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Creating a print direct mail campaign in healthcare

direct mail campaign (Getty Images)

Those working in the healthcare industry will have a lot to consider regarding aspects of marketing. You will have to bear in mind the restrictions which are placed on non-urgent expenditures like advertising, for instance — with this the case no matter if you’re employed at a private or publicly funded organisation. Then there is the onus that is place on handling medical material in a sensitive manner.

Marketing will be essential in the healthcare sector at times though. For example, this year’s Public Health England Change4Life campaign, which includes leaflets and TV ads, was launched to combat the childhood obesity epidemic that is engulfing the country. Without it, the UK’s next generation could bring with it an unprecedented strain on our medical services due to weight-related health problems. So, how can public and private organisations across the UK communicate with patients concisely and effectively for medical purposes?

What does direct mail marketing mean?

Print direct mail marketing occurs whenever informative or promotional materials are sent to a specific network. It’s a cost-effective, discrete and personal form of marketing — what we expect from our healthcare providers. 

After viewing direct mail content, research found that 75% of people were successful in remembering 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.

In 2015 across the US, around $9.7bn was spent on healthcare advertising. With Public Health England only one year into its three-year Social Marketing Strategy, we expect interesting advertising campaigns from the medical sector on a global scale. But how can the healthcare industry create successful marketing campaigns using direct mail?

How do I decide my marketing goal?

It is important for patients to be informed of surgery updates, new inoculations, potential health risks and private plans across the healthcare industry. 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.

The tone and design of your entire direct mail campaign will be influenced once you have a clear marketing goal in mind. 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.

Who is your target demographic?

Bear in mind that direct mail campaigns are set up in a way that they capitalise on targeting a specific subset of the population. 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.

The following four sections should be used to identify your potential target markets:

  • Demographic: age, gender, occupation, and family situation (e.g. a key target audience for material regarding vaccinations for children or the elderly).
  • Behaviour: attitudes, wants and needs (e.g. people who may have expressed an interest in certain medical services or information online).  
  • Geographic: where they live (e.g. patient catchment areas or previously uncontacted residents near your surgery’s location).
  • Psychographic: pertaining to their lifestyle (e.g. useful if you wish to contact smokers and heavy drinkers for group quitting sessions).

Have a target demographic in mind? 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.

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Which format of direct mail will be best?

You should know the format of direct mail that you’re going to use ahead of designing any materials. 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.

Sensitive information and private details are dealt with across the healthcare industry. 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.

Design, layout and copy considerations

So much of the healthcare sector is filled with loads of information. 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?

Take patients who are smokers as an example — 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 actors posing as doctors and satisfied patients also work well in direct mail campaigns.

Avoid medical jargon, which could confuse the people you’re trying to reach out to. Instead, evoke emotion (i.e. shock, fear or curiosity) 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. With the advances in digital printing, healthcare marketing material can display hard-hitting images with even greater effect than previously.

Your call to action is very important too. Tell your audience what you wish them to do, whether that’s make an appointment, start eating healthily, book a consultation, or anything else.

When and how should printed direct mail campaigns be sent?

Once you have all of your designs ready to go, 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 in order to make people aware of a check-up that their demographic (i.e. 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.

How to measure success?

The success of your direct mail campaign should be evaluated from the moment that the material is posted out. 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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