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How (and Why) to Use Email in Your D2C Healthcare Marketing Strategy


May 10, 2021


May 21, 2021

There are currently an estimated 5.6 billion active email accounts. More than half of us check email before we even get out of bed. Because email is so widely and frequently used, email marketing offers a cost effective, highly customizable channel for marketers to connect with customers and potential customers.

The key to making email marketing work in D2C healthcare environments is to keep it personally relevant, ethical, and convenient. The D2C landscape is saturated with direct chat tools and bots on homepages that answer a range of questions, so email marketing might not seem like an effective marketing tool for the complex, highly regulated, still-emerging world of direct-to-consumer healthcare.

But there are many reasons D2C healthcare companies should consider investing heavily in email marketing. In this article, we’ll look at three of the top reasons in more detail, with examples from real campaigns:

  1. Personalization is key in healthcare, and email allows for high-touch personalization at scale. Email is one of the only channels that allows healthcare marketers to reach users directly, while adhering to strict rules and regulations.
  2. Marketing goals for D2C healthcare are often more nuanced than marketing goals for D2C consumer-facing products. Email segmentation allows healthcare email marketers to take complex goals into consideration while maintaining contact with existing and potential customers.

Before we get into detailed examples, let’s outline which types of healthcare marketer profiles will benefit most from this information. 

  • Stakeholders looking to increase retention for digital therapeutics products, like mobile apps offering telemedicine or online platforms providing health supplements, will find these examples relevant and helpful.
  • Healthcare digital marketers working to drive enrollment for behavioral healthcare clinical trials, from recruiting specific populations to optimizing funnels, should also find these examples useful because of the heavy regulation involved in this area. With an added challenge of working within requirements of institutional review boards and other essential (but less marketing-minded!) governing bodies, knowing how to use email marketing within these constraints is crucial for success.
  • Marketers in D2C healthcare lobbying for more investment in email marketing will find these examples helpful and can use them to develop a solid, evidence-backed case for funding efforts in this channel.
  • If you’re a marketer looking to focus solely on top-of-the-funnel or vanity metrics, or your products or services are widely applicable and stigma-free, this might be more detail than you need.

Reason 1: Getting personal and meeting the specific needs of telehealth consumers.

Marketing campaigns for direct-to-consumer telemedicine must be highly personalized and empathic to be effective and ethical. Many people have fear or anxiety associated with healthcare. And because of that, marketers must build campaigns that address and combat deeply held fears or beliefs. Marketers can leverage email and content to share case studies, success stories, anecdotes, and personalized suggestions. This helps create empathic campaigns at scale that drive product adoption and usage.

Typical email marketing campaigns can run off the momentum of a products’ general value propositions. But individuals have their own complex relationships with and barriers to healthcare. 

I saw the importance of personalization firsthand while working on an email campaign nurturing qualified leads for participation in a clinical trial for a medication for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Open rates and CTA click rates were below average. So we conducted user surveys to get a better understanding of how to appropriately communicate with potential trial participants.

The majority of survey respondents said wanting to be understood was the primary driver for participation in this clinical trial. They shared that doctors rarely understood the nuances and depth of obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

Their secondary barrier was anxiety. Once their optimism around possibly feeling better wore off, their condition caused them to fixate on small details. Like all the things that could go wrong. What if there was no parking at the site? Would the people there be rude? What if the staff didn’t take confidentiality seriously?

So we analyzed survey results. And then we restructured the email campaign to provide more personalized information based on stages in the user journey, as follows:

  1. After initially being identified as a qualified lead, the individual received an email with a personal story from an OCD sufferer, letting them know they weren’t alone.
  2. Three days after that, they’d receive a custom email with information about the site closest to them. They'd get the lead doctor's name, a map, parking instructions, and other personalized details about the location and staff.
  3. That same day, they’d receive a call from our call center to schedule their first appointment. 
  4. If they agreed to schedule, they’d receive a follow-up email with more granular information about the site. It detailed the date and time of their appointment and any other small but comforting details. Are there snacks at the site? Are there bathrooms? Can they bring their dog?
  5. If they didn’t pick up the call, they’d receive an email with the name and photo of the caller. They'd also get a direct number at which they could call back or text. They were pushed back into an information funnel and received personal and segmented emails every three days until we could get in contact with them.

This new approach required an investment in setup, but proved to be very successful. Compared to pre-implementation, enrollment increased, on average, 160% per week, and email response rates skyrocketed. Because we invested heavily in setting up complex user flows and segmentations, this campaign was also highly scalable without much additional upkeep or work for the email marketing team.

Key Takeaway: Healthcare communications and telemedicine marketing require a high level of empathy and personalization. To get the most out of healthcare email marketing, make the most of segmentation and personalization.

Reason 2: It’s hard to develop a healthcare marketing strategy without breaking any rules. But you don’t need to break any rules to find success.

Strict rules around confidentiality, ethicality, and data security can confine healthcare marketers’ creativity. And as a marketer, red tape can be a huge buzzkill. But as a healthcare professional, it’s critical. The email marketing format provides a personalized way for marketers to reach users directly while adhering to rules and regulations.

When I was working on marketing campaigns across channels for a healthcare startup, I struggled with ways to appropriately use the data we had to drive outcomes. I had access to huge lists of deidentified patient information that I wasn’t allowed to see. And I definitely wasn't allowed to upload them to Facebook to create a lookalike audience. But opt-in email lists provided me with direct access to these patients, along with an opportunity to deep link to HIPAA-compliant patient portals. 

Real time messaging services like Intercom can be great tools for marketers. But they’re often not scalable in instances where security and anonymity are paramount. A D2C clothing brand has loose (if any) regulations around what they can and cannot say via chat. However, an individual manning a chat service for a teletherapy product or D2C migraine medication likely requires significant training that might be prohibitive for high-growth companies.

Email, on the other hand, provides healthcare marketers with the opportunity to write thoughtful, specific, and helpful content that can also be repurposed in newsletters, blog posts (hello, SEO!), and social posts. Most healthcare content will be relatively evergreen, meaning an upfront investment pays dividends across channels, and allows for incredible versatility. 

And because email marketers can retarget individuals who didn’t open specific emails, they can repurpose good content with different subject lines.

Screenshot from healthcare email marketing campaign.
This content block from an email marketing campaign about residential treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder provides highly specific information that doesn’t expose any personal information.

Key Takeaway: Following (important!) rules can limit your channel usage. Email marketing pays dividends after an initial investment in content creation. That's because it’s scalable, trackable, and allows recipients to opt in.

Reason 3: D2C healthcare marketing goals are often vastly different than marketing goals for other D2C products. Email segmentation allows healthcare marketers to take complex goals into consideration while maintaining consistent contact with customers.

For many products and services, a marketer’s primary goals are increased adoption, usage, and/or purchase. But in the case of telemedicine and some medications, true product success is actually marked by decreased usage.

When I was marketing an eight-week therapy program for a digital therapeutics startup, my approach to telemedicine marketing required an awareness of the fact that the program—and therefore, the company—would only be successful if a user were to graduate from the app after those eight weeks and no longer need to use the app. In cases like this, a campaign and its measurement protocol must take into consideration atypical marketing goals.

Tracking data for these sorts of campaigns could be an article in and of itself. We won’t get into the nuances of that now. But I will touch on how email marketing provides an avenue for content marketing that can help drive complex and atypical marketing goals.

In the case of app-based therapy models that leverage worksheets, exercises, and other trackable events, specific app events can trigger email campaigns to help support effective usage of the product.

When I worked on email marketing for the aforementioned digital therapeutics app, users often abandoned anxiety-inducing exercises before finishing them. And that made the therapy process ineffective. By triggering email campaigns with in-app events, we were able to provide specific suggestions to users, encouraging them to try the exercise again. App event-based email campaigns helped us to scale product usage while keeping the end goal of graduation from the product top of mind.

Key Takeaway: Marketers have to think beyond the obvious when tracking outcomes for healthcare marketing campaigns. Email campaigns are customizable, trackable, and agile, making them a great match for complex data that’s not straightforward.

TL;DR on Why D2C Healthcare Marketers Should Love Email

With 293.6 billion emails sent each day, email marketing is ubiquitous for a reason. But its customization options and relative low cost make it a highly effective method of distributing personalized and empathic information at scale. Email marketing allows healthcare marketers to adhere to confidentiality, ethicality, and data security guidelines while considering nuanced marketing goals often relevant to healthcare. 

Looking for healthcare marketing consultants to help grow your business through email marketing? We’d love to chat. Drop us a line at hello@rightsideup.co and we’ll be in touch.

Phoebe Kranefuss is a writer, designer, and marketer. She's managed influencer campaigns for fintechs, designed logos for nonprofits, ghost-written tweets for famous teenagers, run social media accounts for healthcare startups, and plenty more! She's great at creating processes from scratch, distilling complexity into digestible information, and thinking outside the box to push the boundaries of creative execution. She lives, works, writes, and teaches in Madison, Wisconsin.

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