Do you avoid sending out an emailed practice newsletter because you don’t want to spam your clients? There’s a simple trick to making it more readable. And you can do it with data you already have. By Steven Coby
No-one likes spam email. You don’t like sending them, you don’t like receiving them. And there’s a good chance you don’t have a regular newsletter for your clinic—because you’re pretty sure your clients don’t want spam email from you. You might not realise it, but spam email can also become counter-productive—if you do send a lot of emails, and clients ignore them, email servers start to identify you as a spammer and send your messages straight to junk mail folders.
“When email marketing is done badly, it is spam,” says Rob Johnson, a director of Engage Content. Engage produces content and email newsletters for veterinary practices and associated industries. He adds, “And like all spam, it has low open rates and click rates.”
But according to Johnson, there is a way you can do email marketing successfully. He bases his comments on a regression analysis the team at Engage did of data from 2.7 million email newsletters sent from nearly 1000 campaigns. They discovered that when you control for the type of content that is in the newsletter, a different picture emerges of what entices readers to click and read.
The trick is to think of your email newsletter as the opposite of your waiting room.
The generic waiting room
Many veterinary clinics fill their waiting rooms with information brochures, a few magazines, and posters. The idea is to get good information to clients while they’re in there with their pets.
But people in your surgery are not open to marketing messages, says Johnson. They are in there with a sick pet. While they’re in that waiting room, they aren’t ready to be sold to.
“But also ask yourself, how often is a client in your waiting room?” Johnson adds. “Once a year? Twice a year? While they’re in there, they may flick through some of your magazines or brochures, or stare at the posters on the wall. But they’re not taking much in. They’re worried about their pet.”
Also, the information in there has to be broad. Cat owners don’t care about dog health. If you have a pet rabbit, you’re not going to care about information on birds.
Email marketing solves that problem. It is easy to segment your customer database according to what type of pet they own. With modern email marketing software, it’s as easy to send a slightly different email to all of those different segments at the same time.
When email isn’t spam
The great strength of an email newsletter is it can give specific information to a client at a time when they’re relaxed and open to receiving it. “We all get too many emails, that’s true,” Johnson says. “And if the email is trying to sell us something—if it’s not addressed to us personally, and not about something we care about—we tend to find it annoying. That type of email marketing is spamming, and it’s an obnoxious thing to do.
“But when you send people an email with useful information about how they can have happier, healthier pets, they will pay attention. According to our research, you will get up to 10 times the click-through rate on an article—for example, something linking to a blog post—as you will on a generic offer or a call to action for people to come in.”
The whole idea of email marketing for veterinary practices, or any business, is to get attention and engagement first. If you bombard people with sales messages, you lose the attention of 98 per cent of them.
If the email is offering information about something important to us, like our pet, we’re more likely to pay attention to it. If it’s specifically all about our pet—say, all about what my cat is doing when he disappears for a week, and the best type of cat food for him, and how to get rid of fleas on a cat—clients will read every word.
Of course, there will still be a percentage of your clients who never open or click on one of your emails. Johnson recommends taking those people off the email list. “If they don’t want to hear from you, don’t bug them,” he says. “It is those clients who engage with your newsletters who are going to become your best clients anyway.”
The head start you already have
Johnson says the key to making your newsletter work is by targeting the content in it. Which means sending a cat-email to cat owners, a dog-email to dog owners, and so on. It should be easy to export and sort that information from your existing database.
“More importantly, you can send it regularly,” he adds. “I would recommend every month, but even if you sent it once a quarter, you’ll be talking to that client four times as often as you normally would if you relied on them reading brochures in your waiting room.”
The bottom line is, clients don’t come in to your veterinary practice that often. The advantage of email marketing is you can communicate with patients when they’re not around and not thinking about you.
If you send emails with worthwhile content, rather than sales messages, you will not be spamming people. Even better if you can send content that is specific to their pet.
When you do that, you can reasonably expect a tenfold increase in attention. You can measure that attention using email marketing software to work out who you should be directing your marketing messages towards, and who isn’t worth worrying about.
None of that is spamming. It’s using technology to build relationships. And those relationships are not only good for your clients and their pets. They’re also good for your business.