What if we marketed to veterinarians, not to veterinary clinics?

Veterinarians are more than just a sales channel

When I was a marketer at Zoetis, I thought of veterinary clinics as just a sales channel — our most important sales channel. But still just a sales channel, not a person. As marketers, our job was to do a better job marketing to clinics than any other company was doing. And I think we did it.

Here’s how. First, we created teams responsible for clinic relationships in addition to the teams that were already focused on product marketing. Second, we recognized that we needed to talk more about how our products benefited clinics. So we established two messaging pillars to make room for a broader conversation:

That second pillar — the health of the business — was every bit as much an innovation as Simparica Trio, Zoetis’ blockbuster parasiticide, is today. It made Zoetis the undisputed B2B market leader, focusing resources from all different functional areas of the company.

So, what’s next?

I’ve been thinking about the next marketing innovation. Who will make it and what will it be?

What if the next innovation is to think of the veterinarian as a person, rather than as a clinic or channel? What would happen if we actually humanized veterinarians?

There is so much discussion about the human-animal bond and the humanization of pets. But as a veterinarian myself, surrounded by many friends who also are practicing veterinarians, it is clear we feel dehumanized. Clients are agitated and testy, staff are not even bothering to call in sick anymore, and pet care companies just want their contracts signed and targets met. It’s no wonder veterinarians are feeling squeezed more than ever and that job satisfaction continues to decline. In 2018, the Merck Animal Health Veterinary Wellbeing Study reported that only 41% of veterinarians would recommend their profession to others. That rate dropped to 24% for those ages 34 and younger.

Contrast that sad reality with the idea that started veterinarians down this path: the love that we have for animals and the desire we have to be in a helper profession. Veterinarians start out wanting to make the world a better, kinder place. And yet, the reality is that they are having trouble holding onto their sense of self and sense of purpose.

Given this, imagine how much it would resonate if a pet care company committed to treating veterinarians like people.

Veterinarians largely make their decisions based on emotion.

Let’s be honest, there wouldn’t be any veterinarians under the age of 45 if this weren’t true! The mountains of debt, the years spent studying rather than earning a living and the loss of Saturdays with your family. These things aren’t justified with logic. It’s fair to say that being a veterinarian is a calling (particularly for those under age 45 due to the debt this group has incurred).

If I were leading a pet care marketing team today, I would be exploring platforms and campaigns that connect emotionally with veterinarians. Yet, instead, the current focus is on the pet owner. Every pet care company is adding to its pet-parent database, building out its ability to rebate pet-parents directly and shifting marketing dollars to pet-parents. But if everyone’s doing it, it isn’t innovation anymore, is it? It’s a land grab — a matter of operational execution.

When does innovation strike?

Innovation will come when a company takes what it has learned in its B2C forays and applies it back to the people who form the B2B channel: veterinarians. Veterinarians are people too. Innovation will come by choosing to market to veterinarians AND consumers and by emotionally connecting with both groups.

Every consumer marketer will tell you that the key to consumer marketing is to connect your brand to a positive feeling. Coca-Cola, Target, Gerber: These companies thrive because they understand that people buy brands based on their emotions. These companies build relationships with marketing.

Historically, pet care companies have deployed large sales teams to call on clinics and build relationships. But what will companies do in today’s world where sales teams aren’t able to make those calls? The market is changing. Which pet care company will pivot toward the change rather than resist it?

The first company to really see veterinarians as people will take share from its competitors.

What would happen if your company started marketing to veterinarians rather than to just veterinary clinics? What if your pet care company applied consumer marketing best practices to veterinarians? Do you have ideas on how to do that? Let’s discuss how we can help your company make this a reality.

About the Author

Blair McConnel brings extensive experience to the Bader Rutter Pet Care Practice. She is a veterinarian who worked in industry for ten years and led Zoetis’ marketing team. She has led several start-ups, including 2 businesses which provided people management and business consulting services to veterinarians. Her passion is growing businesses, and her belief is that good strategy is the foundation to growth.