While going through a pile of papers on my desk I came across a marketing newsletter for publishers from 1999! Although now a relic from the pre-digital age, I had marked up one article on direct mail advertising with a highlighter and copious scribbled notes, so it obviously held some interest at the time.
Glancing through the article, I discovered that despite the change in the delivery system (now email, social media, or website advertising instead of print-based offers) much of the advice was still relevant.
So here are my updates to this still relevant information on direct mail marketing for your acupuncture practice. No matter what you are selling or what kind of customers you are seeking, these strategies are timeless.
First, all direct mail success, whether print or digital communication, depends upon three fundamentals:
The list of customers you use
The offers you make
The power of the graphics and copy you create
These fundamentals do not change. So lets talk about all three.
Build your mailing list by every possible method...both snail and email versions. People who have requested to be on your mailing will always be the most responsive contacts later on. When you do live events, public talks or classes, take a sign up sheet for your mailing list and be sure you pass it around or otherwise have it in a prominent location as people leave the event. Have an email and snail mail opt-in section on your patient information forms. Also, make sure to encourage friends and colleagues to sign up for your e-news within your Facebook and LinkedIn pages, follow you on Twitter, and sign up for your blogs.
Make sure any email newsletters you send out have an "opt-out" message at the bottom...every single time. Follow up on any requests to be removed promptly and accurately, or have your email marketing service do so. If you do postcard or letter mailings, use the US Postal Service "merge and purge" service so that you are not wasting money on duplicates or addresses that no longer exist.
Remember that purchasing lists (either postal or email) is dicey. Always make sure the source is reliable and the age of the addresses (snail or email). You also need to make sure the people on the list have at least a general interest in what you are offering. Lists that are sorted for relevant lifestyle statistics (age, income, education, and interest in alternative health for example) will always improve response rate. If you try a purchased list like this once, only mail a second time to the names of people who respond in one way or another to the initial mailing.
Request a "Yes/No" decision in your offer. It has been shown that this type of offer is more effective than leaving the "No" choice off. Why? It plays on a basic human trait that most people dislike saying "no." Use a "limited time offer" especially if the offer appeals to a prospective customer's self-interest (such as being healthier, pain-free, etc.). Time-limited offers out-pull discount offers consistently because they force action by a certain date. This type of ad pulls better than a discount offer every time.
"Free" is still the most powerful word you can use. A free gift offer, when combined with some type of purchase, increases orders by an average of 35%. But what type of gift will work? To achieve the best result we have to consider the following:
Gift appropriateness – for example, a free bottle of herbs when you get your first acupuncture treatment is more relevant than a chocolate bar
Effect of the gift on repeat business – in other words don't give them something that will remove the need for them to come back for another visit
Net cost to our business – If a patient pays $75 average for a visit and your cost per patient visit is $30 (heat and light, rent, phone, supplies, other fixed costs) and you then give away a $5 bottle of herbs, you are still making a profit of $40. If you give away a treatment, it is costing you $30!
New practitioners might consider as a website promotion doing a "sweepstakes offer" or other contest where one person who enters will win 12 free treatments (for new patients only) over a year or some specific time frame for usage. You are after the names and contact information you will get from all the other entrants. These people obviously have some interest in your services or they would not have entered the contest.
You improve your chances of making a sale the longer you can keep someone on your website, at your blog, or reading the benefits-laden copy in your offer. For example, for a sports acupuncture clinic, your benefits might include:
Faster recovery times between competitions
Quick reduction of any injuries, swelling, weakness, or pain
Individualized treatments designed to meet each patient's specific needs
A free consultation for new clients to determine whether acupuncture (and any other services you offer) can help you.
Copy and graphics
Consumers gravitate to copy that is down-to-earth, me-to-you-ish, and not excessive, lengthy, or difficult to understand. If you're not sure if yours fits that description, have a couple non-medical friends read it and make suggestions.
Images are inexpensive to purchase at websites that sell art and photos (such as istockphoto.com). Remember that pictures can tell your story better than words and increase the positive sales impact of almost any advertisement, blog, offer, you name it. If you are going to bother to do a print or online ad/offer, don't stint on the $15-30 it might cost to you get the right picture to go with it.
Use natural human curiosity to aid your promotion when you write copy. Headlines such as "Ten Tips for your health you'll never hear from your doctor!" or "Why is this patient smiling?" or "Acupuncture could help you win your next competition. Find out how!" or "Seasonal Allergies don't have to keep you on the sidelines this year! Click here to read more."
Consider trying three or four different photo/copy/offer combinations for your website/email offers and track the results. When you find one that works, continue to use it until it no longer gets results. Then start again with a new series of ads and repeat this process.
Remember, whether it's on paper, in an email, or on a website, good communication is good communication. Keep honing your website-based or email-blast (or brochure, print ad, postcard) offers and copy until you get the results you want.
Honora Lee Wolfe lives in Boulder, Colo., and is a co-owner of Blue Poppy Enterprises, Ltd. She also is the author of several books, including Highlights of Ancient Acupuncture Prescriptions.