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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, 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, 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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