Most veterinarians feel somewhat uncomfortable tooting their own horns and do not think about the value of marketing their brands. They might not even be aware that their practices have a brand identity. But marketing is simply the promotion of the products or goods that you offer—in other words, letting people know what you do.
A brand is an implied promise that the level of quality that people have come to expect from a particular brand will continue with future experiences. Brand identity is how the company wants the brand to be seen.
It can help to imagine your practice as a person whose character, values and attributes create benefits, performance, quality and service support. The brand can be viewed as a personality, a set of values or a position in people’s minds. For example, your practice could be perceived by local horse owners as “expensive,” “compassionate” or “disorganized.” This brand image is determined by the sum of consumer perceptions about the brand or how they see the practice. Every business has a brand image, and most of the time, that brand image is set by your customers, not you.
But there are things you can do to influence the positive aspects of your brand.
Brand management is the application of marketing techniques to increase the practice’s perceived value to the customer. In lieu of an image that you deliberately market with intention, could your practice be known as the largest or the most expensive? Or maybe the cheapest, the oldest or known for only serving certain disciplines? Many times what the local equine community believes about your practice is not accurate. That is why marketing is important!
Companies have to work hard on the consumer experience to make sure that what customers see and think about a company is what the company owners intend. This is true for veterinary practices, as well.
You must think about looking through the lens of your clientele. What do they see, hear, smell, taste and touch when they interact with your practice? Veterinary practices need branding even more than most businesses, because it can be very hard for a lay person to discern differences in technical skill and clinical knowledge. They just know how they feel and the outcome for their animals.
What do you want your practice to be known for? Make sure that every interaction your clients have with your practice supports that idea—that “brand identity”—across all of your activities.
Veterinarians who own practices should care deeply about strengthening their brands, because establishing a strong, loyal client base takes many years. However, when competition in an area increases, commoditization erodes perceived value, making your brand even more important. Commoditization occurs when the value of routine services erodes due to many providers competing for a limited market.
Consumers want consistency and an experience they can trust. By having the practice brand linked in the horse owner’s mind with the identity that you intend, your clients are much more likely to remain loyal. Also, a prospective client’s reaction to an advertisement you have placed is more likely to be supported by what your current clients have said about you.
Build Your Identity
To build a strong brand, begin by determining your practice’s core identity and what distinguishes you from other practices in your area. Try to boil that “identity” down into a few words that describe the essence of your practice’s most important values. Then develop a consistent message and visual representation of that brand, and utilize that representation across all aspects of your interactions with clients and your local community.
Communicate your unique advantages clearly and consistently in everything you do and say. Be careful to only reach out to new markets, add new services and employ new skills when they align with your brand identity.
Use multiple channels to spread your brand message to as many current and prospective clients as possible. This will include email, social media and postal mail. Utilize your logo and practice colors on all materials that you use, whether they are invoices, trip sheets or a banner at a horse show or rodeo.
Consistently and repetitively share “who you are” as a practice in order to cement your brand identity in the minds of your customers. That is how you can stand out from the crowd and drive horse owners who share your values to become or remain your loyal clients.