Think back to the last client who couldn’t thank you enough for helping her horse during an emergency. Chances are the client called in a state of panic to request your services. During the phone call, you offered tips to keep the horse comfortable until you arrived.
Once on the scene, it might have taken mere minutes or painstaking long hours to care for the horse, but in the end, regardless of the outcome, the owner couldn’t have been more appreciative of your level of skill, professionalism and compassion.
Thanks to human nature, it’s guaranteed that clients will share their stories of your rescues with friends and fellow horse owners. The resulting word-of-mouth advertising is tremendous for carrying the story to horse owner circles far and wide. As tragic as the situation might have first started out with an injury or illness, these happy endings provide an opportunity to support the practice’s larger marketing efforts.
“From the time we are born, our parents and guardians tell stories as a means to educate, entertain and enlighten,” said Gerard Francis Corbett, founder, chair and CEO of Redphlag, LLC, in San Bruno, California.
When shared, stories have the power of instilling trust and building loyalty. “To tell one’s story is to communicate an account of someone or something over a time span in such a manner that it brings meaning and relevance to a target audience for the purpose of connecting and bonding, ultimately building trust,” he explained.
Often the use of storytelling in marketing efforts is overlooked. “It [storytelling] is one of the most effective ways to learn and instill lessons into permanent memory,” Corbett added. “And so it follows that no matter what age, storytelling is one of the optimum vehicles to communicate with people, and by extension, with our communities.”
Veterinarians as Lead Characters
Compared with other industries, veterinarians are fortunate to have many opportunities to be cast as the lead character in one or more narratives that can be used to maintain an existing client base or encourage new clients to use their services.
“Veterinarians are in the business of caring for nature’s creatures,” Corbett said. “It is a task with great responsibility and obligation. They are looked upon with the reverence of their job to care, keep from harm and repair animals.”
He added, “People who are owners or possessors of nature’s creatures expect no less from veterinarians than they do from doctors who care for humans. A life saved or preserved accords a great level of confidence and respect for the veterinarian. And in that respect, veterinarians have the opportunity to tell stories of a life saved or life preserved, the effect of which builds confidence and trust.”
Over time, a veterinarian is building a strong reputation as a caring and capable medical practitioner, which is a brand to be trusted.
By the nature of the business, veterinarians have a story to tell. Although at first glance you might think your practice doesn’t have any stories to share, with a little creative thinking and the marketing tips offered here, you’ll find plenty of ideas to get you started.
Share What You Do
At a minimum, any practice should be able to articulate the services provided. “A business should be sure to share what services they offer and especially specialties,” said Penny Vavura, senior counselor at Pierce Communications, in Albany, New York.
A formal mission statement is equally important. “Every business should at least have a mission statement that defines who they are and what value they deliver to clients,” Corbett said. “I often refer to this device as an elevator speech. Essentially it communicates who you are, what you do and what value you bring to the table. It should be succinct and clear.”
Marketing materials, printed or online, are the vehicles that narrate the story. A logo, business cards, signage, and company t-shirts or uniforms are all supporting sentences in the larger plot.
“Consistency and frequency are key,” Vavura said. “Logos should be clean and simple. Identifying a signature color can help build a brand. Something as simple as a consistent signature on outgoing email helps to underscore who the business is and what they do.”
In today’s technology-driven world, a website is essential. “The business also should have a web presence that provides information about the business, what are its offerings, how the product or service is delivered and a feedback mechanism to allow the client and potential client to express wishes, desires, needs, complaints and ideas,” Corbett suggested.
Although this is the digital age, have a paper copy of a boilerplate, which is a basic paragraph that describes the practice and the services offered, and an information sheet and a brochure available for individuals who don’t have Internet access or who prefer paper copies instead of a web address.
Each communication tool can be designed to incorporate success stories or testimonials from the client’s perspective. “Include testimonials in information packets for new clients,” said Vavura. Video testimonials can easily be added to a website or posted to social media.
The practice’s employees are an often-forgotten communication tool. “There should be a means in place to insure that all employees of the business are singing from the same hymn book and understand the company and are able to communicate the company’s message (elevator speech) consistently and coherently,” Corbett said.
Embracing the Media
Developing marketing materials and utilizing testimonials are two methods for illustrating one’s story. Another method is media coverage. Press releases announcing awards, new hires or added services can be of interest to local media. Open houses, special events and demonstrations are another way to introduce reporters to the practice. Offering your expertise can also shine the spotlight on your practice.
“Introduce yourself to local media and offer your commentary as an expert on specific topics,” Vavura added.
Above all else, crafting a consistent message across all of your communications channels is vital to reinforcing the brand. “Keep it simple stupid” reigns supreme in terms of how a business goes to market, Corbett emphasized. “Clean yet elegant design goes a long way to achieving the ability to tell your story in a manner that is memorable.”
Storytelling: Not a Substitute for Quality
Using storytelling within a larger marketing plan is beneficial in many ways; however, it cannot be a substitute for quality or customer service.
“No manner of storytelling can cover over bad products or bad service,” Corbett noted. “That said, assuming the product and service are beyond reproach, a business can employ many channels and methods to tell stories about the impact of the product and service.”
A proactive approach ensures an accurate recounting of your story is shared. “A business should tell their own story before someone else tells it for them,” Vavura emphasized. “If the business gets out in front of their audience/media, they will be able to make sure that information is accurate and they will be able to emphasize what is important about a story and what makes their business special.”
While this may all sound overwhelming, rest assured that even a one-person practice or a practice with a small marketing budget can implement a plan for sharing their story. “For practices with little budget to spend, there are many freelancers in the business that charge by the hour or by the project,” Corbett said.
Many public relations professionals are members of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). By contacting the local chapter of PRSA, a business is likely able to find a freelance PR professional who could get them started cost effectively through social media.
“Another option is to contact the local college or university to see if there is a PRSSA (Public Relations Student Society of America) chapter that has a student-run agency that would be willing to take on a project to help the local business initiate a PR program,” Corbett added.
Last but certainly not least, ask whether there is someone on your staff who is well-versed in social media and who can help build a presence on one or several platforms/channels that are targeted to potential clients.
Knowing what your business offers, being able to tell that story in a succinct manner through multiple channels and using testimonials from your satisfied clients are all important ways to market your business and become better known in your community.
While you could spend thousands of dollars doing all of these things, you also can do them on a small budget and still have a professional way to tell your practice’s story and garner more business.