By Joyce Sunila

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Buzz about the migration to mobile is LOUD. The smart money keeps predicting that cellphones and tablets will soon be used to do everything we now do on our desktops.

Most cosmetic physicians are getting their websites optimized for cell phones and tablets, or have already done so. This is understandable. Their websites are their storefronts. They are the digital “brochures” that must be legible everywhere. When a prospect is looking for a provider, you better be as accessible as the doctor down the street.

That raises a question for doctors who use e-mail to promote their practices: Shouldn’t e-marketing newsletters and promotions display well on smartphones and tablets, too?

This would be an easy question to answer if:

  • HTML and CSS coding were simple sciences.
  • Coding e-mail were as easy as coding websites.
  • Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as Hotmail, Yahoo!, and Gmail all rendered code the same way.
  • Android, Blackberry, and iPhone ran similar systems.
  • All systems were equally able to detect which device is opening your mail.

Incompatibility among systems, manufacturers, and ISP providers has resulted in a free-for-all. No one but the largest corporations with the most unlimited technology resources will be navigating the new mobile landscape effectively in the near future. If you don’t have a floor filled with IT people waiting to figure out how to optimize your e-mail for mobile, you are at a disadvantage.

So what should you do? You spend important resources on your e-newsletter. You don’t want to lose subscribers as more and more people start checking their mail on smartphones and tablets.

STEP 1) ASSESS YOUR NEED

Recent studies show that 43% of Americans view their e-mail on smartphones. But this number exaggerates the situation on the ground. It needs to be placed in context. “Opens” are one thing, behavior is another. Many people check mail on their smartphones early—say, during breakfast, or on the commute to work—while making mental notes about which to revisit later on a bigger screen.

A more helpful metric for small businesses would be the number of “mobile-only” viewers out there. I’m guessing it’s a small percentage. Most of my friends are still using their desktops—and they’re a pretty tech-savvy crowd.

So, while the media will continue to report every tenth of a percent of gain in smartphone viewership, you don’t have to startle at every headline. Instead, assess your need objectively.

STEP 2) KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

Are your readers younger or older? Are you servicing the “mommy makeover” crowd or the facelift generation?

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If you’re servicing the facelift crowd, also known as the Baby Boomers, your nonoptimized e-mails are probably safe for some time. Even as they move to mobile inbox-checking, if they’ve liked your newsletters in the past and are loyal to them, they’ll make a mental note of their arrival during a smartphone check and save them to read at their desks.

However, if your subscribers are mainly women who first came in for breast augmentation or liposuction in their 20s or 30s, and you’re cultivating them for procedures and treatments into their 40s and beyond, you are not quite as safe.

These Gen X and Gen Y members grew up on mobile phones. They’re more likely to get impatient with your non-mobile-friendly e-mails and hit “Delete.”

STEP 3) TAKE ATTENDANCE

Are you losing subscribers? You can find out using tracking software provided by companies like Litmus, an online provider of e-mail rendering and preview services. Litmus offers an e-mail analytics option. You insert its campaign-specific tracking code in your e-mail. The tool collects information about who’s opening your mail on what, and what they’re doing with it.

If you find that your e-mail list has begun to deteriorate by 30% or more, you’re losing ground. It’s time to start mobile optimization.

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STEP 4) LABEL YOURSELF

Most aesthetic medicine e-newsletters fall into one of two categories:

  • Discount pushing (quick, short-term blasts)
  • Educational (more leisurely newsletters that offer freely given information in a long-term effort to build patient loyalty).

Which kind of e-mail do you send? It will make all the difference when it comes to optimizing for mobile. If you are a BLASTER, your e-mails:

  • Consist of one or more discounts, accompanied by blurbs promoting/explaining the procedure being discounted.
  • Are 50 words or less.
  • Use a few enticing photos to hold subscribers’ interest.

You’ll need to start using a responsive template from a commercial e-mail distributor. Responsive templates have already been designed with the following features:

  • Single columns;
  • Larger fonts;
  • Smaller pixel lengths;
  • Paragraph margins that adjust to the widths of the particular devices that open the mail;
  • Big buttons for important prompts or calls to action; and
  • Automatic device detection—it adapts the formatting to fit the type of device that opens the mail.

Such templates are currently available on MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, and Constant Contact. They’re likely to be added to other providers’ template selections as time goes on.

When using these templates, remember to:

  • Avoid banners and photos at the top of the mail. Use those first few lines for important text so readers who don’t “show pictures” know what the mail is about.

Any time you start using a new interface, you are in for some challenges. The formatting links are configured differently. The prompts are all backward. Everything looks and feels wrong. You click and click, and the only thing that seems to happen is that you make mistakes. It takes some time to adjust to your new interface. Once you adapt, you’ll find you can create big, simple designs that are ideal for cell phones and, if well thought out, will convey a poster-like clarity on tablets and desktops. In other words, you’ll have an all-purpose, multiscreen e-mail.

If you are an EDUCATOR, your e-mails:

  • Consist of one or more articles from 300 to 500 words long, possibly illustrated with your own before-and-after photos.
  • May include discounts, mainly used as an incentive to open the mail.
  • May also include event announcements, club invitations, links to website pages, etc.

Your challenge is both easier and more difficult than the discounter’s. It is easier because your message is too complex to convey on a smartphone, but possible to adapt to a tablet.

Since optimizing a complex e-newsletter for smartphones is basically impossible, you get a hall pass. However, you still need to keep your smartphone readers engaged. The best way to do this is to place a lively teaser message at the top of the e-mail that subscribers will see when they click the “view on a smartphone” link. It will read something like this:

You’ve got a spectacular e-newsletter from us waiting on your desktop! This month’s articles are about new fat-melting equipment available here at our office right now, “How to Know When It’s Facelift Time,” and the surprising sun-protection benefits of milk thistle. Also, don’t miss out on Fraxel treatment specials and Obagi discounts. See you later on the big screen!

No one will open the actual newsletter, but you’ve piqued their interest, and they will hopefully be champing at the bit to open your e-newsletter when they are in front of their desktop.

There’s only one sticking point in this plan: The relatively large viewing area of a tablet. It would seem to be ideal for your full e-newsletter.

Wrong! Tablets call themselves “mobile devices” so the ISPs send them the same code they send to tiny cellphone screens—not your full newsletter. Want your newsletter to be viewed on tablets? Store it as a .pdf file on a separate URL. Redirect readers with the line: “Having trouble seeing this message? Click here to view it in your browser.”

The font may be huge for the screen, but no one will be annoyed by it. And, you may pique some interest that will pay off later on.

These are your options, and they’re far from perfect, but they’ll get you started with some concrete steps during the great mobile migration transition period.

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Joyce Sunila is the president of Practice Helpers, providing e-newsletters, blogs, and social media services to aesthetic practices. You can contact Joyce via PSPeditor@allied360.com or visit the Practice Helpers Web site at www.plasticsurgerymarketingonline.com.