Veterinary Medicine in the 21st Century

October 28th, 2012 by Kelly Baltzell, MA

It’s no secret that today’s veterinarians face a number of challenges that our predecessors didn’t. Oversupply of veterinarians, educational indebtedness and loss of pharmacy revenue to major retailers are but a few issues facing the profession. I’ll be writing about all of these in the coming weeks, but each of these “clouds” has a distinct silver lining if you know how to find it. As a practicing veterinarian and, more recently, an MBA student I have come to grips with one cold, hard fact: that’s business. While challenges certainly exist, we must remember that the wind is at our back in many important ways. The pet industry is one of very few TRULY recession resistant industries in the US. Americans spent over $50 billion on their pets last year, despite tough economic times, with veterinary medicine representing about $14 billion of that total. More and more people are considering pets to be members of the family, and this is a meta-­‐trend that I believe will continue for the foreseeable future. Will our profession be the same in 10 years as it is now? No, it won’t. Rather than grow frustrated about market realities that may be beyond our control, we all must redouble our efforts on those things we CAN do something about. For example, don’t get overwhelmed by how fast computer technology is changing or that you don’t understand “the cloud”. Focus on making small, easily reversible decisions that will grow your practice. Even if something doesn’t work, you want to “fall forward”. For example, do you have a website? Are you on Facebook? You may not be online, but I promise you that your clients are. Ignore this at your peril.

In my next post I’ll take up the topic of pet insurance, and why you should be embracing it in your practice. And I don’t mean just putting brochures up front and hoping people ask about it. I mean you, your technicians, and front desk staff should ALL be discussing it with each and every one of your clients, ESPECIALLY during puppy visits.

About Mark D. Olcott, DVM: Originally from upstate New York, Dr. Olcott received his Bachelor’s degree in Biology from State University of New York at Geneseo.  He graduated from the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University in 1995 and moved south to get away from the 6-month long winters!  After an 18 month stint as an equine veterinarian, he has been a small animal practitioner since 1997.  Over the last several years he has been the co-owner of 5 DVM small practice, a mobile ultrasonographer, and an emergency clinician at The Life Centre in Leesburg, VA.  Dr. Olcott has particular interests in cardiology, pain management, and the use of ultrasound as a diagnostic modality in small animal practice.  He is a published author, and holds two patents for an intelligent, automated pet feeder he invented.

He lives in metro Washington, DC area with his wife and 3 children.  They have numerous pets including a dog, 3 cats, a rabbit and a saltwater tropical fish tank.  Dr. Olcott in enrolled in the executive MBA program at the University of Maryland, and in his limited free time is an avid outdoors-man.

Choppy Copy

October 23rd, 2012 by Kelly Baltzell, MA

This is an excerpt from one of our latest free Wednesday Webinar series.  Presented by our Director of Project Management William Lindus.

As a veterinarians, office manager and/or other veterinary professional you have quite a bit of experience with writing.  You probably have written for print media all of the time, from reports, to articles, to client handouts.  However, you can’t apply the same principles that you use for print writing to web copy writing because your audience is different.  With print materials, your audience is trained to read word-for-word, start to finish. With an article or a handout, you are expecting your reader to read the entire body of work as a complete entity. Otherwise, key points may be missed!

But why is this?  Well, for starters, the web is a user-driven medium.  Visitors to a website feel as though they have to click on things to ‘engage’ with a page.  Long copy makes users feel as though they are being inactive or that they ‘doing it wrong.’  Remember also that the web has millions of web pages, all competing for the attention of your visitor.  If a client can’t get the information they need at a glance, they are very likely to bounce to another site.  With the rise in popularity of smart phones, this becomes even important.  Currently, 10% of all Google searches are made using mobile devices, and studies show that by 2014, mobile users will actually exceed desktop users.  To keep up with this ‘on the go’ lifestyle, a website should have very mobile-friendly content.

We know how web copy is different from print copy… but how do we evaluate whether or not web copy is effective?  On a well-written website, the copy may appear ‘choppy’ or repetitive.  This is where you need to throw away everything you thought you knew about writing and look to web writing as its own entity.  Your website copy may appear ‘choppy’ with lots of bullet points, effective headlines, and short content, but this is useful for the 79% of web users that we discussed earlier.  Choppy can be good!

Keep in mind also that many users will never see the home page of your website; because of links from social media sites (such as Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest, etc) or through Google search returns, they may enter your website through one of your service pages.  This is why some information may be repeated throughout your website.  I said it before, but it bears repeating:  most users will not read your web page word for word, start to finish.

To be continued…

Got Serenity

October 16th, 2012 by Kelly Baltzell, MA

by Fritz Wood, CPA, CFP

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. At the Central Veterinary Conference, one of my presentations focused on the Serenity Prayer, and specifically its application to product sales in veterinary practices. The quality of your life may improve dramatically if you let go of those things over which you have no control. Examples of things you cannot change include:

  • The fact that popular parasite control products are sold online
  • The fact that popular parasite control products are sold by Big Box stores
  • The fact that some of your clients will choose to buy those products outside your practice
  • The fact that many rational consumers are motivated by low cost, convenience and wide selection
  • The fact that you lack a multimillion dollar advertising budget and the ability to buy product by the train load

Yeah, yeah…life’s not always fair. Now stop complaining and compete! Have the courage to change the things you can. Things you control include:

  • Price (price matching? price competitively? display price per month or dose? etc.)
  • Promotion/signage/merchandising
  • Reminding clients to refill (phone, text, email, postcard, etc.)
  • The value the client gets when buying from you (e.g. doctor/client/patient relationship, time, attention, advice, counsel, expertise, professional opinion, education, questions asked and answered, demonstration on how to apply product, peace of mind, manufacturer guarantee or warranty, etc.
  • If you want to provide complete product selection and total convenience, opt for a veterinary friendly online pharmacy that carries every product, never closes, and delivers to you clients’ home tomorrow
  • Doses dispensed (e.g. single-dose dispensing versus larger-dose dispensing)

I find myself silently reciting the Serenity Prayer several times each day. Now, when something hits me over the head, my learned instinct is to ask myself, ‘Can I change this?’ It’s proven amazingly helpful in my life. I enjoy much more peace and calm than ever before!

About Fritz Wood: Fritz is the former Personal Finance Editor for Veterinary Economics, the monthly business authority for practicing veterinarians. He has authored more than 100 articles related to the business of veterinary medicine and personal finance. He has also contributed content to several books and on-line educational experiences, including the Veterinary Nutritional AdvocateSM and VetMedTeam.com. Fritz conducts 50 to 75 seminars each year, each very well-received and highly evaluated by attendees. He teaches annually at most veterinary medical schools, as well as local, state, regional, national and international venues. Fritz has presented in nearly every state and in more than a dozen countries. His presentations have positively impacted thousands of individuals and practices worldwide. To learn more about Fritz Wood please go to www.fritzwood.com.

Yellowpages or No Yellowpages

October 2nd, 2012 by Kelly Baltzell, MA

It is so tempting to just send off that check to your local YellowPages (or equivalent) and call it done, isn’t it? I see so many businesses struggling with this issue. Most animal hospitals have little data to base their decision on whether or not to continue advertising in the YellowPages for another year. Either the practice lacks a system to ask how people found their business, or, even if they do track this data, time is a factor in collating the results.

Let’s discuss reality today vs. 1996. The “new” concept of marketing is called content marketing, which has been created and nurtured by the Internet. We expect to find answers to our questions, interact with friends and brands/businesses, and research products and services before we purchase them. As consumers, we have learned that this information is at our finger tips, 24/7, on a plane, train, boat, or automobile. Want to know what is at the foot of the ski hill for lunch? No problem, because at 12k (I have tried this) the Internet works on your phone. We are constantly connected wherever we go. In fact, by 2014, more searches will be done on mobile devices than on laptop or desktop computers.

The world is changing because of our new thirst for this on-the-go, two-way communication. Here are some facts that you may find interesting:

  • ATT, who owns YellowPages, is selling this portion of its business to a private equity firm because revenue dropped last year (www.brandchannel.com, April 10, 2012, YellowPages).
  • The city of Seattle gave residents a chance to opt out of YellowPages directories (www.seattlepi.com, May 5, 2011, Seattle unveils YellowPages opt-out registry).
  • The city of San Francisco has banned YellowPages directories from being delivered unless requested (USAToday.com, May 18, 2011, San Francisco Bans YellowPages).
  • “Use of the printed YellowPages has dropped from more than 15 billion instances in 2002 to roughly 11 billion in 2010, some figures speculate, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down” (www.seattlepi.com, April 3, 2012, Reputation Changer).

To adapt, YellowPages and its sister publications are trying to move online. Many vet hospitals I have talked to have said it is quite unpleasant dealing with their YellowPages representative because of strong-arm tactics and the clinic’s lack of knowledge about how marketing on the Internet works. Is the YellowPages representative right? Am I missing out on the market? Do I have to pay hundreds to thousand of dollars a month to YellowPages to keep my business running?

The answer is NO. You do not.

People, when searching online, want information immediately. Google has researched and found immediately means within 400 milliseconds or a blink of an eye. We do not want to work to find the information we are seeking, and we want to be satisfied on the first search. Try this for yourself. Either take out your smart phone or pull up your computer. Go to Google, type in yourtown, state, and the word veterinarians. For example, Maple Grove, MN veterinarians. Google will provide a list of results for you to view. The results at the top of the page are in a yellow or lightly shaded box. Only 25% of people click on this ad space and the space under the map. Within this space is where you sometimes find YellowPages listed. After this search result, you will find a new hybrid result (read July’s article for more information) and then the local search results. Regardless of whether you find a listing for YellowPages in paid search or in the hybrid results, you still have to click on that link and conduct a further search when looking for information.

How satisfying is that type of search? (Answer: Unsatisfying and frustrating.)

Instead, when we are searching, we want to do a quick eye spy and find a hospital by name right on the page, glance at the reviews, and click through to its website. Especially if we are on our mobile devices, we do not want to be making multiple clicks to find the information we are looking for. Because of this behavior, we have found our Beyond Indigo websites clients who still are holding on to YellowPages listings receive a measly four to six click-throughs from YellowPages to their website per month. YIKES. That is not many.

Beware if the YellowPages representative in your area shows you thousands of clicks or impressions a month for your business. What does that number represent? Is it the number of people who see the YellowPages link on Google but didn’t click through to YellowPages? Is it the number of people who scanned the page for all veterinarians in your town? Or is it the number of people who clicked on your link within YellowPages AFTER searching on Google to get to your website. Tricky business those statistics.

Remember summer of 2012 as the year your business gave up or drastically reduced its YellowPages presence. Give up the fear of the unknown and base your decision on facts. Start asking and analyzing where your new clients find your business. If it is the YellowPages, make sure what you are spending to advertise there brings in enough new revenue to justify the cost. If people are not using your local YellowPages, then it is time to move that investment to another aspect of marketing that will bring in new dollars.

Also, look inward at yourself and take the leap into that world of Internet marketing. Realize that as a veterinary hospital your primary communication space is face to face, which makes talking to a YellowPages representative in person a comfortable environment for you. Move beyond your own comfort zone and reach into the world where your consumers are engaging and interacting with your brand. Take the positive leap into content marketing. You can do it.

Do you own your domain?

August 31st, 2012 by Kelly Baltzell, MA

Most people think they own their own domain name but they do not. A quick and easy way to check is to go to www.GoDaddy.com  and type in your domain name in the box in the middle of the page.

Another page will come up saying the domain name is already taken. In tiny letters next to the name it will tell you that you can view the domain’s WHOIS listing. Click this link. GoDaddy then will display the information about the domain name and who owns it. (If multiple requests are made at some point an intermediary page will come requesting that you enter the letters seen in the graphic box. This is a spam filter protection).

Look for the word REGISTRANT. Under or next to this word should be the name of the business or one of the owners name’s. If someone else’s name or business name is listed here then your company does not own its domain name. The company/individual that is listed there owns your domain name instead.

Don’t own your domain name? There are a few options open to you. First, you can ask nicely to have the domain name returned to your ownership. Some companies will say then they can’t manage your domain name without it being in their name. There isn’t anything to manage except to pay the Registrar (GoDaddy, Network Solutions, Etc.) when your domain name is about to expire. Another myth that is perpetuated by some website vendors is that they cannot manage your website without being in control of the domain name. This is false. Your domain name should always be in your own name.

If the vendor will not turn over the domain name to you then you need to see if your business name is trademarked. If it is then you have a high chance of getting it back. By law the vendor has to sell your domain name back to your company for cost if certain criteria are met (For more information go to http://www.icann.org/en/udrp/udrp-policy-24oct99.htm). If your business name is not trademarked then the only other recourse you have is through legal action or the selection of a new domain name.

Pearls of Wisdom on Social Media

August 17th, 2012 by Kelly Baltzell, MA

Is social media presence an option? If you want to grow your business, then ultimately, no, having a social media presence is not an option—it’s essential these days.

  1. Savvy Consumers. Today’s consumers are savvy about where and from whom they purchase products and services. They take the time to research online before they ever pick up the phone or get in their car to make a purchase. By having a social media presence that is both engaging and engaged, it helps reassure clients that your business is reputable and cares.
  2. Humanize your brand. Social media gives your business the opportunity to reach out and actually connect with your audience. Real one-to-one relationships are formed.
  3. Your competition is using it. The vet down the street is likely using social media. If you aren’t currently engaging and interacting with social media, how easily will you be found? And just because you aren’t participating, doesn’t necessarily mean others aren’t doing it for you.
  4. You target audience is using it. Here are a few quick facts about Facebook.
    a. 845 million monthly active users at the end of December 2011                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       b. 483 million daily active users on average in December 2011                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       c. 425 million monthly active users who used Facebook mobile products in December 2011
  5. Google counts social sharing when ranking. When many different people on social media refer to your content, your website, or your videos, it means those individuals find your content useful, entertain, informative, or all of it. When this happens, the search engines pay attention and in return use this as a factor to provide better search engine placement for your content.
  6. It’s the next generation version of word-of-mouth marketing. One of the best ways to interact with potential clients is by way of people who have already experienced what your brand has to offer. When your social media presence starts to generate conversation and reaction, such as likes, shares, tweets, pins, etc., it’s a visible reaction of their approval and they are sharing this with their friends and family.
  7. Provides transparency. Social media is an open book. If someone likes you, that’s great, everyone can see it. If someone doesn’t like you and mentions something negative about your brand or experience, then this too is available to the community. Many successful clinics that leverage social media use this as an advantage to show how in tune they are by replying and finding a way to close that loop. This shows to those watching that your clinic has integrity, values interaction and criticism, and cares about its clients.
  8. Opens up conversation. Your clients are the best people to learn from when it comes to making things better. By asking questions about their experience or their needs, you will get an understanding as to what clients are looking for. Social media for small business success is truly about listening as opposed to marketing
  9. Aids customer service. Use your social media outlets to answer questions concerning customer service. By doing it this way, you can not only highlight to your community that you are available, but also get other people within the community to provide answers and support to new or potential clientele who have per haps experienced the same issue themselves.
  10. Brand exposure. Everybody wants a larger piece of the pie. The more targeted people who are aware of your business, the greater the chance you have of turning those individuals into paying clients and them becoming an advocate of your services.

Positive Based Marketing – It’s Here!

August 10th, 2012 by Kelly Baltzell, MA

Hello! This is Kelly, the CEO of Beyond Indigo. We have taken our focus on Positive Based Marketing a step further and putting our research and knowledge into a blog as well as a Facebook page. This week we are focusing a post from this new blog. We look forward to your liking our Facebook Page as well as following our new blog on Positive Based Marketing vs. Fear Based Marketing.

The idea seems “cool” to be positive, but really what is Positive-Based Marketing vs. Fear-Based Marketing? When a business uses Positive Marketing, what they are doing is creating and empowering relationships between themselves and their current/future clients. This creates a whole and a oneness with all parties that are involved. Ideally, the business creating the marketing is trying to improve the value and quality of the life of the person using that business’ services. In return, the person using the services is enabling that company to stay in business through his or her engagement and interaction with the business. It is a win–win and creates a positive atmosphere. Plus, people are encouraged to think whether this particular product or service is a good fit for them. People tend to be happier and more fulfilled with Positive-Based Marketing.

Now, think of the negative marketing campaigns that you have seen. Fear is used in Fear-Based Marketing to sever relationships or isolate people from their relationships. It backs people into a corner and makes them panic thinking they will no longer be accepted by the group/society if they don’t use the product or service being marketed. Fear-Based Marketing also encourages people to react — and not to think. For example, if a female watches a cosmetic commercial, she is usually told that she will not be beautiful or accepted by society unless she wears that exact shade of red. She will be “kicked” out of the group, so to speak. To be included in the whole, she needs to wear that shade of red and, therefore, she must immediately go buy that shade of red. She is not empowered to think: This shade is great for me; therefore, I will purchase it. People tend to be more fearful and anxious with this type of marketing.

To read other posts on this blog please click here.

Fasten Your Seat Belts Because Google Changed Again

August 1st, 2012 by Kelly Baltzell, MA

Just as we were enjoying our Memorial Day weekend, Google went quietly about making some significant changes to its algorithm that heavily impacts local businesses. If you want to understand how to keep being “seen” in Google, these new changes must be adapted in your practice’s online marketing program.

First Change: Google Search Results Went Hybrid

This past year, when we used Google for an online search, the results would show paid advertising at the top or far right (which only 25% of people click on), with local search results shown next — listed in packs of 7 or 10 and accompanied by corresponding map markers starting with the letter “A,”, followed by organic (non-local) results. Google has now integrated organic and local search results together, which currently display on the search results page in varying ways — in packs of 3, 5 or 7 for example, depending on the search query. Search results are still formatted with paid advertising at the top or right under the map on the results page, but you’ll now see organic results listed BEFORE, and blended with, local search results. How does a business become listed in this new hybrid format and at the top of local search results? What we have learned is to focus on the following:

It is crucial to have a custom-designed website that can be optimized (coded) down to the page with local search terms, specific relevant industry keywords (veterinarian, pet cancer, etc.), and appropriate geographic regional terms.
When choosing location keywords, check how close your business is to the center of the city. To do this, go to Google Maps (maps.google.com) and type in your city and state; e.g., Minneapolis MN. Google will then display a marker on the map with the letter “A” — where it considers the center of the city to be located. This letter “A” is what Google calls the “centroid.” The closer your business is to the this centroid, the more “votes” your local business listing receives toward being near the top of local search results for that city. With this approach, Google is attempting to make the search experience most relevant to the searcher’s query.
Plentiful (five or more) positive online reviews help maintain good positioning in Google Local Search. Google purchased the Zagat review site and is now incorporating these reviews into Google local listings. Reviews are becoming increasingly important. Having reviews associated with your business listing is yet another key ranking factor and one of the many signals Google looks for.
To read the rest of this article in a PDF format please click here: Fasten Your Seat Belt – Google Made Changes Again

Your Brand, Your Reputation

July 23rd, 2012 by Kelly Baltzell, MA

More so then ever a business has to watch it’s brand on the Internet. People can interact and define your brand without your input. As I have stated in many speaking venues even though most veterinarians are face to face and on the phone type of people doesn’t mean your pet owners are! Here are some tips to get you started with your brand management.

Where People Can Interact With Your Brand
People perceived your brand and your business differently 10 years ago than they do today. Now, people have choices and the ability to research information themselves before making a purchasing decision. In the past, we used to have to rely on the vendors to give us information about their businesses. Now, with a few quick taps of our fingers, a wealth of knowledge is available for us to consume. What people find about your business and where they find it determines how they see your brand. Does your business seem trendy? Up to date? Resourceful and helpful? Can a viewer find the information he or she needs quickly on any device, 24/7? These are questions to ask when reviewing how your business is perceived online. Where are people making these decisions?

Today, people are using multiple touchpoints when making a purchasing decision. A touchpoint is a place people start at or go to when researching. A pet owner could start at Google, read reviews, leap over to a business website, click through to Facebook, follow on Twitter, read a blog piece, and so forth. These touchpoints, when joined together, turn into a marketing circle. The goal is to keep an interested pet owner in your marketing circle. If there is a disconnect, a person might leap to another business’s marketing circle and you have potentially lost that sale. Each of these touchpoints (or platforms) defines your brand in the eye of the viewer. Here are some key points to keep in mind.

Google now focuses on local search for a business. This local search feature focuses on online reviews, Google+, Twitter “tweets,” and blog comments. Google’s goal appears to be to give us as much information about a business in one “snapshot.” For example,  take a look at Animal Medical Hospital in Charlotte, NC. You will see my picture listed under the search result because I +1 this brand or “liked” it, in other words. Google is providing social media information now mixed in with search engine optimization results. Why? To keep a person using Google and not Facebook.
To read the rest of this article please download this PDF. YourBrandYourReputation

Content – Treat It Like Royalty

June 27th, 2012 by Kelly Baltzell, MA

Yawn—content is so boring, right? Why should we care about content? Throw a few words up on the page, call it good, and move on. Hold on! Not so fast. Content is the star player in any online marketing program. Key functions of content are:

Search Engine Optimization Placement: Content plays a major role in how/where your website is placed on Google. In February 2011, Google made a change to its algorithm, emphasizing high-quality content as a key search engine optimization requirement. This change was called Panda. Bottom line—template content is out and original content is now “in.” (For tips about search engine optimization and content, please visit www.beyondindigopets.com/blog/.
Education: As consumers, we know about cars, food products, cleaning products, and beer because of the amount of advertising we have seen on these subjects. However, we know minuscule amounts of information about veterinary health care and why we should pay for it. We just know as pet owners that we “sorta need it.” The job of content is to educate people about what the service is, why their pet needs it, and, frankly, why people should pay to have that service conducted.
Engagement: If the content on your Internet marketing platforms is stale, boring, flat, and so on, then why should the consumer read it? The content needs to be written correctly in the proper style for the platform (website, Facebook, blogs, Twitter, Pinterest, eNewsletter, YouTube, newsletters, and so on) where it is placed, and it needs to ENGAGE the reader. If the content is not compelling, why should the consumer read it and, more importantly, why should they come back?
Placement for Engagement

Multiple times I have been asked: “Can I write the content once and copy and paste it across all my platforms?” No. Resist this urge to write material once, check the box, and just plaster it out there willy-nilly. You will lose your audience. Each platform has its own style and guidelines for the way content should be displayed, the length, and the tone of how it is delivered. Sure, the message across all the platforms can and should be the same, but the exact content in each place needs to be avoided. General guidelines are as follows:

Online Review Areas: Everywhere people can leave you reviews online must be managed and monitored. The content on these pages needs to be accurate and updated on a regular basis. Once a review is left, then a thank you note needs to be given for positive reviews and an educational note placed for a crabby review. Each thank you/educational note needs to be unique to the post and should not be a standard reply.
Website: Most veterinarian websites I see fall down on the job when explaining the services they offer and why people should use them. Website content needs to be 400 to 500 words per page, needs to educate the pet owner on what the hospital does and why they provide those services, and it needs to be optimized (coded) to be found in Google. The content style needs to be informative and educational in nature. Because protocols do not change every week in the hospital, do not expect to change content about what services you provide on a constant basis. Instead, a blog should be used for weekly educational updates.
Blog: Confusion reigns over what in the heck a blog is. Think of it as an online magazine that is educational in nature. Resist putting cute updates about the office pet on a blog (those type of updates go on Facebook/social media). Focus on short paragraphs, bullet points, and easy to understand educational topics that are timely. For example, in the spring a good topic would be flea, tick, and heartworm prevention.
Social Media Platforms: A good framework for the tone and style of social media is a coffee shop. Conversations on social media areas are fun, chit chatty, ongoing conversations with a hint of education thrown in for flavor. Numerous times I have heard doctors say they wrote a beautiful article that is educational in nature and are disappointment nobody thought it was useful on Facebook. However, the picture of the office cat doing something cute went viral. The educational piece is great but needs to be placed on a blog. Correct placement is everything with content. (For tips on content for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+, check our blog each week during the month of May at www.beyondindigopets.com/blog/).
Monitor Its Success

Marketing needs to be monitored to make sure it is generating the results that are desired. Are people engaging with the content? Are they reading it? Is the post/page/tweet being passed to other people? To find out, monitor the statistics. Each platform mentioned above has its own statistics program that is included or can be added to determine the success of the created content. Monitoring, adjusting, and changing the content based on results is an ongoing process—but a necessary one.