THREE THINGS YOU’LL GET FROM THIS ARTICLE
1. The three most common complaints about building an email database
2. The most cost-effective form of marketing for practices
3. The difference between staying in touch and spamming patients
Anyone with an interest in marketing will tell you email marketing is important, and you need to build an email list of your clients. Sure, it’s nice to be able to email them, maybe, but if you’re a medical practitioner, do the same rules apply?
Unlike, say, a retailer or a hairdresser, the folk who come to you tend to need your services, right? But talk for a few minutes to a professional like Carolyn S Dean—author of Fully Booked: Dental marketing secrets for a full appointment book, and a marketing expert with over 20 years of experience—and you realise that this is an unsustainable approach to communicating with patients nowadays.
And that’s, at the base of it all, what it’s all about—communicating. If you’re running a medical, dental or veterinary practice, I bet there’s been some time when you’ve complained, either publicly or privately, that your patients only connect with you when something’s wrong. But how often do you connect with them?
The first step in reaching out to your patients when they’re not in the surgery is to communicate with them, and email is the easiest way to do that.
To answer the next logical questions, like “why email patients?” and “what do I email them about anyway?”, we sat down with Carolyn to get the benefit of her wisdom.
Why would a practice use email marketing?
ROB JOHNSON: If you’re a dentist or vet, who has patients walking in the front door every day, why would you want to build an email list?
CAROLYN S DEAN: It’s all about touch points and all about keeping in contact with the patient base. If you’re a dentist, you’re going to see your patients, hopefully, every six months or a year. But really, how much time will you get with them to talk to them, to tell them about your services, to give them the news, to educate them about what they need?
Email marketing is absolutely critical to keep in contact with your clients and your patients, and to also to educate them and give them the information that you don’t have time to give when you’re seeing them for an appointment.
CAROLYN S DEAN: I would say it’s about 20 per cent if that. However, I would say that 70 per cent are aware that they need to do this. I think in the last 18 months or a year, awareness is rising that they do need to have patient email addresses, but they don’t know how to do it. They don’t know where to begin.
There’s three parts that they have problems with:
- Collecting the email addresses: They say, ‘We’ve got our practice management software, but I don’t think we’ve got the right email addresses, and how do we go about collecting them?’ And in my book I’ve done a section on how you get those email addresses from your patients.
- The technology problem: They don’t know how to use the technology for building and sending email newsletters, and they don’t know how to set it up, and how to configure it. Most importantly, they don’t know about the anti-spam legislation that they have to follow.
- The content: They don’t know how they actually can deliver this on a regular basis. Some will say, ‘Yes, I’ve done a couple of email newsletters, but we’ve just lost momentum; we’ve really had problems getting the content together’.
ROB JOHNSON: So you find there’s a big gap between awareness and execution.
CAROLYN S DEAN: It’s a huge gap. A huge gap.
ROB JOHNSON: Is part of the problem that the popular practice management software solutions aren’t really designed or configured to gather this info?
CAROLYN S DEAN: There are some practice management software systems that make this very hard. I don’t want to name names. And there are some that are really getting it and really pushing marketing as core positioning for the practice management software. We’re actually seeing some pretty exciting things happening with some of the practice management software providers.
ROB JOHNSON: That’s very diplomatic. In order to gather email contacts on our own websites, we use plugins for popovers. Is that something that integrates easily with the practice management software systems?
CAROLYN S DEAN: On the whole, no, it doesn’t integrate easily. It is a great idea to have them on your website, they are an amazing idea to capture email addresses when people come to your website. BUT, you’ve got to think about people coming to your website for the first time.
Practices have got their patient base. They’ve got their practice management software, and they’ve got thousands or tens of thousands of contacts in there. So you can gather addresses and you should be gathering addresses on your website, but your patient data that’s in your practice management software is a list that is easily accessed. Why not use that?
The effectiveness of email marketing
ROB JOHNSON: There are other ways to connect with patients—why use email?
CAROLYN S DEAN: What I love about email marketing is it’s cost-effective, it offers instant results, and you get so much information back. You can see who has opened the email, what they’ve clicked on, if they’re liking it—you can see if they’re going to your website, and you can see where they’re going on your website. There’s so much information that you can pull out of an email newsletter.
By contrast, if you put an ad in the local paper, you’ve got no idea who looks at it, no idea who thinks about it, no connection between the ad and who picks up the phone. But from an email newsletter you can get all of this information.
ROB JOHNSON: How often do recommend that people send emails out?
CAROLYN S DEAN: Once a month is the recommended frequency. It’s about being front-of-mind, it’s about education, promoting your practice, and it’s about being able to say thank you to your patients.
How to avoid the spam problem
ROB JOHNSON: No-one wants to spam their client base. And healthcare people are very self-conscious about sounding too ‘sales-oriented’. What do you say when people bring up those objections?
CAROLYN S DEAN: Well, obviously you’ve got to follow the anti-spam legislation. There are very strict rules in Australia and around the world about who you can sign up to your database. You need to make sure that your patients know you’re signing them up to your email newsletter facility and you have to give them the option to opt out. That’s the legal side that has to be followed.
What we find is every practice is different and every practice has a preferred way to talk to their patients and their clients. Some people might decide to do it monthly, some do it every other month, some might send an email out every quarter. But it’s about being consistent, so if you’re going to do it, do it and be consistent. Pick the frequency and deliver on it. If you send it out once in a blue moon, it just doesn’t work.
ROB JOHNSON: In your book, you recommend using both printed newsletters and email newsletters. What are the advantages of each?
CAROLYN S DEAN: For email newsletters the advantages are cost, speed, and about being able to know about who is opening and what they’re clicking on. I would want every practice to be sending email newsletters—that’s your base.
Print newsletters have the advantage of being more ‘sticky’. They hang around. People will open them, put them next to the telephone, put them on the fridge. That’s a huge advantage, but they are hard to produce, they are much more expensive to produce and to distribute.
ROB JOHNSON: A lot of marketers talk about owning your own audience as opposed to ‘digital sharecropping’ on social media. Are those ideas applicable to health care businesses, or are healthcare businesses a special exception?
CAROLYN S DEAN: Yes, healthcare practices do see themselves as different, and they are different. However, they need to own their own database. They cannot be in a situation where Facebook knows who all their likers are and they haven’t got a clue. They need to know who their audience are and they need to own their own database. Once they have that information they can do whatever they want.
To find out more about the wealth of information in Carolyn’s book Fully Booked, go to the website to order your copy.
To find out more about how you can get enough content to fill a blog (and justify a newsletter) every month for the next twelve months, call Mark Brown on +61-2-9660 6995, or email him.