New Year, New News

A very Happy New Year to all my readers and friends, and to all the marketers out there who fought through another holiday season and are all geared up and amped for a new year with new strategies.

And, hopefully, new budgets! 😉

On the note of taking a good, long look at things that are new, I’m happy to say that in 2011 I’ll be writing blog posts for a very esteemed healthcare publication, Oncology Times. My content there focuses on marketing, branding and social media yet is geared more specifically for the cancer care crowd — physicians and front-line oncology professionals, as well as marketers and non-marketers in community and academic settings. Yet you’re invited to check it out and potentially pull out some relevant morals.

I’ll also translate salient points back into more generic marketing-speak, if applicable, and post them back here with any relevant morals easily identifiable.

My first post for Oncology Times kicks off a three-part series of posts on the necessity for oncology professionals to embrace social media. After spending the better part of the last three years involved in social media and oncology, I know it’s an area that’s fully engaged each and every day with rich social conversation that impacts the delivery of healthcare.

Here’s to a 2011 filled with new things, good things, and a whole lot of success. Do your homework, and charge ahead into the year with a determined and focused energy.

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Reduce Volume, Reinvest in Relevance

The following post is a re-post of an article recently published on Directmag.com, and you can read the original article on that website — which, by the way, is a great source for insights to improve your campaigns.

Rx for Ailing Email Response: Reduce Frequency

Certainly email is still one of the most productive and powerful tools in the marketer’s arsenal of tactics. Recent research shows there’s no falloff in usage even with the shift toward social networks; in fact, studies from Nielsen and others show an enhanced level of email usage among those with high participation in social media.

That said, some of the main challenges we face with email—volume, relevance, and engagement—become more problematic when people use email more. When a user is in his inbox all the time, it’s easy to get tired of senders, even trusted ones, who send too frequently. And marketers need to be diligent to ensure that their email messages and offers remain riveting and relevant in order to create engagement.

As a marketing director at Reed Medical Education, where I promote continuing education programs to healthcare professionals, I have the typical email issues to account for and test against: inbox clutter, frequency, deliverability, optimal send time, etc. There’s also an additional challenge: My recipients also receive a lot of messages that rank higher than mine—emails about patients, medications, procedures, new research, and countless other things that are critical to making people better.

This fall, when rolling out a campaign for our largest conference, focusing on mental health on behalf of Massachusetts General Hospital, I decided that less is more.

For the 2009 conference, during a six-month campaign we sent out 12 marketing emails plus four transactional emails based on actions, such as purchase confirmations. Most of the messages were in a standard HTML template we have for the brand, and two were text-only, personalized emails. Open rates were down to less than 5% across the board, and we barely hit our attendee goal.

In 2010 the goal was not only to exceed our attendee target but also to markedly improve our email metrics. A better campaign should deliver a better overall result, right? I decided to cut the number of emails we’d send for the campaign by 50%, down to six. In cluttered inboxes, I bet that fewer total messages from us would actually stand out more and give us more opens—and I knew that if we put extra time into developing a better message, the clicks would follow.

First we redesigned our HTML email template into a cleaner layout with shorter, punchier copy and highly visible calls to actions. For three of the emails, we focused on key deadlines to deliver time-sensitive, action-oriented messages.

For the other three emails, we crafted personal, text-only messages from key speakers and leaders of the conference. We segmented the campaign to our internal database based on purchase history (2009 attendees, pre-2009 attendees, never attended, etc.), and we customized the message based on that history. For last year’s attendees, we emphasized what was new in 2010. For those who had attended prior to 2009, we focused on why it was critical for them to come them back. And for those who had never attended, we highlighted key unique selling propositions and benefit-oriented messaging. And again, all versions were sent as a personal message from a key figure.

Also in these text emails, we linked to a five-minute video recorded with the chief of psychiatry at Mass General. He directly addressed some of the cost, time, and other objections we frequently hear from attendees and tied it all back into the positive impact to their clinical practice they’d gain from attending the conference. He said it much it better in the video than we ever could have said it in an email, and it provided a deeper level of content that users could access with just one click.

The results of these changes were exactly what the doctor ordered. Campaign-wide open rates more than tripled over the previous year’s to 15.4%, and average clickthrough rates were up over 2.6%, with some segments having rates as high as 9.7%. The personal emails had the best performance, as expected, with open rates all over 16%, yet year-over-year the HTML emails did considerably better as well. And the ultimate win was in our performance against our attendee goals: We converted far more registrations via email than in 2009, and we exceeded both attendee and revenue goals by 15%.

In summary, here’s my prescription for your email woes:

· Worry less about how many emails you send. Less is more when the message is right.

· Put the extra time into developing better quality messaging. Relevance and personalization matter.

· Segment, segment, segment — and leverage the information you have about your customers.

· Make your emails interactive. Link to video, integrate with social media, and provide compelling content or offers that make the click worth the time.

· Sanitize your data. We scrubbed out some long-inactive records that depressed metrics and messaged those users separately to reactivate them.

More than anything, don’t settle for the same old thing. Just as a doctor does with a sick patient, if one approach doesn’t work, try another to get better results. And remember, relevance trumps frequency to win engagement.

The Need for Green

No, I’m not talking about money. Of course we all need that.

I’m talking about “going green” with your marketing message. And it’s not just a fad. Many marketers are doing meaningful things not just by greening their messaging, but with actual green actions that provide a meaningful impact to business and the environment. On one end of the spectrum you have Nike, which is actually making sneakers from recylcled trash. Ok, not all of us have the resources to do that grand of an effort. Yet there are plenty of marketers doing small things that make difference internally as well as with customers.

In my own company, and throughout the CME business in general, we print less paper for our events, and put information online or on CDs or on USB drives that attendees can download whenever. For our staff we use metal name tags instead of paper, so they can be reused. There are also a bunch of other little things we do to make a tangible difference in our practices.

Here’s two ideas that can provide a small start for you. Greening isn’t just something you want to do for purely business reasons — it’s something to promote to your customers. Get them involved in it, make them partners in your intiative. It makes a difference in how they perceive your business. What kind of customer wouldn’t love a company that helps take care of the environment? Not one that’s the future of your business, that’s for sure. Anyway, back to the tips:

  • Help your customers learn how to be greener travelers
  • Get smarter about green marketing by taking a good, long look at this green marketing blog
  • Again, that’s a small start — we’ll come back to this topic soon. In the meantime, charge ahead with green. And tell your customers, and get them involved.

    CME Marketing

    Ok, on the surface, this topic is slightly less interesting to the masses than, say, Michael Phelps, blogs, fantasy sports and other topics covered in my prior posts.

    Yet it’s interesting in the sense that it’s an opportunity (and it’s one of my primary responsibilities in my current position). You see, it doesn’t take a good, long look to see that everyone currently does CME marketing pretty much one way. Whether on a direct mail piece or an email, they slap on (in 50 point type) the title of the event, the date, and the location (now called TDL in my lingo). Maybe a sentence or tagline about “What’s in it for me?” from the reader’s perspective. Usually some obscure, odd or conceptual art provides the visual. Then in 10 point type is all the other information — accreditation, agenda, faculty, etc., etc. Then it gets sent out to wherever the list may originate from.

    The opportunity is this: wait a minute, hold on. Before I go there, just let me say I may be weakening my competitive position by sharing this information. However, if the quality of CME marketing improves, maybe the expectations and perceptions of CME change, attendence goes up for all of us, and the world is a better place (not to mention patient outcomes improve). Ok, so the opportunity is this: like all marketing, CME marketing needs to make a more emotional connection with the target audience. Throwing a big TDL on a brochure is no longer good enough. People are too busy, it costs too much to travel, and there are too many other options (not even local options, but Internet options that are free and just a few clicks away).

    Dare I say, the TDL should be alot less prominent in our messaging. Our message should read and appear more like the marketing that gets our own attention:

  • a headline that addresses a need, question or fear
  • easy bullet points that clearly list benefits of the event/program
  • strong call-to-action and compelling offer (if there is one)
  • Of course, there are other things I think should be done too, but I’m not giving it all away right now. In the next few weeks, I’ll come back to the topic and deliver some more opinion.