Pump Up The Volume On Email Strategy For Building Relationships In Healthcare

Yes, e-mail has gone through phases in healthcare marketing since 2001, but, no, it is not going to be obliterated. Email remains one of the “meat and potatoes” means of communication between healthcare brands and consumer targets. 

I often hear that email is not new and sexy, but it’s all about flexing creative muscle and finding new ways of leveraging the medium. Recently, SmarterTools gathered and summarized some great data on the use of email versus other digital channels, such as Facebook and Twitter. It clearly shows the significant role email plays in our daily lives relative to social media. “There are nearly three times as many email accounts today as there are Facebook and Twitter accounts combined.”

So, the most accounts may not be our most important metric when it comes to healthcare marketing, especially when it comes to being sure we are marketing to the appropriate target. But we know that a large segment of the population – including patients and caregivers – are not yet owners of smartphones, tablets, etc., and may not turn to social media for their health information. 



Realizing that one’s email address has become the most common, unique identifier an individual possesses, surpassing things like Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses, or other traditional means of identity, makes it hard to pass on leveraging the medium.

We have been developing patient and caregiver relationship marketing for almost 12 years, primarily with oncology and specialty care brands, and have compiled data across 21 programs where email was the primary medium. Here are three insights:

The majority of email actions occur within 24 hours of deployment

  • 50% of opens occur within 12 hours of deployment
  • 86% of opens occur within three days of deployment

Initial emails are opened more quickly than the 2nd in the stream

  • preference based email content will lead to higher engagement
  • subject line testing is key – for each email developed, submit at least three subject lines to Medical/Regulatory 

Email campaigns for oncology patients/caregivers consistently have higher open and click rates vs. specialty care.

  • Median Open Rate is 20%, median Click Rate is 5.3%. 
  • Threshold for acquisition in oncology is higher, but once enrolled, email recipients are highly engaged.

Tips for Healthcare Email Marketing:

1. Don’t include the kitchen sink

Yes, brands have messages to communicate, lifestyle education that is often instrumental for those with chronic conditions, and of course we need to always include core campaign visuals, 800#s, reimbursement information, a link to a patient story, and more. It’s just too much. Content and visuals that are repeated in every email become “wallpaper,” and users’ eyes glaze over your offers and links.

2. Do ask enrollees what content they prefer to receive

Today we can serve content-based on user preferences, in combination with the core message we want to deliver. Provide three choices to the user and it’s a win-win. Next time they receive an email, be sure to personalize the subject line with the topic they chose (yes this can be done!) – the open rate will skyrocket – we have the data. Plus, the brand now has amazing data on what content resonates with which segments…all feeding back into the content creation loop so that we can always optimize results.

3. Do design email for mobile

Although smartphone penetration is not 100%, around 40% of mobile users in the U.S. read email on a mobile device. Mobile email open rates increased 34% in the last six months of 2011, according to a study by ReturnPath, while desktop email opens dropped by 9.5%.

There are many considerations for design including:

  • Multi-column layouts actually make it easier for readers to double tap and zoom on text, avoiding awkward side scrolling.
  • People like images in mobile emails as long as they’re small and don’t take a lot of time (and don’t overly tax their data plan) to load.
  • Use thumb-friendly buttons for your ‘Read more,” and social-media links

At the end of the day, step back and read the email. Ask yourself, would I read this?

1 comment about "Pump Up The Volume On Email Strategy For Building Relationships In Healthcare ".
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  1. Monica O'Kelly from Everyday Health, Inc, August 22, 2012 at 10:37 a.m.

    Email is amazing - we have produced a huge amount of emails for Hospital & Healthcare clients, and we see excellent click through rates and conversions. They're perfect for getting a clear & succinct message out there.

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