Digital consultant Miriam Shaviv explains how clinics can use email marketing to their advantage
If you were asked to name the greatest asset of your business, you might point to your clinic building, a popular treatment or your talented team.
The truth is more prosaic. The most valuable asset you own is in a file on your computer, listing your existing patients and contacts and their email addresses. If that list is large enough, every appointment you need to fill up your clinic for the foreseeable future is hiding within it.
Your existing patients already know, like and trust you and have proven that they are willing to spend money with you. Getting them to come into your clinic just once or twice more a year is going to be much easier than attracting and converting brand new patients and email is the easiest way to reach them. Whilst your patients may use many different social media platforms, almost all of them will be on email. And while sales messages can feel intrusive on social media, people expect them over email. There’s a reason why marketers say ‘the money’s in the list!’
Email is also a very low-cost tool. Most clinics spend a fortune on advertising on social media and Google AdWords in order to reach new patients. But there are no advertising costs involved here, because you’re targeting a database you already own. The only investment is for the email service provider. Mailchimp, widely used by clinics, starts at just £10/month.1 Every booking you take over email is highly profitable because the marketing investment is so low.
Here I outline some guiding principles to effectively use email to market to your existing contacts and give your clinic a competitive advantage.
As email marketers, we are on the email lists of hundreds of clinics around the world. It’s our business to see first-hand how they communicate. Most of them send no campaigns at all other than the occasional update. The minority of clinics who do use email marketing still under-utilise it by emailing only once or twice a month at most, which isn’t enough.
Based on campaigns I have run, the majority of people won’t open every message you send. So if you are only emailing once or twice a month and they miss these, a couple of months can go by without them hearing from you at all. You can’t gain momentum or build relationships when communication is this infrequent. I recommend to email your list once a week at minimum to stay top-of-mind. If you’re worried about annoying patients by emailing too much, ask yourself whether your emails are providing them with enough value. When your emails are interesting, entertaining and resonate with your patients, you can even email more than once a week!
A frequent comment we hear from clients is ‘we don’t want to pester our patients because they will end up unsubscribing’. Here is what actually happens: when we commence a weekly campaign there are initially a small number of unsubscribes, but these are more than compensated for by a rise in engagement, click throughs, replies and bookings. What would you rather do, lose a few subscribers who don’t want to hear from you, or generate more business?
Emails are like compound interest. The more often patients hear from you, the more familiar they become with you, the more they trust you – and ultimately, the more likely they are to book a treatment with you.
To maximise engagement, ensure you segment your list. This refers to the process of dividing a target market into smaller, more defined categories. There’s no point in sending a campaign on how to treat gynaecomastia to a mostly female audience, or a campaign about wrinkles to subscribers in their early 20s. But don’t just segment according to age or gender. Think about past behaviour. Based on what patients have booked for in the past, what else might they be interested in? Email marketing software also allows you to segment depending on how engaged your audience is around particular topics. For example, you can identify everyone who opened and clicked through on a previous CoolSculpting campaign. These people may be more likely to respond to a future promotion.
The vast majority of clinics who run campaigns use email like retailers do, sending out glossy newsletters or trumpeting a major discount on a particular treatment. Whilst these may have their place and drive some sales, because the emphasis is always on price, this can feel very transactional and pushy. The best emails touch your patients and resonate deeply with them. So, you can’t simply throw offer after offer at your readers.
For many people, deciding to get an aesthetic treatment is an emotional decision which they can toy with for months or even years. It can involve challenges to their self-image and self-esteem, not to mention their budget! The emails you send them should reflect their reality. Talk about your patients’ real concerns and frustrations when they’re living with undesired fat or sagging skin. Discuss the ways in which excessive hair or an unwanted tattoo can affect their daily life. What are they typically thinking and feeling when they’re struggling with hair loss or sagging jowls? Then paint a convincing picture of how their lives will improve with your help. The more you focus on what they’re going through, the better they will feel you understand them and the more motivated they will be to book a consultation with you.
If there is a disruption to your clinic being open, such as the current lockdown, increase the number of nurture emails you send. You cannot take it for granted that your patients will all return once you reopen. Showing that you care about them and that you’re thinking about them even when they can’t buy from you will pay dividends later.
Most clinics’ marketing is very impersonal. Emails come from the clinic and are written in the third person. But you need to remember that people buy from people. Your patients will also feel closer to your practice when they hear directly from you, the clinic owner, or from the practitioner who carries out the treatment, and get to know you a little. This doesn’t mean a full confessional with every email, but you should be writing to them in the first person, sharing your real thoughts, stories and experiences and using your own language, not stiff, formal marketing jargon.
Practitioners and clinic owners that we have worked with have weaved into their email stories about their holidays, sporting activities, experience working in A&E during the coronavirus lockdown, memories from their medical training and their love of art. In the US, they even occasionally talk about their Bible studies. Somehow, it all ties into medical aesthetics!
Patients adore these little vignettes, which make their aesthetic providers feel relatable and approachable. We see a notably high level of replies to these emails. The occasional personal touch also makes your emails more interesting. Your patients will never open your emails if they’re boring, no matter how much worthy information they contain.
There’s a lot of pressure to get bookings. But your patients need to feel that you have their interests at heart. That won’t happen if all they receive from you is sales material. So, intersperse sales emails with occasional nurture emails. Share useful advice so they’ll want to read your emails, whether or not they’re ready to book with you right now. Provide answers to the most frequent questions you get in clinic or share helpful skincare tips. This would be the same kind of material you might share on your blog. You can also complement these with links to your blog, as well as to videos and even Instagram posts. It’s counter-intuitive, but when you stop trying to sell so hard with every single email, you build stronger relationships with your patients and can end up selling more.
Emails are a very powerful marketing tool, but they’re not a stand-alone. None of your marketing should be. Think about how you tie your emails into the rest of your marketing activities, such as your social media and your website.
Ideally, promote the same products or treatments over email and social media on the same week. Can you also reuse some of the material in your emails on your website, or turn the emails into a video? Or can you use email to drive patients to your other platforms and vice versa?
A coordinated plan in which you repurpose the material you create as much as possible will save your team time and effort. It will also make your marketing more effective because your patients will hear consistent messages from you on every channel and become more immersed in your world. According to Omnisend, businesses that adopt omnichannel strategies (uniting all communicative channels) see a 287% higher purchase rate than those using a single-channel campaign.2
Whilst your email list is your most valuable asset, quality matters as much as quantity. Even on a highly engaged list, some of your contacts will typically become inactive over 12 months. This can be for a variety of reasons such as updating their email address, their situation changing, or that they are no longer interested in what you’re offering.
Ensure your open rates are consistently above 20%. Mailchimp has a useful table showing average open rates for different industries.3 If it’s below 20%, you need to investigate whether (a) your content is relevant or (b) whether your list is engaged. On a monthly basis, review the responses to your emails to see whether you can identify any patterns. Are there topics that consistently get strong engagement? You need to send more of these emails.
If a large proportion of your contacts never open your emails, Google, Outlook and other key email service providers will treat your content as junk. If you have inactive contacts (i.e. haven’t opened an email in over three months), move them to a list where they are emailed less frequently, or unsubscribe them altogether. Alternatively, send them a re-engagement campaign to check whether they are still interested in hearing from you.
When planning your marketing, always focus on your greatest asset: your existing patients. If you have a good-sized email database, preferably at least 1,000 subscribers, that’s where you should always start. The contacts you’ve already accumulated are always going to be the easiest, fastest and cheapest to get into your clinic.
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