Have you been e-marketing your practice but haven’t been happy with the results? Maybe it started out great. You had a big database and, at first, the phone rang and rang every time you sent out a message over the Internet.
Then you reached a point of diminishing returns. Your database dwindled. Your open rate faltered. The phone didn’t always ring after a send. You asked yourself, “Have I lost my touch? Are patients inherently fickle? Are the gods against me?”
What’s probably going on is that you’re committing one (or more) of the following three cardinal sins of e-marketing:
1. YOU’RE SENDING ONLY DISCOUNTS, NOT REAL INFORMATION
When you send discount-only e-blasts, you’re using a short-term method to accomplish a long-term goal.
What is the purpose of staying in touch with your patients? Professionals have been sending out newsletters for decades, and it has never been about spiking this month’s business. It has been about sustaining a relationship with your customers.
As with lawyers and CPAs, who are privy to carefully closeted parts of their clients’ lives, you’re in a high-trust profession. You start the doctor-patient relationship with a leap into intimacy. Your patients’ deepest physical insecurities are the topic of the first consultation. You provide solutions that most patients tell only a few friends. This kind of intimacy must be nurtured.
The professional newsletter arose to consolidate relationships. You keep the connection with patients alive by reminding them that you’re still around, showing them that you’re on top of new developments, and making it clear they can continue to trust you with all their physical insecurities—for the rest of their lives.
You’re after their lifetime loyalty. Why? Because it ensures a stream of revenue based on trust you’ve rightfully earned.
The digital age hasn’t changed the basic purpose of the newsletter. The only thing that has changed is the medium that delivers it.
Discounts fail to sustain relationships in four ways:
- Discounts are not intimate.
They are impersonal communications that may spike 1 month’s profits but do absolutely nothing to cement loyalty. Best Buy or Target might benefit from beating the bushes like this, but professionals like you are better served by the following tried-and-true newsletter formula established decades ago:
- Send valuable information;
- Make sure it’s relevant to your audience; and,
- Project an image of stability.
- Even when discount bait catches a few fish, they’re price-shopper fish.
Over time, your e-mails are opened only by price-shoppers. Price-shoppers will nickel-and-dime you to death. They’ll nibble into your margin until you’re working overtime just to keep your head above water. Have you ever received a few of those calls in which they try to double their coupons for a discount on the discount? You don’t need this aggravation.
Unless you’re Wal-Mart or a 99-Cent Only Store, the discount-only strategy is unsustainable. You didn’t go to medical school to become the low-price-leader surgeon in your area.
- Discounts-only messages put you in a horse race with the least-accredited providers in your area.
That laser spa down the street didn’t have to build an accredited surgical center. They don’t need an RN on staff. With lower overhead, they can offer deeper discounts.
That medspa franchise around the corner gets their monthly specials from corporate headquarters, already formatted in HTML code and ready to paste into a headquarters-supplied template. They’re more nimble than you, and now you’re in bed with a bunch of bottom-feeders who are going to win.
- People opt out of discount-only messages.
How well do you tolerate infestation of your e-mail in-box? Your finger hovers eagerly over the “delete” button, right? Everyone’s trying to control the clutter in their personal e-mail in-boxes.
Impersonal messages that might contain relevant discounts aren’t A-list messages. People without much to do might open them, but most recipients eye them warily. Once the discount e-blasts get annoying—after a few months of offers the subscriber can’t use—then people unsubscribe.
Unsubscribes are permanent under Federal CAN-SPAM laws. You cannot send bulk e-mail to that person again unless she voluntarily signs up again.
If you don’t make your message more attractive, she probably won’t. To succeed in today’s in-boxes, a message has to be welcome. It has to come from a trusted source. It has to contain something relevant and valuable. Ideally, it must please the senses and be a good (but short) read.
2. YOU WRITE IN AN INAUTHENTIC VOICE
Maybe you’ve avoided sin No 1. Maybe you’re sending e-newsletters with actual content. Does that content reflect the real you? Is it content that warms your patient’s heart and makes her grateful she’s found you? Is it authentic?
A lot of aesthetic practitioners are using canned-text e-newsletter services these days. These services have sprung up in the last few years to help many busy professions, such as legal, accounting, and real estate. The ones that service cosmetic surgeons organize published material mostly according to procedures and treatments. Each topic comes with photos to illustrate it.
For example, you or your practice manager enter a Web site with a password and select a few topics or items that will appear in your monthly e-newsletter, cafeteria-style. You then insert the material into a template that has been personalized with your Web site graphics (or “branded graphics”).
Discounts and event announcements can be added to the mix. You or one of your designated employees play around with the different options, finalize the mix, and then submit it for distribution on a desired date.
This process is the ultimate in efficiency, but it remains an inauthentic e-newsletter. The finished product may look and sound slick, but there’s nothing about the communication that reflects your personality or opinions.
Often, the writing will have a gushing, pandering quality (“You’ll radiate after your Vi-Peel!”) that marks it as women’s-magazine writing, not the work of someone with a serious medical background.
Recipients who get a few of these in their in-boxes may wonder, “Why should I waste precious e-mail time on something I can read in a magazine?”
What is authenticity? It means the person sending the message (you, the practitioner) had a hand in creating the message.
This doesn’t mean you have to spend all your time writing. That would be a waste of time for highly trained surgeons. However, the ghostwriter or ad agency you hire to produce your e-newsletter should be guided by your ideas. Ideally, you and your ghostwriter should meet once a month so that you can give that person information about and your take on topics such as:
- The newest treatments hitting the market;
- Techniques and attitudes that are changing the way cosmetic surgery is done;
- Views on beauty, preferably those that challenge the monolithic notions promoted in the mainstream media;
- Stories and reflections about patients you’ve worked on (you don’t have to name them) and what those experiences have taught you; and,
- Anything else that depicts you as a thinking, caring physician who is good and getting better at your craft.
The writer who executes these ideas should be someone who can write informal, casual prose. Stiff, corporate prose (many writers are trained to work only in that mode) is as off-putting as a gushing voice.
Remember, your purpose is to build on the intimacy you already have with your patients. Your e-newsletter must sound like it comes from someone who has made it past the formalities and can convey the real you, month after month.
You won’t have to worry about sending out discounts. Your patients will open your e-mail and appreciate the inside track that you’re giving them. They’ll congratulate themselves for finding you, and feel comforted that you are there to talk to them about their insecurities as they age.
If you want to send a discount or two with your message, just to give your readers an extra incentive to open the e-mail, that’s fine. But don’t give it a lot of weight. That isn’t your main reason for sending out the e-newsletter, so don’t stress about it.
A word about cost: A well-written, authentic e-newsletter will cost more than an automated e-newsletter or a discount-only e-blast. After all, talented and educated people have to spend many hours creating it. Like talented surgeons, they must be paid. However, the total cost will be a fraction of what doctors used to spend on the printed newsletters of yore (not to mention the postage for mailing them). Serious professionals have always found room in their budgets for patient loyalty tools, because repeat business is the foundation of a successful practice.
That’s as true today as it was before we had computers.
3. YOU PUBLISH SPORADICALLY
The third killer of patient loyalty programs is inconsistency. You publish two newsletters and then you lose steam. Six months go by without another peep from you. As your spouse will surely tell you, quality time once every 6 months does not sustain a relationship.
This is why you must get some professionals involved in producing your e-newsletter. They have the time and the motivation to keep you on schedule. They’re not distracted by a thousand other details—or by surgery. They feel as deeply obligated to get your e-newsletter out as you feel to be in the OR on time.
The money you spend on them will come back to you many times over, as your practice grows on a foundation of trust.
Joyce Sunila is an e-marketing specialist to aesthetic practitioners. Her Web site, Practice Helpers, is available at www.practicehelpers.com. Joyce can be reached at .