Patient communications: getting your practices message in front of patients

With the advent of social media and email communications, practices are more engaged with their patients than ever before. But how do you ensure that you are getting your practice’s messages in front of the right people in the right way?

The team at Precision Printing consider how the healthcare sector can benefit using direct mail marketing to promote services or raise awareness

There’s so much that must be factored in when doing marketing in the healthcare industry. Consider, for instance, the restrictions that apply to non-urgent expenditure, such as advertising, whether someone is working at a publicly funded or private firm. On top of this, the onus is on you to handle medical material sensitively.

However, there will be occasions when marketing is an essential component to healthcare professionals. For example, this year’s Public Health England Change4Life campaign, which includes leaflets and TV ads, was launched to combat childhood obesity.

In your practice, it might be a matter of promoting a practice-organised walking group, a walk-in clinic, vaccination alerts, or a new programme that you are running from the surgery, or that is supported by the surgery.

So, how can public and private practices across the UK communicate with patients concisely and effectively for medical purposes?

Making your marketing matter

Print direct mail marketing is where promotional or informative materials are delivered to a specific network. It’s a cost-effective, discrete and personal form of marketing.

According to research, 75% of people remember direct mail content after viewing it. However, only 44% of email readers could say the same. With direct mail, healthcare providers can send targeted information in an attractive format that will make patients pay attention to important health issues.

“Direct mail still has a role to play in the modern world,” says Gina Jones director of Bristol copywriting agency 42group.

Getting your marketing goal right

When it comes to healthcare, patients must be kept up-to-date when it comes to potential health risks, surgery updates, private plans and new inoculations. It is no surprise then that these all make for popular marketing goals. Preferably, choose only one aim to help you drive a strong and clear message that promises the greatest engagement.

Once you know your marketing goal, your entire direct mail campaign’s tone and design will be influenced by this decision. For example, if you’re contacting at-risk patients in your database to inform them of a vaccine they need, you might choose a small, simple leaflet that details what they must do and why clearly.

However, if you’re a private healthcare organisation wishing to promote services to a new catchment area, you might prefer to invest in a multi-page pamphlet featuring images, advertorial copy and quotes regarding services.

Deciding on your target demographic

A specific subset of the population will be targeted during each direct mail campaign. If you’re planning on contacting current patients, get the addresses from your online database. However, the job gets trickier if you’re aiming your campaign at new patients.

You should be able to easily identify your potential target markets by bearing in mind these four sections:

  • Demographic: can include age, gender, occupation, and family situation – for example, a key target audience for material regarding vaccinations for children or the elderly.
  • Behaviour: their attitudes, wants and needs. This might be people who have expressed an interest in certain medical services or information online.
  • Geographic: where they live. Are they in your practice’s patient catchment area? Or are they previously uncontacted residents near your practice’s location?
  • Psychographic: pertaining to their lifestyle. This is useful if you wish to contact smokers and heavy drinkers for group quitting sessions.

Decided upon the market you want to target? From here, you can either conduct a survey to determine the addresses or contact other organisations to retrieve their data and directories. Since you may have to buy this information and some of it may be sensitive, it’s vital that you have a clear and precise view of your target audience to minimise waste.

Picking the format for your direct mail campaign

Don’t begin designing any of your direct mail materials before you’ve determined which format you’re going to be using. Here are the most popular:

  • Postcards: clear and concise.
  • Letters: confidential and personalised.
  • Catalogues: spacious and aesthetically pleasing.
  • Self-mailers: cheap and attractive.
  • Dimensional mailers (info packaged in tubes or boxes): interesting and engaging.

Remember that healthcare professionals deal with a lot of private details and sensitive information. Therefore, it’s worth opting for letters or self-mailers that remain closed when contacting current patients. Your recipient might appreciate this consideration and nobody wants to get off on the wrong foot in marketing.

Private medical establishments might take the opportunity to use glossy, promotional catalogues to improve the rate of engagement with potential patients. Alternatively, pricier dimensional mailers can boost ROI far beyond that of flat mail, according to research by Baylor University.

A few points about copy, design and layout of materials

You can get access to so much information across the healthcare industry. However, avoid cluttering your pages with information. Instead, select the main points and place these in prominent positions. According to studies, we have about seven seconds to grab human attention. So, your direct mail material should do at least one of the following:

  • Address a pressing medical issue.
  • Ask a sensitive question — perhaps one they might be afraid to talk about, such as mental health?
  • Pique curiosity — are you offering a new cosmetic surgery procedure?
  • State an interesting fact — has there been a sudden rise in a preventable disease?

If you are targeting patients who smoke. Why not try and urge them to kick the habit or to at least attend a stop-smoking meeting by highlighting key statistics related to their health using different font sizes or colours?

If you wish to promote a service, use text to explain: what it is, its benefits, and the aftercare available — testimonials are also helpful. Photos of doctors and satisfied patients also work well in direct mail campaigns.

To avoid confusing your target audience, keep medical jargon out of your direct mail content. Instead, evoke emotion and employ imagery to ensure that your marketing material is picked up off the doormat. An excellent example of this is the ‘Protect Everyone from Flu’ campaign, which included an ad featuring a photo of baby in an incubator next to a quote (written as if said by the unwell child) which read: “I am fighting to get well. Please don’t make me fight the flu, too”.

Be sure to have a call to action on your copy as well. It will tell your audience what you wish them to do, whether that’s to make an appointment, start eating healthily, book a consultation, or anything else.

Determining when and how to push out your direct mail campaigns

Have you designed all of your direct mail material? The next step will be to get in touch with your printing agency to get a printing cost quote for the work involved. You’ll also want to see out your delivery provider for bulk mailing prices.

Once you’ve done this and agreed a price, consider when the best time will be to launch your direct mail campaign. Does it need to go ASAP to make people aware of a check-up that their demographic – for example, young women or elderly men – requires sooner rather than later? Or is it seasonal, such as the flu jab or holiday vaccinations, which will be most effective if sent in autumn and spring? It’s important that you consider timing if you want to curtail waste and maximise ROI.

Measuring the success of your direct mail campaign

Once your direct mail material has been sent out, you can begin measuring just how successful it has been. How you do this depends on your marketing goal. If you’re inviting patients to a meeting about mental health, you can work out the ROI by comparing the number of attendees with the number of direct mail marketing materials you posted.

Similarly, compare how many of a particular vaccine was administered from the day after you launched your campaign, or check your revenue at the end of each month to discover whether the promotion of a cosmetic procedure rose, dropped or plateaued after your campaign began.

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