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Powering up: What to look for in software to drive your local marketing efforts

As Published In Chiropractic Economics
 
Next year estimates show that companies will spend approximately $950 million on e-mail marketing.  Typically we think of e-marketing as the messages we receive in our inboxes from retailers or online vendors, such as Amazon.com, encouraging us to spend more money.  More and more non-traditional marketers such as healthcare administrators, however, are using email to drive their business and build relationships and loyalty with their patients.

If patients receive any electronic communication from their health-care provider it is usually an invoice or, more often, to notify them about a problem with their insurance company or their payment.  That doesn’t create the warm, fuzzy and personalized feeling that we get from Amazon, does it? Amazon makes recommendations on books or movies we might enjoy based on our previous purchases and they address us by our name.  They even remember our birthdays.    
While Amazon is marketing different messages to consumers than a chiropractor would, the underlying principle is the same. E-mail works, so why aren’t more health-care providers jumping on board the e-marketing train?  
It is simply that they don’t know how to use e-mail marketing, understand the technology or how to take advantage of it to build loyalty with their patients.  Integrating the right e-marketing tool into your overall communications plan can increase your patient referral base, turn your current patients into promoters of your business and easily provide both current and potential patients with the information and resources they desperately want.  
Back to basics…how can I use e-mail to market locally?  
Successful marketing goes well beyond an ad in the yellow pages.  The best marketers use a combination of different communication vehicles to distribute their message and grow their business.  They use their own patients, who are customers in this case, as advocates for their business encouraging them to spread the word to their network of friends and families.  This type of marketing has been coined “viral marketing.”   
Your patients will not just spread positive “buzz” about your practice on their own, they need a reason.  The reason might be that you provide quality care, have a great rapport with patients, or that your staff is experienced and knowledgeable.  These reasons are given—you must have them to be successful. Today’s patients and consumers want more.   
Technology has advanced to a point where the general public wants to feel a personal connection and know that they are receiving service that goes beyond the norm.  E-mail marketing helps you to provide that feeling.  Like Amazon.com, it allows you to personalize the message to the consumer building a connection and forging a relationship.   
But, what is your message? What can you send your patients that are not electronic invoices or a question about payment? Surprisingly, you have a lot of options.   
One common, and easily implemented, practice is to develop and send a monthly e-newsletter or e-zine to all current patients with a link for them to forward it to their friends, colleagues and family members.  The e-publication might feature updates on insurance laws that may impact patients, information about new treatments, or news about your practice.  They are cost effective, easy to produce, measurable and will keep patients informed.  They can also be personalized to the patient and can include “lighter” information such as introductions to staff members or highlights of charity work your practice does to create a link to the community.
 
Knowing is Half the Battle
 
Being aware of e-mail as a marketing tool and willing to incorporate it into your business development plans is an essential first step to taking advantage it.  Learning how to harness this medium is the next step. It is one that is easily accomplished by knowing your audience and understanding that there are experts out there to help you.   
E-mail Service Providers (ESPs) have unique expertise in building e-mail lists, developing compelling message content that will make your patient want to open and read the email, creating templates to add visual flare to the message, monitoring the results of the campaign, and staying compliant with Federal laws such as the CAN-SPAM act regulating e-marketing.  They are professional marketers that allow you time to do your job, while they do theirs. 

You should look for an ESP that fits your goals and facilitates a seamless transition to e-marketing. Ask potential ESPs these questions to help you make an informed decision.   
Do you have a unique IP address for all your clients? An IP address is the unique identifier for every computer on the Internet.  Many spammers use a single IP address to send mass e-mail messages violating the CAN SPAM Act. Premium ESPs offer their clients a unique IP address because it helps to increase the rate of delivery to the recipients.  Shared IP addresses are common among discount ESPs however you will sacrifice deliverability since you are sharing your reputation with their other clients. 

How can you help me reduce the chance my message will be flagged by a SPAM filter? Filters help protect recipients from receiving SPAM messages in their inbox by using trigger words, phrases or symbols to weed out junk email. An ESP should provide you with a tool to check your message for anything that might trigger a filter. If your message can’t reach the recipient, the marketing campaign fails.  

Does the ESP offer a free trial period? All reputable ESPs offer a penalty-free trial period so customers can review the features before making a decision.   

Are the fees in line with industry standards? Most companies charge based on the number of messages sent by the user or the e-mail volume.  For volumes under 10,000 e-mail transmissions you should not be paying more than $.03 per transmission depending on the features the ESP includes in the cost.  Additional services such as graphic design or Web development are usually billed separately.  

What is the duration of the ESP’s contract?  You should limit your contract to one year or less or have the ability to leave anytime you want to increase your organization’s flexibility and management of your e-marketing program.   
With just a little knowledge, you can “power up” and join the other industries benefiting from e-mail marketing.   
Elie Ashery is President and CEO of Gold Lasso, LLC, an email marketing service provider (ESP) that specializes in serving the association, retail, publishing, healthcare and hospitality industries.

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Feature Spotlight: There is Nothing More Powerful Than Word-of-Mouth Marketing

One of the biggest challenges facing organizations today is quality prospecting. What better way to spread the word about the benefits of your organization than through your existing audience? Gold Lasso’s Referral Campaign module is a custom, fully automated email campaign program that represents an innovative, new approach to assisting organizations to increase their audience-base.

Referral marketing is as powerful and effective as traditional word-of-mouth referrals. Gold Lasso Referral Campaign Module leverages the ability of your audience base to spread the word for you by encouraging your audience to refer your services to friends or colleagues – a technique known as "viral marketing." How Does it Work?

It’s very simple. The organization creates a professional referral message asking their audience to refer their friends or colleagues. Through eLoop, the e-Campaign is sent to the organization’s existing audience. Now, the wheels are in motion. Recipients simply enter the names/email addresses of friends or colleagues who may be interested in the organization directly into an electronic form within the message. Once they submit this information, two things happen simultaneously. 1) The referred individuals receive a customized message that includes a ‘sign up for more information form’, and links to the organizations Web site. The referred individuals sign-up right on the spot! 2) The referees receive a thank you note from the organization for their participation in the referral process. It’s automated, it’s fast and it works!

Why Should You Try It? It’s cost effective. Email referral campaigns are low cost. It’s targeted and personal. Email referral campaigns succeed because they contain a personal touch, and the message content is pertinent and of interest to the recipient.  There are instant measurable results. eLoop provides instant access to stats to view the campaign’s success. It’s effective. Response rates to referral e-campaigns are very high.

For more information on Gold Lasso’s Referral Campaigns, contact Danielle Ashery at 301-990-9857 x15 or via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Danielle Ashery is VP, Client Services at Gold Lasso, Inc. She can be reached by telephone at 301-990-9857 or via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Visit Gold Lasso at http://www.goldlasso.com.

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Email Marketing: Facing the Challenges, Embracing the Power

E-mail marketing is an effective way to market your products and services to targeted audiences with personalized messages at a low cost. Similar to marketing trends of the past (direct mail, blast fax, etc), e-mail marketers are faced with new challenges to overcome as the popularity of this convenient communication and marketing vehicle increases.

During a one-year period from 2001 – 2002, DoubleClick reported that the volume of e-mail consumers received increased 60 percent. That number is expected to triple by the end of 2005. In addition to the sheer volume of e-mail messages, marketers also encounter two other main problems: (1) Spam blockers that can prevent legitimate e-mails from getting through to the consumer and an overall drop in the readership of messages (even for services the consumer has voluntarily opted-in to receive).

Marketers have a limited opportunity to catch the recipient’s attention as they peruse through an already saturated inbox. Remembering the following basic tips when crafting your message will help you more effectively market your product or service.

1. Provide value. Spam technology often includes a “trusted sources” option that allows consumers to create a list of sources whose messages can pass through the blocker. Therefore, marketers are tasked with distributing messages that provide valuable information about their product/service.

- Focus your message on what the end user will receive and how they benefit from the service. Do not write copy that highlights what the organization has done (i.e. “you” vs. “we”) but on how it helps the consumer.

- Build a profile page that allows the consumer to more directly target their preferences. Saving the consumer even one unwanted message builds trust.

- Educate consumers on the best way to use your product/service. Offer specific information on how to solve a problem for the consumer with your message.

2. Do not include hyperlinks, do include URLs. If hyperlinks do not work consumers are left without options for responding to the action item included in the message. Consider creating an online version of your message or typing out the URL in full so consumers can cut and paste it into their browser.

3. Design for the preview pane. The preview pane is approximately 374 pixels (about five inches) in an Outlook window. Employing a “postcard” design helps organize the message so action items are easily identifiable and strategically located within the text. Eliminating the extra step of opening the e-mail to read its contents may gain another reader.

4. Don’t use rich media. E-mail, though widely used, is still a generally low-tech medium. More than 65 percent of personal e-mail accounts do not display rich media (including Java script, Flash, streaming video, etc) correctly. Consider creating an online version of your message or using HTML only to increase readership.

5. Carefully craft your sender and subject line. Subject lines should be short and direct and should not exceed five words or 45 characters. Your subject line should provide specific, detailed information that avoids use of Spam tip-off words such as, “free,” “new” or “special offer.”

During the span of a day, consumers are bombarded with marketing messages not only through e-mail but also through radio, television, magazines and newspapers. Like the modern broadcasters, marketers should plan messages in terms of a sound byte—a short period to catch the attention of the audience and give them the information they need to contact you and learn more.

Danielle Ashery is VP, Client Services at Gold Lasso, Inc. She can be reached by telephone at 301-990-9857 or via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Email Marketing Best Practices

Did you know that 93 percent of U.S. Internet users count email as their top online activity? *At a time when many people seem concerned about the volume of email reaching their inboxes, legitimate marketers are relying more and more on email communications to reach their target audience.

Does this make sense? The answer is a resounding YES. Email is a fast, inexpensive and extremely effective way to target and address disparate audiences. Does this mean you should just go ahead and email to your hearts delight? The answer is a resounding NO. We have compiled a list of some email marketing best practices both from our own experiences, and those of other industry experts to help you make the most of your in-house email marketing strategy.

Grow your opt in list
When it comes to lists, bigger isn’t necessarily better. Targeted, permission-based lists will serve you best in the long run. There are many ways to build a permission-based list. You can gather email addresses from your website, trade show booths, customer service departments, sales representatives, event registrations, and sweepstakes. Show your customers and prospects the value of what they are signing up for by offering them samples of your newsletter, white papers and other communications. Offer targeted subscriptions by tailoring your opt-outs by category of communication. By doing this, you offer your subscribers a choice of communications that most interests them.

Test, test, test
You don’t want to display a ‘less-than-professional’ image by sending email messages that display with broken code or missing graphics. You can avoid this by testing. Remember, your layout may look great displayed on your computer, but not so perfect on another email client. You may choose to set up several free email accounts to view your message on various readers.

Smart marketers understand that everything from delivery date, time, call to action, pricing and content may effect response rates. So, don’t stop your testing at format. Test all aspects of your message from your offer, subject line, and content to the delivery dates/times. Email campaigns (unlike their snail mail counterparts), with their automatic reporting capabilities, provide the perfect vehicle for trying different offers, in order to best optimize response rates.

HTML/Text
HTML emails are more interesting to read. The graphics, images, colors and format, when done correctly, increase the reader’s ability to process the content of the message, and make a better brand impression. However, if not executed properly, too much visual stimulation can backfire, and obscure the reader’s ability to process the content of the message. In addition, some corporate email servers withhold graphics, and many people on their home computers still have dial up connections which could make the load times on large HTML messages frustrating. The answer is to keep your messages simple and relevant. And, when creating your messages, create a text only and HTML version, and give your audience the choice of which they would rather receive.

Relevancy
Getting rid of ‘unwanted’ postal mail requires you to expend some energy – a trip to the mailbox, opening the communication, walking to the trash can, and finally, discarding the envelope and it’s contents. Discarding unwanted email, on the other hand, requires almost no effort. At the click of a button, someone can unsubscribe from your communications. The trick is to make your communications so valuable, that they won’t want to. Try to personalize your communication, whenever possible. Use your Web site’s registration page, or include a subscription management link in your email communications to ask subscribers what they want to see. Also, track which links are clicked to determine what interests your readers, and target your future communications accordingly.

Frequency
Sometimes too much is enough to make someone unsubscribe. How often have you signed up for a newsletter or special store promotion by email, only to be inundated by offers from that vendor on a daily basis. It’s difficult to answer the question, ‘how often should I communicate with my customers and prospects’. It varies by industry and type of offer. A newsletter should come on a regular basis. But, keep in mind that a special offer is no longer ‘special’ if you’re offering it constantly. As you build your email communications program, ask your subscribers how often they would like to hear from you, and then listen to what they have to say.

Technology and the Internet have opened new doors for direct marketers, allowing for cost effective communication, targeting and information gathering on customers and prospects. By following some simple, commonsense rules, you can reap the benefits that email marketing technology has to offer.

* Source: Jupiter Research, a division of Jupitermedia Corporation.

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