What Marketing and Weight Loss Have in Common
By Linda Kaplan, MHA, Vice President
THIS is the year I’m going to make it happen. THIS year is going to be different. I’m finally committed. Things have GOT to change…I simply can’t keep doing things this way. I know I can do this – I’ll even partner with people who are experts in this. How did I let things go?
Sound familiar? Is this the typical New Year’s weight loss resolution? Or is this the Q1 realization that your practice deserves a professional and serious approach to marketing or the competition will swallow you up?
It could be both. But to succeed in either scenario, you must have:
- Realistic goals
- A plan
- Appropriate “funding”
- A commitment to differentiation, consistency, evaluation, and adjustment
- Professional guidance
- Confidence that you can and that you’re worth it
Here at BluePrints, we often get “confession” calls in January. Decision makers of specialty/referral practices and animal health businesses frequently reach out to us this time of year in hopes that we can help quickly erase or make up for their past few years’ investments in bad or ineffective marketing decisions. They are ready to get serious. Or so they say.
Until they step on our reality “scale” and see what they really have to do to create a new and more fruitful future:
1. Set realistic and specific goals: Just like you’re not going to lose those 25 pounds in time for next month’s high school reunion, you will also not grow your revenues by 10% in a few weeks. Being realistic about what you want to and can achieve in 2018 is where we start. What do you want to accomplish? Grow overall revenue? Increase the # of TPLO procedures? Grow your outpatient CT services? Expand the number of general practices that refer to you? Improve internal referrals from your ER to your specialty services? Etc. Quantify. Measure where possible. Be realistic. And be specific.
2. Create a plan. If you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter which path you take. – Alice in Wonderland. If you do, then create a marketing plan to reach your goals. A marketing plan is simply a description, a roadmap, a rationale, in words and numbers, strategies and tactics, of how, when, and why you plan to execute your marketing program. Not having a plan is sort of like barbequing in the dark… your food may be cooking, but you’ll have no idea how well it’s going. And like a weight loss plan, a marketing plan keeps you accountable and focused on what you want to achieve.
3. Have appropriate “funding”: Just like budgeting an appropriate daily calorie budget and exercise regime designed just for your weight-loss goals, you should also have a proper marketing budget. Not enough and you’ll run out of energy and be unsuccessful. Too much and you’ll have waste. So how much is appropriate? Of course it depends on a variety of factors, but as a very rough framework, industry standards suggest 2-4% of annual revenue for established practices with no major marketing initiatives – rather a slow and steady approach – be dedicated to marketing. For start-ups or practices with a big push (new services, new location, increased competition, new name, etc.), we recommend a minimum investment of 5-7+% of annual revenue.
4. Honor a commitment to consistency, evaluation, and adjustment.
- Commitment: In 2017, in a survey with 1,129 respondents, 32.4% had weight-related New Year’s resolutions. 44.8% kept those resolutions more than six months – so less than half. However, people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t. The same can be applied to business. If you make a commitment to your business with a plan and stay focused, you are far more likely to reach your goals. It’s human nature to let things go when a commitment has not been made.
- Consistency: Conveying your marketing messages in a consistent manner provides the building blocks for a strong brand image, time for your audiences to be educated about your services, and subliminal messaging that your practice is reliable, successful, and serious about what you do. Do your marketing materials present a consistent image in terms of look, quality, and message? Do they reflect your brand appropriately?
- Evaluation and Adjustment: Just as you evaluate the outcomes of a treatment plan on a patient and adjust medications and/or recovery strategies as needed, so should you for your marketing initiatives. At best, assess results where possible every month and then collectively each quarter. Many initiatives take time to work. Some aren’t measurable while others you can see an immediate response. It is important that you keep close track of your efforts as they pertain to your goals, and adjust your plan as needed. As with dieting, a “set it and forget it” approach will not work. Keep stepping on the scale to see how you are doing.
5. Seek professional counsel: A credible marketing specialist or team – one that understands the veterinary industry, and one with a proven track record in specialty and referral practices, can be your lighthouse. You wouldn’t go to a gym that had candy machines and overweight trainers to start your weight loss plan, would you? No. You’d seek a qualified person who had a history of success and who made you feel understood. Your success means their success. Just as you ask primary care veterinarians to refer their patients to you for your expertise, be open to allowing marketing specialists to guide you as well (no weight-lifting or counting calories required).
Importantly, marketing specialists will help you build an appropriate strategy by taking into consideration all of the nuances of your unique business. You can’t be all things to all people. A professional will help you determine how to differentiate your business from the competition so you can attract the most appropriate and loyal clients. Knowing how to connect with those individuals in ways that are relevant to them will make a huge impact on your return on investment.
6. Have confidence that you’re worth it: If you and your leadership team do not truly believe that your practice or business offers something special, better, or unique in your community, then why should anyone else? If you do, then put down the ice cream, get on the marketing treadmill, and make 2018 the year that IS different.
Wishing you a prosperous, and well planned, New Year.