Mind+Matter is a proud sponsor of the Veterinary Marketing Association (VMA) Awards. Prior to this year’s eagerly anticipated awards reveal, our Associate Director of Animal Health, Luke Hopkins, caught up with two of the judges to discuss five major trends and the opportunities they could bring to veterinary marketing.
Trend 1: telehealth – is it here to stay?
Our research suggests that almost half of UK pet owners (47%) say their veterinarian now offers digital or remote consultations. That’s a 20% increase since the pandemic[i].
But can telehealth play a deeper role in the modern veterinary practice? VMA judge Justin Phillips believes it can. As the Vet Practice Marketing & Business Consultant at Practice Made Purrfect, says: “We should celebrate anything that removes barriers to care. If video consultation can do that, then this is a huge opportunity.” And head judge and creative director of 25 years, Richard Rayment, agrees: “An increase in telehealth was inexorable and mirrors what is happening in human health. But I believe this isn’t a temporary shift as it makes care more accessible for many.
At Mind+Matter, we’re anticipating telemedicine access will become an important point of differentiation between practices. And it will help attract the emerging and significant millennial pet owner market.
Our experience also tells us that a digital-only experience presents marketeers with an opportunity for a more trackable and direct user journey. For example, completing an online triage form or requesting a home delivery of parasiticide treatment. It also means pet owners can act on campaign messages and reminders with more immediacy, from being served an ad to requesting a prescription in a matter of seconds.
Trend 2: changing methods of communication
Mind+Matter research shows 71% of veterinary professionals agree that COVID-19 has changed the way they communicate with clients – and this is a change which will continue in the future. Facebook has been the channel they have most relied on during the pandemic[ii].
Both judges agree there’s a role for marketeers in helping facilitate conversations with pet owners and veterinarians. But Justin argues that “These conversations have to be seen to improve long-term pet health. Whether that’s through video consultations or multiple touchpoints, the support material will have to be in a tailored format for each client scenario. It can’t be one size fits all.”
We couldn’t agree more. Context is everything. For example, with the understanding that some canine lameness assessments are done in the walk to the consult room or in the carpark, this can help inform dedicated support materials. Outdoor signage would be a great solution in this instance. Or, if a practice knows that SMS is the most successful client comms channel, this could inform the production of mobile-friendly tools that can easily link with a text message.
Technology and data advancements like this provide an opportunity for practices to be more tailored in their conversations with pet owners. Automated communications should be targeted to specific breeds, conditions, or even individual pets. Again, this is another huge opportunity. If delivered effectively, it could increase the likelihood of a pet owner taking positive action.
Trend 3: virtual events
During the pandemic we’ve seen an explosion in the virtual event industry. This explosion has, however, divided vets’ attention. The choice is far greater, ranging from a live virtual webinar series by London Vet Show to companies such as Royal Canin investing in their own virtual congresses.
But, as Justin Phillips points out, there are many upsides to virtual events: “They help individual CPD budgets stretch much further. And for established headline live events, going virtual has meant a lot more people can attend, including those who would usually be excluded. For example, students and some overseas delegates.”
“The emergence of hybrid events could be a sign of where things are heading in the future,” continues Justin.
“Hybrid events could definitely be the sweet spot,” suggests Richard Rayment. “Virtual congresses are obviously a more realistic proposition for many delegates. They can attend with a clearer conscience, given the reduction in expense and carbon footprint. However, research has shown that delegates really miss interacting with their peers in person and seeing the top KOLs in the flesh, as these are the industry’s rock stars,” he explains.
We agree, but need to emphasise that the fundamentals of any good event remain: provide a clear point of differentiation, be explicit on what the attendee will gain from the outset and consider their heads (what will they learn that they can’t do elsewhere?), hearts (how will you make them feel uniquely special?) and stomachs (no one likes learning on an empty stomach!).
Trend 4: the rise of purpose-driven marketing
Research shows that increasingly consumers are attracted to brands that stand for something bigger than simply the products or services it sells. This is especially true when the purpose aligns with the consumers’ personal values.
Several petcare brands are already focusing on creating mutual value for people, animals and the planet. A recent example we love from Sheeba, a Mars Petcare brand, saw the launch of the world’s largest coral reef restoration programme.
So, can brand purpose drive long-term sustainable business growth in the veterinary space? And will it both engage audiences and drive brand preference?
Possibly, but Richard Rayment adds a note of caution: “Purpose-driven marketing can be great. But we should never forget that brands still have to be built and products have to be sold. For me there are two potential problems. Brands can almost be hiding behind the purpose they attach themselves to. There’s no relevance to it – and it’s just a marriage of convenience. And secondly, if it becomes too ubiquitous, the audience will get CSR fatigue.”
Trend 5: The inevitable rise of pet tech?
56% of pet owners say they have special tech just for their pet, with almost 8 in 10 of them agreeing that these technologies give them a greater sense of their pet’s wellbeing. Another 8 in 10 pet owners use pet tech for tracking or monitoring technology[iii].
Beyond the tech companies, we’re now seeing multinationals looking to add value by creating relationships outside their existing product range. A great example is RenalTech, developed by Waltham Petcare Science Institute, a Mars Petcare company. They evaluated 150,000 cats to develop a biomarker tool to help veterinarians identify cats at high risk of chronic kidney disease (CKD).
However, Justin Philips believes that, currently, big data and AI is beyond most vet practices: “There are quicker, more significant wins to be had with moving tasks online to reduce an over reliance on the phone. Practices won’t suddenly start developing apps – they should leave that to the app developers.”
At Mind+Matter, we believe a clear opportunity for pet tech is to utilise the data generated as a tool for owner and veterinary decision-making. Our role as veterinary marketeers is to help align insights from pet tech tools with a clear educational message and use it as a trigger for action. For example, smart water bowls can measure a cat’s water intake, which if excessive could prompt an instruction for a pet parent to speak to a veterinarian about the possibility of CKD.
In the future we hope to see more partnerships between the veterinary sector, pet tech companies and pet food manufactures. We’d like to ensure this technology is more than a nice-to-know for pet owners. We want to see it actively driving better decisions and better health outcomes for pets.
So are these trends here to stay?
While data supports the likelihood that these veterinary and petcare trends will continue into 2022 and beyond, trends aren’t gospel. If this year has taught us anything, it’s that things can change quickly. What will never change however is the ongoing importance of taking the time to understand the unique challenges and behaviours of the veterinary audience. Campaigns, products and added value services that invest the time to tap into this understanding will consistently emerge superior.
Which of these trends will we see reflected in the 2022 VMA Awards submissions? To start planning your next award-winning veterinary marketing campaign, or to request our Vets & COVID-19, Veterinary Telemedicine or Pet Personas report, email [email protected]
Listen to our VMA Special Podcast here: Piece of Mind Episode #1 – VMA special
Enter our VMA competition here: vma.org.uk
[i] Mind+Matter & HealthforAnimals – Global Telemedicine Research, October 2020
[ii] Mind+Matter, Vets & COVID-19 research, July 2020
[iii] Reference: https://www.booking-wp-plugin.com/state-pet-market-statistics-future-trends/