Marketing Veterinary Services to Women


Recently, my 13-year-old lab mix had a bout of pancreatitis.  She was in the vet for two days.    During that time, I had to give a presentation to a health care company about marketing health care products and services to women. 

What immediately struck me was the similarity between marketing health care to women and marketing veterinary services to women.

Women are responsible for the majority of their family health care decisions.  Women are also the majority purchasers of pet products and veterinary services.  According to the 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey, three-quarters of primary shoppers for pet products are female.

Marketing veterinary services to women – what women want

Whether it's a two-legged family member or a four-legged family member, women want similar things from their doctor and veterinarian.  They also have similar complaints.   Here are some of the top issues for women:

  1. Better explanations, instructions and communication
  2. Reduced anxiety during the medical visit
  3. Professionals who truly know and care about their patients
  4. Health care plans, not just individual services or products
  5. End of life issues

For today, I want to focus on number one.   This is one of the biggest complaints women have about their doctors and their vets.

Better explanations, instructions and communication

I love my dentist.  We will be together til dentures.   The number one reason I love him is his outstanding communication.  I get detailed instructions three times – beforehand, at the time of the procedure and printed instructions that go home with me.   These instructions include:

  • Details about the procedure and what's going to be done so I know what's coming (including prices)
  • A detailed list of what to do after the procedure including what to eat (including foods that help speed up recovery), what not to eat, how long to stay on that diet, exercise to do or not do, supplements that can help, etc.
  • What kind of after effects are common and which are not common and a sign that I need to contact him.   (He also includes his cell number I can call after-hours)
  • Ongoing instruction for diet, exercise, stress reduction and a holistic plan for the next few weeks for optimal healing. 
  • He personally calls me at night after the procedure to see how I'm doing.

What pet owners say about vets

When you look at reviews of top rated vets by women, you will see a common theme – these vets do an outstanding job of communicating and providing information.

He was very good in explaining  what was going on with her and helping
us understand her options, and helping us figure out how we wanted to
handle her situation.

He is always very thorough with examinations and really takes his time
explaining your options for treatment and the possible outcomes. I never
feel shorthanded on information when I leave an appointment with him

I just got off the phone with the lady in the front, and she has been so
helpful.  She answered my questions very thoroughly and gave me all the
details I asked for without a hint of annoyance or impatience….unlike
all of the other places I called beforehand.

Our Dachshund terrier needed an annual checkup, and they addressed all
our questions and concerns.  Dr. Brenes gave a thorough exam; she took
note of the smallest details, and didn't take anything too lightly.  It
really gives me peace of mind that she paid attention to detail.

Dr. Key (my cat's vet when he was very ill) and the staff spent a lot
of time explaining everything that was going on and planned out a course
of treatment well in advance.  "If this happens, we will do this, if
not, we will do this and here is how much both of these cost."  I
couldn't ask for more. 

The flip side is – lack of communication, explanation and  information is also at the top of the list of most common complaints. And here's the real kicker, women perceive lack of communication as "not caring."

What vets can do

I know veterinary professionals are often pressed for time.   And I'm sure many feel they are doing an excellent job of communicating.  Vets finish every appointment with, "Do you have any questions?" Often, the pet owner says, "no."  

But what that "no" likely means is:

  • I need some time to process this
  • I'm going to have to go home and Google this to get more information
  • I don't have any questions now, but I'm sure I'm going to have more questions later
  • I understand now, but I'm not sure I'm going to be able to explain this to my spouse, friends, family later
  • I have some idea of what I should do, but is there anything I should NOT do?

So here are some action steps vets can take to create a better experience for women and their pets:

  1. Review all of your client communications.  Are you communicating in detail?  Are you answering all questions?  Are you providing answers in a way that they can be shared with friends and family? 
  2. What to expect.  Are you providing details on what women and their pets can expect when going in for specific appointments or procedures?   
  3. Follow up.   Are women and their pets leaving with detailed information on what to look for after a procedure – what is common, what is a sign they need to contact the vet?  (I ended up at the emergency vet on the weekend after my dog didn't pee or poop for almost two days after a surgical procedure,  only find that was not uncommon.  The suggestion to remove her collar just to let her sniff out a place to pee resulted in immediate success.)
  4. Reduce anxiety – A key way you reduce pet owner anxiety is by providing detailed explanations and instructions (including phone numbers and instructions on which emergency centers are close by if the regular vet does not handle overnight or weekend emergencies).   Discuss ways for pet owners to reduce pet anxiety. (Soft music or complete quiet on the car ride in, allowing pets to go to the bathroom right before walking into the vet, etc.)   
  5. Holistic healing plan.   What can pet owners do to create ideal healing situations hours, days, weeks, even months after a procedure?    For example, "noise pollution" can be a problem.  Is it best to keep your pet somewhere completely quiet? with soft music?  away from a loud TV?  What can pet owners do as far as nutrition, supplements, exercise, massage, physical affection etc.    

 Improving communication is vitally important for two reasons. 

  1. Lack of communication, explanation, instructions, etc. is one of the most common pet owner complaints.
  2. When you DO communicate and LISTEN, and provide detailed instructions, women view that as a sign that YOU CARE.    Which in turn, makes them far more likely to recommend you to their family and friends.  And that's one of the best ways to market your veterinary services to women. 

Here's more information on marketing healthcare to women.    See if it sparks any other ideas. 

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