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2018 has landed in an era of connectivity. In a time of smartphones, smart TVs, and smart refrigerators, potential patients are more reachable than ever. And although it may seem outdated, it is time for your practice to begin focusing on the most important digital tool available – email marketing.

Your first reaction may be to scoff at the idea. Email marketing? Won’t the emails just get deleted before they’re even open? How can it compete with the towering popularity of Facebook? And how would we even get the emails of our patients?

Email icon with young woman on a blue background

The truth is, email is just as relevant today as it was pre-Facebook. With all the statuses, tweets, photos, and links, email inboxes offer patients a calm, organized space on the internet for them to focus on the real world. Society holds a quiet respect for email that has kept the messaging system alive and strong in the world’s hearts. And that value is the key to creating an even closer connection between a practice and patients.

With over 269 billion email sent each day, it could be catastrophic not jumping onto the email marketing train. But what exactly is email marketing? And how can you use it gain and maintain current and future patients? Luckily, the answer to these problems can be solved with three key concepts: automation, content, and testing.

Automation

Automated marketing uses a software to help streamline and build a business’s brand, audience, and connections. Plenty of business, both big and small, use automation in most of their marketing strategies. You may even have a few automated messages in your inbox right this very moment.

The most common form of automation is email automation. These software programs allow your practice to send emails to your patients for a variety of different occasions. And the best part? It does so automatically, meaning that the program can run on its own, saving your office hours of labour.

Emails are sent on your preset occasions known as triggers. The emails may be transactional, sent after:

  • Payments
  • Refunds
  • Invoice
  • As confirmations

They may also just be reminders or ways to connect with patients, sent for:

  • Birthdays
  • Anniversaries
  • Reminders
  • Promotions or discounts
  • Newsletters

And the best part is, autoresponders are customizable. That means that your practice has the opportunity to throw some of your brand’s voice in the emails, giving them a human touch that many automatic emails lack. This humanization is vital for connecting with your patients.

There are plenty of options when choosing which software to use. MailChimp offers free campaigns and is the most popular. Some other popular email marketing brands are Drip, GoDaddy, and InfusionSoft. If you have a bunch of additional wishes for advanced triggers, then maybe some of the vendors on this list of marketing automation tools is what you are looking for.

Of course, in order for the email marketing to work, you will need your patients’  email addresses. A subscribed list is the most valuable aspect of an email marketing campaign. Those in charge of setting up emails should know that the value of the list vastly outweighs the cost of growing it.

There are a number of ways to obtains your patient’s emails. The most obvious way is to ask for it during the paperwork process. Another way is by offering valuable content. This may come in the form of:

  • Optional reminders
  • Newsletters
  • Discounts and promotions

No one can turn down anything free. Just remember to clearly state what your practice is offering in exchange for an email.

Content

Once you’ve gathered a list of patient’s emails, the next part to focus on is what to send them. This is called content. And quality content will pay for itself once it’s done its job and kept your patients engaged.

Subject Lines

The first place to start is the subject line. This is your first wave of attack to draw your patients in. It should be personable, actionable and urgent. But what does that look like, exactly?

Personable voice will go a long way in nurturing your practice’s relationship with a patient. Every person in the world wants to feel special, and personalization is almost a requirement in the online atmosphere nowadays. Luckily, it’s simple:

Screenshot of an email from LinkedIn

Hey, my name’s Alexia! That must mean that this email was sent specifically to me! Gosh, my dentist really cares! (In this case, it’s actually LinkedIn that cares, but I think I still made my point.

Urgency adds another layer of enticement for viewers. Adding a time limit will encourage the recipient to open the email right away, rather than waiting and forgetting. Studies have shown that subject lines with a sense of urgency can give a 22% higher open rate. I see this all the time from my favorite craft store, Michaels:

Screenshot of an email from Micheals

Of course, every subject line should be actionable and descriptive. It should specifically spell out what the purpose of the email is, or what it wants the patient to do. It should also explain what benefit the reader would have for opening the email.

Screenshot of email from Sun Devil Rewards

Clearly, this email from Sun Devil Rewards wants me to participate in some sort of sweepstakes. I bet if I open the message, it will tell me a way to throw my name in the hat. And if I happen to be a die-hard musical lover (which I am), chances are I’m going to open that email and enter to win.

However, I must warn you about character length. Studies have also shown that subject lines under 30 characters are more likely to be opened. Which makes sense, considering how common it is for patients to check their email on their phones.  

Triggers

The body of the email is the major part of the content. This is where your practice’s voice can really be heard, and where you will get the most opportunity to show personalization. The topic of the email is based on what the email trigger was. Possible content could be

  • Upcoming or past events
  • Guides
  • Details about new services
  • Promotional information
  • Newsletters
  • Tips and suggestions
  • Reminders
  • Transactional information
  • Reengaging inactive patients

Regardless of the topic, the content must be beneficial to the patient. This, again, is where “free” comes in. Promotions, newsletters, and guides are all great freebies that patients may begin to look for in your emails and will encourage them to open all of your messages.

The layout of the email is also important. Each email should be smoothly designed and easy to read. That means keeping the message brief and placing the important information on the top of the page. Preferable, place it above the fold (or the section seen without scrolling down).

The use of headers, pictures, and GIFs are also a great way to keep the reader’s interest. But use them appropriately. No one wants to see a dancing cat on an unpaid invoice.

GIF of Dancing Cat

Source: GIPHY

Personalization

Personalization plays a major role in deciding the topics. For example, if the last time your patient came in and mentioned a soreness, sending information about that topic may be beneficial. If they requested paperless receipts of all their payments, receipts can also be customized.

Touches of personalization will go miles in building a connection between your patients and your practice. It keeps the patients engages with your emails, and will continue to foster your relationship with the patient without physically sending the email yourself.

However, another warning: personalization can become problematic. In generic emails, it is probably a safer bet to not address the patient by name. Otherwise, anyone could receive a “Hey Susan!” email, whether it’s their name or not. And if you have to manually change the name for every patient, what is the point in an autoresponder system at all?  

Segmentation

But how are you supposed to keep all of the patient’s personalization straight? That’s where segmentation comes in. Segmentation is one of the best tricks of email marketing. Once you get it down right, you are guaranteed to see an increase in the number of patients you keep.

Segmentation allows you to split your patients into separate targeting groups. The groups can be based on anything, including:

  • service interest
  • patient status
  • their relationship with the practice
  • demographic information

Once the patients are organized, you can send specific or personalized messages to each group. It will also allow you an opportunity to test which of your emails are the most effective in bringing patients back.

Studies on segmentation testing have shown that demographically based emails are opened emails sent based on a demographic segmentation have roughly 3.6% more click rate than others. Similarly, location segmented lists have roughly 2.6% more click-through rates.

Calls To Action

It should go without saying that every email in your email marketing campaign should have a call to action (CTA). These are messages or opportunities for your patients to interact with your practice and generate more business.

Calls to actions are easy to slip into any content. It can be as simple as “Give us a call!” or “Click Here to schedule your next appointment!” But remember to make them interesting. Entice your patients with the life-changing service you can provide them. A link to your website stating, “Take the first step to a better life!” or “Find your smile!” are much more appealing to a patient than a boring scheduling option.

Also, don’t forget that emails can be forwarded. This is the perfect opportunity to gain referrals patients. Simply add a CTA that suggests “Forward to a Friend!” on any emails containing promotions, discounts, or guides that anyone can use.

No matter what your CTA is, always make sure it is above the fold. As mentioned before, all content should be placed in order of importance, with the most important on the top. Since the CTA is astronomically important, it belongs in the limelight of the top of the email.

Newsletters

No conversation about email marketing would be complete without talking about newsletters. They’re an easy answer to the question of what to send patients to keep them in the email marketing campaign. Newsletters offer practices a great chance to send information out to all patients who are subscribed that will show the human side of your office, as well as providing valuable information for the reader.

Newsletters should be designed, same as your regular emails. The most important, interesting information should be at the top (near your CTA) and the entire letter should be clear and easy to read. That means using readable fonts and even spacing. They should also contain

  • A header
  • Images
  • Pictures
  • Gifs
  • Videos

The more you add, the more interesting your email will be.

Newsletters are another great chance for your practice to use its voice and build patient relationships. They can be great places to send personal greetings and reminders. For example, “Happy New Year! New year, new you! Don’t forget to schedule your next appointment!”  A personal greeting and a  CTA all in one. Just remember to be friendly.

Mobile Design

Again, the era of the smartphone means more and more content is only going to be viewed from a cell phone. Studies have shown that 51% of email is now read on a mobile device. That means that all of your emails need to be optimized for a mobile viewing.

What do I mean by optimized? All emails need to have an alternative formatting to be viewed on a mobile device. That can mean:

  • Using one column size instead of two
  • Changing the size of the fonts
  • Considering where the finger will be when scrolling

Automation services typically provide an alternative formatting option for emails read on mobile. But if your service does not provide one, then you should be considering these ideas when formatting your original email.

Manners

The last advice on creating and distributing content in your email marketing strategy is to remember your manners. The most important part to remember is that at any time, subscribers can unsubscribe. So that means you must stay on the patients’ good side.

This also means respecting the contract between the subscribed patient and your practice by sending the agreed upon amount of emails. No one likes to get spam mail, and sending too many emails will frustrate patients. One of the best ways to avoid this is to announce how many emails or what kind of email that will be sent once the patient subscribes.

Testing

The final aspect of email marketing that is critical for you to master is analyzing your email data. This might sound intimidating, but it is not. And mastering the analyzing phase of your campaign will fine tune it into the most lucrative tool you have.

Most automation service provides offer analytic systems. They can provide a number of different reports. You may be familiar with commerce reports and campaign reports. But the reports you want to focus on for your email marketing strategy is your automation reports. These reports will provide you with all types of information, including:

  • Open rates
  • Click through rates
  • Unsubscribing rates
  • Conversion rates
  • Bounce rates
  • List growth rates
  • Returns on investments (ROI)

Specifically, focusing on open rates, click-through rates, and unsubscribing rates will be great indicators of how your email marketing campaign is doing. Open rates will indicate that your relationship will the patient receiving the email is strong enough for them to consider your email worth reading. Click-through rates will show that the patient is interacting with your content meaning that the patient s engaged and has a chance at converting. Subscription rates are obvious – your campaign is not working.

Another indication to see how well your email marketing campaign is working is the amount of traffic your website receives. If you’ve seen a growth in the amount of visitors your practice website received since you added a “Schedule now!” link in your emails, then it is safe to say the campaign may be working.

If all of these indicators are low, the next thing to focus on is re-working your emails. Re-working may even get your high numbers higher. This is the most important factor of email marketing campaign. Test out a different format of your email. Perhaps re-write some of the email’s body. Add more color or fewer pictures. The possibilities are endless, and the sky’s the limit.

A/B Testing

The best way to test and rework your email is by using A/B testing. This testing method will allow you to tweak your emails into top performers.

First, determine what you would like to test. Is the heading too big? Is the message too long? Decide on which aspect you feel might be frightening the patient’s away. Then, decide how you will determine if changing the aspect was successful or not. Will you have more people opening an email with a better subject line? Will the increase of website visitors be a result of a better CTA?Image of sets of audiences in an A/B test

Luckily, many automation providers offer A/B testing services. Two versions of an email can be randomly sent to patients. Data gathered from these two different emails can be compared to determine which of the two version worked best.

You can also pick more than one variable to adjust. Often variables work better in different combinations. Test until you find that perfect combination to gain and keep your patients.

Conclusion

Unlike Facebook statuses and Twitter updates, email is here to stay. In a world of constant connectivity, it is crucial that your practice stay as connected with your patients as possible.This means that email marketing may be your practice’s best marketing opportunity.

Email marketing is one of the easiest and most valuable tools any practice can have. With just a little bit of effort setting up your automation system, your practice can save hours of labor and continue to connect with patients in ways unheard of before. Before you know it, it will have paid for itself.

 

About The Author

Josh Kelly Josh was the marketing director of a small "mom & pop" home services business and scoured the marketplace for a reputation management automation system that suited his needs and vision. He couldn't find it, so he had one built himself. The uniquely architected system helped Parker & Sons grow into a $100 million, loved market-leader within 2 years! They are now the largest in the country. They spun the automated Reputation Management and Marketing System out as RevuKangaroo. Parker & Sons still uses the system and added another $20 million to its revenue this past year and has naturally practiced service excellence that they attribute to RevuKangaroo. Josh Kelly is now the CEO and the company is a market-leader in Reputation Management and Marketing...and is creating the same magic for all its clients! RevuKangaroo's clients grow 15% plus within the first 6 months of using the system!

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