority of the ‘likes’ on your Facebook post are from people outside your service area, the data is telling you to adjust your marketing efforts,” he said. “This information is available for free. If you don’t have the time or interest in doing it, have an office assistant do it for you.”

The individuals engaging online can also confirm whether your efforts are on track if the people that are reacting are also calling to schedule appointments for the new service. Social media interactions are a part of a larger system. Posts should ultimately drive customers to your website, so monitoring the traffic on your website and where those visitors came from is part of the process.

In addition to the data available from individual social media sites, there are a number of free tools, such as Google analytics, that can help you understand your audience.

“Monitor the data regularly,” he suggested.

Getting Started

Grice said that the AAEP Touch website offers prepared surveys that you can use to poll your clients. The surveys are written for several different scenarios. The AAEP Touch website also offers videos and other tools for connecting with your clients and their horses.

For example, if you find that a certain discipline of riding is prevalent among your clients, you might decide to sponsor a local competition geared to that discipline. Speaking at a seminar that addresses the concerns of that segment of horse owners is another method for reaching an audience.

“Once you receive that information, you might decide to use some of the tips available on the AAEP Touch website to market your practice,” she said.

Take-Home Message

Investing time and money in marketing efforts and devoting valuable resources to collecting data is futile unless the results are monitored regularly and put to use.

“If you’re not getting a return (on your current marketing efforts), it’s not worthwhile to continue to use those tactics,” Pownall said. “Determine a goal, collect the data and evaluate the marketing to measure success.” That means you might have to change things up in order to succeed in your marketing, based on your goals.