Marketing in the Age of Touchscreens, Skimmers and Scrollers

By Roxanne Hawn

Strategies for getting people to slow their scroll.
Person scrolling through a touchscreen monitor

Storytelling gives veterinary teams the chance to share important practice and pet care messages in an engaging way. Stories describe who you are without literally having to say, “This is who we are.” Stories give you the chance to share sweet or heartwarming cases, or they can be used as cautionary tales. Stories also give you an opportunity to show how you work as a team, jump into action in an emergency, or work through complicated cases. 

In human medicine, some recognize the power of patients telling their stories and of practitioners and other healthcare providers using stories to connect with clients. It’s referred to as “narrative medicine,” and some of the medical schools now teach it. There are also graduate degrees in narrative medicine. As far as I can tell, veterinary schools are not formally teaching storytelling and the stand-alone graduate programs aren’t seeing students with veterinary backgrounds or interests. 

However, Marcia Childress, Ph.D., associate professor of medical education (medical humanities) at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, says, “Certainly, all veterinarians have stories—and good ones—from their practice, and it could be a rich experience working with veterinary students, as well as veteran practitioners, to help them use storying to reflect on their work, from the many ethical dimensions of veterinary care to the heartwarming as well as the heartbreaking tales of particular animals and their people.”

If you want to try using stories for marketing and client education purposes, leverage all the places you could publish stories:

  • Lobby digital slideshow or case story notebooks for people to browse
  • Practice website case profiles
  • Email newsletter (with an introduction in the newsletter that clicks out to your website or social media)
  • Social media posts
  • Printed newsletter
  • Common case topic educational materials
  • YouTube videos, even if it’s mostly still photos and text or voiceover

What good stories have in common

Meredith Gordon Resnick, LCSW, works with writers and others when they need help breaking through whatever is blocking them from finishing a project. Writing and other creative efforts can help people work through old and new traumas which, considering how stressful veterinary medicine can be, makes storytelling perhaps helpful in more ways than one. 

I was surprised to hear that Resnick rarely reads what people are writing. “Sometimes the block in the writing has nothing to do with the writing,” she explains. 

Resnick, a writer herself, offered some insights on things to consider when telling or sharing a story with a specific client or your client base. She suggests asking yourself a question similar to what fiction writers ask themselves about characters. “What would this character want or need in every single scene,” she says. “If they are going to write to the owner of a pet, figuring out what does that owner want … What do they want that they are not getting and, in this case, how the veterinarian can help them get it?”

Different clients will need different things from a case story. Those early into a new and potentially scary diagnosis with a pet may want clinical details, like what happens next and why. As an example, when Resnick’s greyhound developed osteosarcoma, she looked up things like:

  • Life expectancy
  • What to expect as the disease or treatment progressed
  • How other people dealt with the challenges of amputation

Some clients will enjoy success stories. Others, even when the situation isn’t dire, just want the facts, so you may need to rotate the types of stories you tell and how you structure them, if you want to appeal to a broader group of clients.

Choose your starting point

The best part of any story may not be the beginning. In some cases, chronology matters. In others, it’s okay to start with the most interesting element first, and then fill in the rest later. 

You almost always want to lead with the fact that the pet survived, if that’s the case. Let’s say your team did heroic work in a long surgery to save a pet. Once the case is mostly resolved, share it with your clients in a practice newsletter or social media feed. Start by saying the pet did well. Describe the work to save him. Then, perhaps circle back to how he got hurt in the first place. 

If it’s a heartwarming story, and the beginning part is the best part such as the pet was found in a crazy situation, then how the pet was originally found is probably your starting point. For example, maybe one of your clients found a momma cat and litter of kittens in a storm drain. That’s where you begin, and then describe the veterinary care you provided, along with details on where the kittens can be adopted. 

"Some clients will enjoy success stories. Others, even when the situation isn’t dire, just want the facts, so you may need to rotate the types of stories you tell and how you structure them, if you want to appeal to a broader group of clients."

Consider your clients’ perspectives and motivations in crafting your marketing messages, then present the information in ways that feel more inviting, less intimidating and more actionable. For example, use those puppy and kitten photos on social media to get attention, but be sure to do it with a purpose to drive business for your practice.

If a topic truly does require a heavy dose of information, consider ways to add a TL/DR section at the beginning. Think of it like a veterinary journal abstract. Summarize the key points right away, including your marketing call to action (CTA). Then provide any necessary details down below or one click away so that those who want the detailed information will feel satisfied too.

Reading Online vs. Reading in Print

There are some indications that how people consume content online also affects how they read on paper. Educators, in particular, look at screen time and its possible relationship to falling proficiencies in reading processes and comprehension in children—both of which declined again in the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress in students in grades 4 and 8.

According to a November 2019 article from Education Week, “A study of reading behavior changes found that as students move to reading online, they tend to read faster, browsing and skimming more and looking for key words. They read less of a longer text and tend to reread less, and as students spend more time reading digitally, they become more likely to read print the same way. By contrast, the habits associated with print reading, such as deeper and more concentrated periods of reading, with students annotating and highlighting as they read, did not transfer to reading digital text as easily.”