Another Look at Personal Branding

We’ve been talking about personal branding and Brand Y-O-U for some time now (even the legal implications), and undoubtedly you’ve invested some time already in it.

Right?

No matter what your profession is, I certainly hope so. Need some more convincing? If you’re in healthcare, hop on over to my latest blog post for Oncology Times and learn about why personal branding is valuable for oncology clinicians.

Even if you’re not in healthcare, take a good, long look at it anyway, since many of the same priniciples apply to building your value as an expert in what you do. Need guidance on how to get there? Take a look at these posts:

It’s important to charge ahead with crafting a personal brand that establishes your expertise, builds social capital and your social network, and carries you through tough times and good times alike.

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How to Reform an Enewsletter

There’s so much to stay up-to-speed on nowadays, it’s easy to get passed by.

That’s what happened to me at one point last year, when one of my email campaigns got stale real quick.

Something can always fall through the cracks, even if you put alot of time into planning and strategy. So when you’re stuck in a bad email situation, get refocused quickly, take a good, long look at best practices, and make some changes to your email program to turn a bad campaign into an opportunity to re-engage customers quickly.

I just wrote the following article for Chief Marketer (access the original piece right here) that summarizes how I switched up the sitch and turned that stale campaign into a winner again.

Healthcare Enewsletter Reform Perks Up Response

With email marketing, there’s more to stay up-to-date on than ever before: integrating social and email, reactivating inactive customers, personalization, accounting for mobile users, deliverability challenges, testing, using content and relevance to drive engagement. Add all that to the day-to-day tasks of your job, and it’s inevitable that something may fall through the cracks.

That was the case for one healthcare client I worked with. I certainly spent a lot of time on testing and solid planning, yet a period came up where work volume skyrocketed and I lost sight of performance on one of our email campaigns. So what had started out as a great member newsletter turned into a stale email that lacked engaging content, with increasingly poor metrics as a result.

I needed to change the system and implement some real healthcare reform to get this email program back on track. Three simple steps led the way:

  • reducing frequency
  • investing saved time in creating better content
  • refreshing the template to align with best practices.

The problem
The client was Massachusetts General Hospital, for whom I managed marketing strategy for its live and online educational programs directed to clinicians in mental health, oncology, and other specialties. As I mentioned in an earlier article, a big challenge in the healthcare market is the huge number of critically important emails that healthcare professionals receive every day—emails about patients, medications, procedures, new research, all of which take priority over marketing messages. And then, of course, healthcare providers are also affected by the other issues regarding email marketing, such as inbox clutter and deliverability.

Last year, a bimonthly newsletter for the Massachusetts General Hospital Academy went from average open and click rates in January (based on all my email campaigns for that client) to open rates of less than 5% in August and click rates of…well, you don’t want to know. It was that low.

Part of the reason was content. During that busy time I mentioned, there was less time to dedicate to content development for a biweekly newsletter. So copy blocks became longer, the content became less informative, and some of the articles and announcements mirrored what we sent in our more marketing-oriented emails. Without unique content, the newsletter no longer compelled recipients to open or read it.

Mass General Newsletter Before

Mass General newsletter before reform

The solution
The first step in the solution was to pull back on frequency from bimonthly to monthly. We did have other email campaigns, and the target audience receives all those other important emails I mentioned above. So I believed that sending fewer emails—at our highest-performing send times—would create a greater impact and help our emails stand out amid the clutter.

The second step was to take the time saved by sending fewer emails and invest it in developing better content. With more time I was able to better leverage content that was already created by the hospital’s various service lines and treatment centers. Because it hadn’t appeared in the other newsletters that subscribers received, this content was new to them.

Indeed, you don’t have to create all-new content for your newsletters. It can be just as valuable to link to important content already out there that your audience may not know about or to provide your own analysis on important news and research.

Third, I had someone on my internal marketing team redesign our HTML template. We moved away from the image-heavy header area to a small, HTML text header with a right-column logo as the only image. We include “Massachusetts General Hospital Academy” in the from line, because it lifts open rates, so we no longer needed the logo to occupy valuable upper-left real estate.

We added a brief table of contents in the top 300 pixels that linked down to short copy blocks. The copy was written to entice clicks rather than tell too much of the story, and we used small images to liven up the template and create visual points of interest. We ensured that the images, however, would not damage the integrity of the layout if a recipient’s email client blocked them. We fit key links in an unobtrusive location opposite the table of contents and in the upper right, and added in a few profiles of key hospital thought leaders in the right column opposite the copy blocks.

Mass General Newsletter After

Mass General newsletter after reform

Overall the redesigned template was much easier to skim and engage with—and was exactly what the doctor ordered in terms of results. In just the first email, sent out in September, the open rate went up 13%. Further subject-line testing and content testing increased the open rate by 30% by the end of the year. Click rates also jumped significantly, and while they were certainly skewed toward the most interesting content, they were also spread out across the entire template, which clearly showed users were reading past the scroll.

Based on these results, when it comes to refreshing a stale campaign, here’s a prescription for the problem:

  • Consider decreasing volume, even if for a short time. Give your customers a minute to breathe. You’ll find that less is more when the message is right.
  • Make sure those fewer messages have better-quality content. Spend the extra time you have on creating relevance and personalization that matter.
  • Ensure your templates are optimized for today’s email clients and user habits. Rely less on images, use HTML text for key action points, optimize for the mobile channel, etc.
  • Provide numerous ways to engage, by leveraging interactivity, linking to video content, and integrating with social media, among other ways.
  • Sanitize your data. Subsequently we scrubbed out some long-inactive records that depressed metrics and messaged those users separately to reactivate them.

So don’t panic if you get distracted and your email campaign comes down with a case of bad metrics. Refresh your strategy, optimize your design and your approach to content, and in a very short time your emails will be healthy again.

Earn Clout with Social Influencers

Do you current acquisition campaigns include social influencers? They should.

Social media is lauded for its high engagement value, yet many marketers are struggling with how to measure it, never mind how to use it to move the needle on sales. Hell, many marketers and companies have yet to commit the time or the resources to leverage SoMe effectively for engagement — despite the benefits.

That’s why I love the great examples out there like this article on how the Sacramento Kings used Klout to tap into the power of social influencers. There are tons of articles out there that discuss all the reasons you have to use social — this blog alone offers up a bunch. Yet this article touches on the true viral power of brands tapping into social influencers who are capable of shaping behavior across their whole social networks.

Nothing like other people doing your job for you.

Think this approach has merits? Take a good, long look at it’s application on the micro-local level, where community-based doctors, restaurants and other local business could reach out to prominent local influencers — perhaps members of social programs, sports leagues or PTA boards. Give them a good experience or an offer, and the word spreads fast and drives local business as soon as those influencers tell their social networks about it via Facebook, Twitter or other means.

Think of it’s application to healthcare, where innovative academic centers and community practices could reach out to prominent patient advocates and community leaders. Work with those influencers to create events in the facilities and practices or host Twitter chats, and the social impact spreads to core consumers of healthcare services in those networks. Recent studies show a “graying” of social networks due to the huge number of older Americans flocking to them, and one of their most popular online activities is searching for and sharing healthcare information. One of my blog posts for Oncology Times discuss this phenomenon. So the opportunity is definitely there to make an impact among healthcare consumers with the right outreach to social influencers.

How do you identify and reach social influencers? Well, you can work with experts like Klout, or you can set up an effective social listening station of your own and begin to closely monitor and filter the conversation in your markets or areas of interest. Many tools out there set up those powerful filters that can be as granular as you need, and you can build your own dashboard to analyze and rank influencers. Radian6 and Alterian are two of the better products available, and the cost is not significant.

Need another example? During an online demo of Radian6, I tweeted about it. Less than 10 minutes later, I had a tweet back from Alterian acknowledging my interest in social listening software, with an offer to access information about their product. Now here I sit, virally spreading that experience and education. It’s a whole different and more meaningful way to influence customer behavior.

We’ll discuss more about social listening in an upcoming post, yet in the meantime I recommend you charge ahead and become more familiar with it starting right now.

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.

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 Future of Content, Part 3

I feel refreshed today.

No, it’s not because I got to the pool today after along day on the road at a conference. 😉

It’s because, for all the journalists who don’t get it, like I mentioned in my last post, there’s one who takes a good, long look and sees it like it is. And by “like it is,” I mean “the customer now dictates what constitutes content.”

The Twitter phenomenon epitimizes the kinds of technology-enabled shifts seen in the ways consumers communicate and seek information over the past few years.

And yet again, I emphasize that the opportunity is there for marketers — we have as big a role in the future of content as journalists do. Bring people together with the content they want, and you are their trusted source. It’s news they want? Tweet from a show floor (like I’ve been doing all day at this conference), an event, a concert, a press conference. Expert analysis? Create a path to experts — a CEO blog, a unique Twitter solution like ExecTweets, or a mashup of content. Personal viewpoints or reality reporting? Build a community where people can identify and network, like Facebook or Sermo in the healthcare space. The list goes on.

The beauty of Twitter is its simplicity. Of course, that’s also what some dislike about it. But that simplicity, in all it’s brevity, makes for one whole boatload of content when you add up a few hundred followers, whether it’s your sister, five cousins and grandma or it’s Ashton Kutcher, Kathy Ireland and Sanjay Gupta. When you charge ahead with your particular solution, it may end up being as simple as Twitter or it may be much more complex.

Just make sure it delivers the content your customers want and you’re golden.

The Future of Content, Part 2

In a recent post, I discussed how marketers have a role in the future of content. Sitting here on yet another JetBlue flight, I came across two articles that highlight this position even further.

I’m reading an issue of Medical Marketing & Media — it’s actually a recent issue for a change, typically I’m catching up on magazines two or three months later. The first article touches on the launch of FacetoFace Health, an online community that lets patients find other patients based on similar conditions or medications. Many times, this is exactly the kind of content people want — not second-hand knowledge pieced together through interviews and research. Interviews that people can now do first-hand via Facebook, Twitter and other social networking communities. And research, mind you, that people can do themselves online via robust tools like Wikipedia. The FacetoFace site, like many social media sites, provides first-hand interaction with people based on experience, interests, likeness or non-likeness, or anything else. Your agenda…not someone else’s. It’s a real-time, ever-changing window into a give-and-take world of content. If you’re a marketer, talk to your customers, find out what they need to know or who they want to know, and build a community that delivers it. Welcome to the future of content.

The other article is written by a PhD and entitled “Healthcare journalism needs a recovery plan.” My impression (no evidence whether it’s accurate since I’m on a plane and can’t research it) is that this person isn’t an active participant in social media, and thereby not destined to be an active part of the future of content. A few pearls of wisdom from the article center on a new survey of healthcare journalists. 65% say the quality of health coverage is fair or poor, 48% think health journalism is heading in the wrong direction, 43% say training opportunities have declined. Really? The training opportunities have declined? When whole new communities like FacetoFace spring up overnight? Are they thinking about social media as an opportunity to get “trained” every day on meeting customer wants? Obviously not.

I can see why they feel journalism is headed in the wrong direction — because customers are now in control of content and where they get it. As I said in my earlier post, they want different types of content from different types of content providers. Time and again it sounds like journalists don’t see that journalism, in it’s traditional form, isn’t as tethered to the future of content as it once was. But the opportunity is there to them to take a good, long look and evolve and be part of it, just like it does for marketers.

Because comments like this one in the article sure aren’t the way to charge ahead into the future of content:

I’m going to hope that we’ll see demand for health and science reporting increase as we continue to shake off some of the anti-intellectualism that has bogged us down.

HUH? I guess I’m not an intellectual, because unlike those who think journalism is just going to bounce back, I’m with all the other marketers who are helping building solutions to meet customer demands in the future of content.

Wake up and maybe we’ll see you there.