Helpful marketing

Dr Braden Collins
Dr Braden Collins and friend taking time out from the clinic.

WA vet Braden Collins had a new clinic that was losing thousands of dollars a month. Then he came up with a way to market his business that has proven very successful. Steven Coby reports

Sometimes creative ideas are as much about desperation as inspiration. Maybe business isn’t going as well as you thought it would. Maybe pressures outside the business are forcing you to look at things in a different way. In Dr Braden Collins’ case, both are precisely what led him to a creative marketing solution that has resulted in double-digit growth for both his clinics—Bunbury and Eaton Vet clinics in WA. It is built around written and video content he has created himself. He calls it “helpful marketing”.

There were three pivotal events that inspired Dr Collins to go down this path.

Firstly, he and his business partner, Dr Joe Cockerill, purchased a second veterinary clinic. Their first, in Bunbury, had been growing for the past two years. They saw an opportunity to buy a clinic at nearby Eaton, in the city’s ‘Northern Growth Corridor’. It looked like a great opportunity—the clinic was just across the road from a small shopping centre that was about to be redeveloped.

It was a disaster. “We knew that Eaton clinic was under-serviced,” says Dr Collins. “We saw the potential knowing that going from a small shopping centre to a huge one was going to increase our footfall quite dramatically. But what we didn’t allow for was that about a month after we took over the clinic, they ripped out the roads outside and for two months there was very poor access to our building. Turnover dropped by about $30,000 a month.

“Being in a situation where we’d just paid for a business, we got absolutely smashed and lost a lot money very quickly.”

“Marketing is seen as such a dirty word in the vet world. I think that’s because we look at marketing as being the more traditional ‘interruption marketing’.” 

Dr Braden Collins, practice partner, Bunbury and Eaton Vet Clinics

Secondly, one of the vets at that new clinic left and set up in competition to them.

“So, we had the double whammy of people not being able to access us plus a vet setting up in opposition at a point where we just didn’t have the time to cement the client base to us. We found that we lost a lot of clients quite quickly without a chance to really show what we were about.”

Thirdly, Dr Collins found himself with some time on his hands. “When my first son was born, he had an inguinal hernia which meant a couple of days in hospital,” he explains. “So sitting in hospital next to my son, I thought I’d have a bit of a scroll through some podcasts and see what I could find.”

Light bulb moment

At the time, a lot of podcasters in the United States were talking about ‘content marketing’. Although it’s a very old approach to marketing, it became a lot more popular with the rise of Google and Facebook. Marketing your practice with helpful content rather than ads suits digital platforms like search engines and social media, where the content is more prominent than display advertising.

Influential marketing commentators like Seth Godin and David Meerman Scott had been talking about ‘permission’ marketing and using content for some time before the US-based Content Marketing Institute started popularising the phrase ‘content marketing’ in 2011.

One of content marketing’s success stories was that of Marcus Sheridan—a swimming pool salesman who was facing bankruptcy, but turned his company around by attracting customers using helpful, educational content. Dr Collins stumbled across the Marcus Sheridan story when listening to a podcast called The Sales Lion. 

“Some of the articles I wrote even two or three years ago are still
getting several hundred hits per month on Google.” 

Dr Braden Collins, practice partner, Bunbury and Eaton Vet Clinics

“That’s where I thought, this sort of marketing feels right to me because it’s providing huge amounts of value to people and building trust,” he says. “So I started listening to those podcasts when I was just sitting in the hospital with my son and then from there, as I drove to and from work each day, I’d listen to more.”

It was during this period that his idea for helpful marketing was born.

Helpful marketing

“Marketing is seen as such a dirty word in the vet world,” says Dr Collins. “I think that’s because we look at marketing as being the more traditional ‘interruption marketing’. It’s like jumping in front of people, waving your big sign saying ‘hey come and buy this’. That never really sat well with me doing that sort of marketing. 

“I think the best way to really get people to trust you is to build that trust before their pet is in your hands.”

Dr Collins started writing blog posts and publishing them on his website, as well as joining Facebook and offering helpful advice to people. He gathered a few of his blog posts together and called them the ‘New Dog Guidebook’, which covered general advice on vaccinations, desexing, worming, feeding and so on. He printed some copies (at a cost of about $1.80 per copy) and gave them away to clients or at community events. He also made a few videos (generally of things that are tricky to convey in a simple blog post) and put them up on YouTube. 

“We do find that there are a lot of clients now driving past other clinics to come specifically to us and some of that we can directly attribute to certain videos that I’ve done,” he explains. For the first 12 months after the Eaton clinic opened, Dr Collins estimates growth was stagnant. After that, he started to see some significant changes which he attributes to his ‘helpful’ approach to marketing: “We probably had about 30 per cent growth in our second year and 20 per cent growth the year after that.”

Most importantly, as the clinic has become busier, his content marketing is still working for him—even as he has had to ease off on creating new content. “Just like everyone else in the industry we’re struggling to find vets so we have been short one vet for the last three or four months,” he explains. “But the articles and videos we’ve done are still working for us. Things like the brachycephalic video, which I did over winter when we are a little bit quieter—we’re still seeing the cases come through from that. Some of the articles I wrote even two or three years ago are still getting several hundred hits per month on Google. It’s one of those assets that you build and they’re there for the long term.”


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