I remember the first time I was hiring for a position to help with healthcare email marketing. At each of the interviews, I’d eventually ask the candidate what they thought of our overall marketing communication, what was good and what we could do better.
Several candidates brought up some good points but when I asked about the thoughts behind the ideas, I discovered almost every time that they were rooted in things like: ‘not liking the overall color scheme’ or ‘just not feeling good about the content’.
At first, I was confused as to why someone would use those reasons but when it continued to happen, it occurred to me why so many candidates have trouble reasoning behind their creative ideas.
It wasn’t theirs. It was politics.
Working on marketing projects can sometimes feel like creativity dies with politics. It took me a long time to understand the benefit of going against data-driven marketing or spending an outrageous amount of time on something that almost no one will ever see.
And you know what?
I was wrong.
As it turns out, it’s all about understanding who your customer really is. If, for example, you work at an early stage venture-backed startup with few customers, the real customer becomes the venture funds backing the project. So we are really selling the idea to them in order to get funds and build it for what will eventually become the real customer base.
It can feel a bit political and politics tend to have a bad rep but it doesn’t have to be. However, where it could use some love is with healthcare email marketing work.
Healthcare emails usually look awfully similar. In fact, it can be hard to tell them apart if the branding was removed.
Try yourself with these examples:
Instead of the standard listicles with 50 things you could do that don’t really make a difference, I’d like to highlight the one thing I’ve noticed that can truly make a difference if your task is to improve the performance of the email marketing in your startup.
But first, let’s look at the few good healthcare email marketing examples I was able to find.
3 healthcare email marketing examples for startups
Besides the odd exception, marketing emails tend to be boring and uninspiring when they don’t come from personal brands.
I spent quite a bit of time researching to present some genuinely great and non-generic examples of healthcare email marketing but it was freaking difficult (if you know of any good examples, please leave a comment below so I can update this).
The lack of creativity shouldn’t be imitated but at times, there might be a good strategic play that can be used for inspiration instead (more on that in a minute).
Creative content aside, I’ve found that healthcare email marketing tends to be more impactful in business to business settings than directly to consumers as they are often limited by their service area. B2B healthcare startups on the other hand, can often sell their products and services worldwide.
My favorite B2B healthcare email marketing example: Healthtech Pigeon. The copywriting is fun and lighthearted compared to many other dinosaur-like newsletters in healthcare.
B2C startup examples
As I’ve covered in this article on content marketing in healthcare, the effectiveness of digital marketing spend and it’s unit economics doesn’t always look pretty for presentation.
In the world of consumer business, we’re almost forced to segment the list based on people that we can serve within our area, people that might travel to our area for service and those who are interested but that are outside our area.
The data gives us the opportunity to better understand where to open up more locations in future. It’s a lot easier to make a business case for launching another city when there’s data-driven interest compared to gut feeling.
Since segments like chronic disease patients tend to have different use cases from our average patient, it can also make sense to segment further down with those groups or simply by care service or physician specialty. For example, who else would care about content for pregnant women than soon-to-be-moms?
Anyway, here are two examples of B2C healthcare email marketing examples.
Healthcare email marketing diagnostics: the one thing the industry appears to be missing
Say, your email marketing turns out to be performing badly when you’ve run the numbers, and you’re not seeing a great return compared to other channels. What should you do?
We tend to get advice like “use testimonials” and “send a welcome email” which, to be honest, are table stakes these days.
A bigger win is to dive deep into conversations with patients about what kind of challenges they have and what they’d like to hear about. I don’t mean looking at the intake form they filled out sharing why they’re at the clinic but rather, really talking with them.
Creating great content is the single biggest win in healthcare email marketing, particularly because high quality content is so sparse. One of the best places to see great email content is by looking at personal brands in the self-help space as many of them make their livelihood off of their email newsletter.
Of course, the all too well known marketing problem will arise again: politics. Most businesses in the space work hard to be as generic as possible and there’s a great opportunity to build something unique if you work at a startup that is more flexible and human with marketing messages, than the average business in the industry.
If not, there isn’t much to do about politics since there’s a fair chance email marketing isn’t the most important thing in the business, even if it is for us. Instead, it might make sense to focus on other marketing areas as it’ll be tricky to make big wins and meaningful impact to the email marketing’s performance without giving the content a serious overhaul. There are always exceptions out there but this is what I’m seeing with most healthcare businesses today.
If you are looking to make some improvements due to expectations from above, here’s a list of small wins that may or may not make a difference but tend to be politically popular.
4 quick wins in healthcare email marketing
- Consider adding upsells to the invoices sent via emails, appointment confirmations and the “thank you” page following signing up from an opt-in form (we tend to be most likely to take action on something just after we’ve done something else)
- Add patient testimonials (and use examples that represent the most common patients so they can recognize their situation in the examples)
- Prepare automated emails with relevant follow up content based on which articles the reader joins the newsletter from (e.g. if they read an article on why knee pain happens, give them tips to fix it via email)
- Prepare content patients ask for and that can be easily shared (e.g. if you know many patients ask for a checklist on a process to fix knee pain at home, send it to them and let them know that they can print it or forward it to a friend with the same problem)
Don’t be afraid to give away the farm in terms of advice in emails. Even if patients are armed with the right advice, 99% won’t do anything about it themselves and they are not going to put their life on pause and take a medical degree just to fix this.. But you might impress them and win new patients instead.
Ironically, it tends to be more expensive to create a generic email newsletter due to its lack of performance and distraction from more impactful projects than to build something amazing.
An example of a strategic play
Search marketing is a good marketing channel for most healthcare startups but eventually, we run out of highly converting keywords to target and still need to keep growing.
To solve it, one approach is to scale by going after people with slightly less direct buying intent but still some relevance and drive them to an automatic email newsletter with the purpose of moving them from their current research-state to a buying state. The benefit is that often the volume of leads with this lower level of interest is much higher than the instantly converting ready-to-buy patient leads.
Here’s an example of four keyword categories based on buying intent, starting with the one with the least buying intent:
- What causes a headache (here they might be looking for information)
- What cures a headache (here they might be looking for a solution and learn that a consultation is relevant)
- Best pediatric clinic in Seattle (now they are looking for a specific clinic to visit)
- Dr. Chan’s pediatric clinic seattle book consultation (now they are looking to book with that specific clinic)
We might expand on content for the keywords in category one and two, that are more information focused, while compensating for their lack of buying intent by creating email content that helps them get their questions answered and naturally moves them from seeking information to an interest in booking a consultation: category three and four.
The challenge is whether they are in our local area and we can service them at all, since email marketing and organic content is not a natural fit for localized service businesses like a clinic as it can be difficult to target by location.
One approach is to highlight your service area, so that new leads are discouraged from joining if they are too far away. Since we’ll never be able to serve them, they create a false sense of growth and drive up the cost of your email software as that’s often paid per email address.
That creates two traps.
The two traps in healthcare email marketing
If we listen to our email software’s recommendation about our performance against industry standards, we are dead. Since we can’t serve all our leads, our conversion rate will naturally look overly bad and lead us to think there’s a problem with our performance.
That isn’t always the case and it can be challenging to segment the email list if it hasn’t already been from the start, so we know exactly which subset of readers we can realistically serve.
For example, if we have 15,000 people reading our newsletter, the performance metrics might look like this:
- 15,000 readers
- 5,000 email opens
- 30 bookings
That might lead us to believe that our open rate is 33% (5,000/15,000) and conversion rate 0.20% (30/15,000), meaning that there is decent interest in opening the email but something is off-putting with the content.
But because we couldn’t target our content properly, we are misled to think that healthcare email marketing sucks. The reality is different though.
What we couldn’t see was that only 500 of the 15,000 leads were relevant and interested in our target area, meaning that our conversion rate is 6% (30/500) which you might argue is too good and indicate that we should work on bringing more of the right people in the door than worry about the conversion rates.
My point is that if we don’t look at the problem deep enough before we dive into the solution, we’ll be misled into solving a problem that wasn’t a problem, and thus make things worse. To practice, I like this book: Problem Solving 101. It appears like it’s for school kids but it works well for ambitious adults too.
The second trap is over-segmenting our email flows and audiences.
It seems contradictory to the point above, right?
We sometimes get caught up in making the perfect flows and segmentation, so that the content is ultra relevant for everyone. The trap is that perfectionism tends to be more expensive and distracting as there are surely bigger problems to solve with more impact in the business. So where is the fine line?
Of course, the only reasonable answer is the one we all love to hate: it depends.
Until we develop a gut feeling through experience, I’d start with three simple subsegments and run basic forecasting on what extra segmentation could bring in for the business, since it’s a little extra work but saves us more time in the long run.
3 Email segmentation ideas
- Service area based segmentation (e.g. the cities your clinics are in)
- Type of care interest (e.g. pediatric care)
- Age or life stage (especially, patients at mid-age and above tend to have dependants to take care of and might buy something that isn’t for themselves)
The idea with forecasting the results is to figure out if segmenting further and personalizing the content will increase the conversion rate to bookings and the overall patient lifetime value enough to make it worth your while.
- There are two important traps in healthcare email marketing: misdiagnosing the problem if the newsletter isn’t converting well and getting stuck in over optimizing and oversegmenting the email flows
- If search marketing has been performing well, it might make sense to scale it to less intent-heavy keywords and use email to extend the relationship instead of having them leave the site
- The biggest win in email marketing for most healthcare businesses tend to be around creating great content that patients actually want to read, not our own employees