Understanding Marketing Automation

By Rick O’Neill / 09 Aug 2022

Digital consultant Rick O’Neill explains how automation can make marketing and patient onboarding more effective

Being an aesthetic practitioner can be extremely busy. You already have to spend hours on CPD-accreditation to stay on top of clinical developments, and attend conferences and events, as well as the usual clinic hours. Working on the business is an extra burden, and marketing and software can be particularly challenging. 

Today, there are more than 9,000 pieces of marketing software, so even professional marketers don’t have time to understand the whole landscape.1 And yet, it’s a crucial discipline for building a healthy flow of customers. That’s why the marketing buzzword of 2022 is automation: ways to get those big marketing jobs done in less time, and even keeping the business moving while you’re asleep. In fact, 80% of automation users see their leads increase, directly improving profitability.2

In this article, we’ll look at the software and strategies even the smallest practice can put in place to unlock more sales with less effort.

What is automation?

Automation is a catch-all term for a raft of technologies which are united by the fact that they reduce the need for human intervention in getting everyday jobs done.

Once upon a time, that automation meant robots in factories. That is, unsurprisingly, expensive – and not particularly useful for aesthetic practitioners. In future, it will mean technologies right at the cutting edge, like artificial intelligence. Right now, that, too, is expensive and complicated (although it won’t be forever).

Today, though, there is luckily an easier middle-ground. We are in a perfect moment where technology has advanced enough to make a range of essential activities simpler at an exceptionally low cost – the sorts of activities which aesthetic professionals need to do on a regular basis: finding customers and marketing to them, categorising your relationships with customers and taking bookings and payments, for example.

Benefits of automation

There are no fewer than eight (fairly interrelated) good reasons for automation and the value it can bring to your business:

1) It saves time – and that’s the one commodity that aesthetic practitioners constantly tell us they don’t have!

2) It cuts errors – everyone makes mistakes, and we all know what it’s like to take a double booking, for example. Automated systems reduce errors like this.

3) It means you can do more of the things you’re good at – aesthetic practitioners are trained professionals. You became an aesthetic practitioner to practise your expertise, not to be an accountant, marketer or customer service agent (although most of us enjoy some of these aspects of the job, too). Automations buy you back time to do the parts of the job which most appeal to you.

4) It improves the patient experience – today, we all expect to be able to make bookings and understand the services on offer online from our phones, for example. If you can’t offer that, then you’re not looking after your patients and probably losing business too.

5) It promotes consistency – a brand (which is what you’ve created in launching your clinic, and your personal profile) is all about providing a consistent service. The first growth attempted by an aesthetic practice is usually to employ a front-of-house employee. Even the best employee isn’t going to be as committed as an owner, so automated processes enforce a greater degree of consistency to your patient-facing offer, bringing up standards in every customer interaction.

6) It cuts repetition – the most soul-destroying tasks are the repetitive manual ones which eat up time. They’re also the most error-prone. Automations minimise these tasks – freeing you up for more high-value activities which will move the needle on your profitability.

7) It extends your skills – following on from the previous point, given that time is what we all lack, buying it back with automation means you can get round to some of the jobs that would otherwise simply always drop off the end of your to-do list.

8) It works when you’re asleep – you can’t send out marketing emails or appointment confirmations by hand at 2am (and if you do, you’re headed for burnout). However, automated systems can.

What?BrandsCost
Social media marketing
  • Buffer
  • Hootsuite
  • Social Studio
£0 - £240 per year
Social media design
  • Canva
Around £100 per year
Booking/patient management software
  • Collums
  • Clever Clinic
  • Bookmyclinic
  • Aesthetic Nurse Software
Varies - circa £1,200 per year
Email marketing
  • Campaign member
  • Mailchimp
  • Keap
£0 - £350 per year

Discover automation opportunities

All of this then begs the question: what should I aim to automate?

Automation isn’t always a good thing. Last time you visited your doctor’s surgery, for example, you might have been pointed to a terminal in order to register your arrival. This is useful for the GP practice – it allows them to manage scarce resources around appointments. But the personal service and warm welcome at the reception desk is a crucial part of the customer experience in aesthetics. Digital tools are powerful, but not always the answer.

Following on from the above list, take a little time to audit your typical activities across a day (e.g. appointments), week (e.g. marketing) and month (e.g. accounting reconciliations) and look for activities which are repetitive, error-prone, wasteful, boring, or which deliver a patient experience which is below what you would like to offer.

The automation services which will solve these challenges are almost all:

  • Digital: managed and delivered online.
  • Pay-as-you-go: available for a reasonable monthly fee, so that you can budget predictably and assess the value to your business when compared to the cost of your time.

Automate marketing for more leads and more profits

Marketing is a particularly fertile ground for automation. Here are just some of the options on offer, broadly in the order of the sales process:

Social media marketing

You can use websites to automatically schedule your social media posts, meaning that you can post at times that suit your customers (such as 9pm on a Sunday evening), even when you’ve got better things to do!

It also enables you to post to all the main social media platforms, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, TikTok and Instagram, schedule a month or more of social media posts in one go, and see key statistics and insights on how to improve engagement.

Social media design

Social media design sites aren’t really an automation, but they’re still a huge time-saver, and it’s important that we cover them. They allow you to design eye-catching social media posts without any previous design experience and format your designs automatically for different social media platforms.

Facebook business pages

When a customer lands on your Facebook business page, the site knows who they are. This means Facebook is exceptional for personalised marketing, and with the messenger interface, you can encourage customers to get in touch – also setting expectations with a friendly automated response as to when you’ll be able to get back to them (useful if it’s 1am!). Better still, you can build chatbots which operate within messenger, and which will answer the questions you regularly face. You can even reply with videos from your team to offer a friendly and human answer to these questions. As this is likely the first time you’ll have had contact with a prospective customer, these unexpected touches can be hugely engaging and prevent walk-aways.

Booking management software

Booking or patient managements software allows online customers to directly book and cancel slots, and make those slots available with a single click on your website or social media. Most good systems will also:

  • Send calendar invites to customers, so that their appointment shows up on their phone diaries
  • Send a personalised reminder by text message
  • Email important information (such as patient questionnaires or cancellation policies)

Email automation

These tools automate the sending of emails on a timeline which you define. Connected to your booking system, you can automatically ask your patients to leave reviews on Google or Facebook (an important part of your ongoing marketing) a few days after they book, or indeed:

  • Send aftercare information
  • Invite them back, say, four weeks after a consultation
  • Upsell them further services
  • Get in touch if you haven’t heard from them for a while
  • Send them interesting content periodically
  • Send a ‘how did we do’ survey
  • Ask if they can refer a friend

All of these are ways to maintain contact with customers and can also be customised according to their purchases or experience.

Utilising automation 

You have many options for every conceivable marketing need, and whilst getting to grips with software might not be your top priority, it’s one of the few remaining low-cost ways to genuinely buy back time without employing more people. Marketing is also essential. Aesthetics is a competitive business, and with most customers making a purchase decision on their perception of your online brand and local convenience as well as the services you offer, finding and nurturing those relationships is crucial. Automation will help you manage this essential function and power up your business.

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