(This article is an 8.5-minute read)
THREE THINGS YOU’LL GET FROM THIS ARTICLE
1. How Google Analytics data can be very misleading when measuring marketing
2. Three ideas for successful, hard-to-measure marketing
3. An explanation of the importance of empathy mixed with evidence
Science is better than instinct. Data is better than experience. Proof is better than faith. You know that. You’re a scientist. Everything you do in your clinic is evidence-based. It follows that measuring marketing is important, because you want to understand the relationship between what you’re spending and what you’re making.
Except that isn’t always true.
This article isn’t going to argue against measuring your marketing efforts. I just want to draw your attention to the limits of measurement.
At the moment, you’re probably buying Google Adwords and Facebook ads because they appear very targeted, and are supported by detailed data. You get a nice email at the end of each promotion telling you how many people were engaged, and how many clicks you got. If you’re really advanced, you’ve set up conversion goals in your analytics dashboard to track the dollar value of every click.
You may even be delving into your organic web traffic with an SEO agency. You might be looking at your traffic sources, and the time people spend on various pages, and bounce rates and so on.
That feels like smart marketing. It feels evidence-based. Just like you treat animals when they come in. Except sometimes you don’t.
There is a reason why you don’t graduate from vet school and walk into owning your own practice. There’s a reason you look for mentors early on in your career. You know, instinctively, that there are things you don’t know.
What those things are, in a nutshell, is experience. But experience on its own isn’t always a good thing—you can keep making the same mistake a hundred times and never learn from it. In all areas of healthcare, and veterinary science is an area of healthcare, experience is only meaningful when twinned with empathy.
And empathy isn’t scientific. Empathy is subjective, and personal. There’s no way of measuring if you have the same amount of empathy as the vet in the next room. But empathy can have a profound effect on your diagnoses and treatment plans.
About thirty years ago, dogs in regional areas were dying from what looked like poisoning. They were treated with vitamin K, but wouldn’t respond. In fact, their symptoms got worse.
The vets who realised the problem did so from empathy and instinct, which guided them towards the real solution (which was an active ingredient in rat poison that was unusually high). It was empathy and experience trumping what was then evidence-based best practice.
It seems a little trivial to follow that story with one about digital data. But if you do look at your Google Analytics, do you stare at those columns showing you things like time spent reading a page, or the bounce rate, and think, “no-one is really paying attention to this”?
A statistic telling you about “time on page” and “bounce rate” seems self-evident. If the time someone spends on the page is 0, or the bounce rate (the rate at which people leave the page) is 90 per cent, you might assume that page is a failure. But it’s not. It could indicate the exact opposite.
As this excellent article on misunderstood metrics explains, Google’s algorithm can’t measure the amount of time someone spent looking at the last page of your site. All it can do is measure when they moved on to the next page. If what they read on that last page tells them everything they need to know, then they go off and have a cup of tea, your data will indicate that the time they spent on your page was low.
SImilarly, the measurement of bounce rate is the rate at which someone comes to a single page, then leaves your site again. If someone comes directly to a particular page, learns everything they want to know, then leaves again, that counts as a 100 per cent bounce rate.
In each of those situations, the data seems to be suggesting that no-one is looking at your content, or they’re seeing it, realising it’s not for them, and leaving.
But that isn’t necessarily the case.
So measuring your marketing efforts isn’t a bad thing—but it doesn’t always mean what you think. The flip side of that is, of course, that some marketing you can’t measure might be doing really well for you. You just don’t have the data to back it up.
There are various powerful marketing tactics you can use that can’t be measured easily. That’s not to say they are impossible to measure—it’s just hard. But there is a way you can understand if something is working. That is by empathy and experience.
So just because doing a series of YouTube videos on pet behaviour seems expensive and difficult to quantify a result from, does that mean you shouldn’t do it? Of course not. And entertaining video with adorable pets is going to appeal to potential clients as much as it appeals to you.
Printed publications, like magazines and newsletters, seem nose-bleedingly expensive. But whether you’re creating them yourself, or part of a group that’s creating them, you know that people love to read about their pets. And they’re more likely to trust a printed publication from you, their vet, than they are from some random newsagency.
I recently saw a fantastic initiative on a website for Sugarland Vet that really impressed me. It was an interactive widget called a Pet Health Checker. The information in it could have easily been presented as a list—but by making it a bit fun and interactive, it helped people make a decision to come in and make an appointment. Measuring its effectiveness as a piece of marketing would be hard. But any pet owner who plays with it can immediately see how useful it is, and it doesn’t take much imagination to realise that would translate to more business for the vet.
It is important to measure your marketing activity. But just because you can’t measure a particular tactic doesn’t mean that tactic doesn’t work. Or that it isn’t worth doing.
You know from your day-to-day practice that empathy and instinct can sometimes be as important as evidence, if not more so.
Use that empathy and instinct in your marketing as well.