If you work in healthcare, there is much to consider when it comes to marketing. Whether private or a publicly-funded, there may be restrictions placed on non-urgent expenditures, such as advertising, as well as an onus on handling medical material sensitively.   

However, sometimes marketing is essential. 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?

Defining direct mail marketing

Print direct mail marketing is the process of sending informative or promotional materials to a specific network and is a cost-effective, discrete and personal form of marketing — what we expect from our healthcare providers. 

According to research, 75% of people were able to remember direct mail content after viewing it, while 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 the US, approximately $9.7 billion was spent on healthcare advertising in 2015, and 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?

Determine your marketing goal

In healthcare, keeping patients informed of new inoculations, surgery updates, private plans, and potential health risks is critical and these are popular choices for marketing goals. Preferably, choose only one aim to help you drive a strong and clear message that promises the greatest engagement.

Having a clear marketing goal also influences the design and tone of your direct mail campaign. 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.

Identify your target demographic

Direct mail is designed to 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.

Generally, you can identify your potential target markets by splitting them into four sections:

  • Demographic: can include age, gender, occupation, and family situation (e.g. a key target audience for material regarding vaccinations for children or the elderly).
  • Behaviour: their 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).

Once you know who you wish to target, 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.

Choose your direct mail format

Before you can start designing, you must establish which direct mail format to use. 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.

Since healthcare deals with sensitive information and private details, 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.

Create the design, layout and copy

There are often droves of information when it comes to healthcare, but 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?

If you’re urging your smoker patients to kick the habit or come to a stop-smoking meeting, highlight key health statistics using colour and font size. 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.

Never alienate people by using medical jargon. 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, which included an ad featuring a photo of baby in an incubator next to a quote (written as if said by the unwell child) which read: “I am fighting to get well. Please don’t make me fight the flu, too”. With the advances in digital printing, healthcare marketing material can display hard-hitting images with even greater effect than previously.

Lastly, don’t forget your call to action. Tell your audience what you wish them to do, whether that’s make an appointment, start eating healthily, book a consultation, or anything else.

Timing and distribution

Now is the time to contact your printing agency for a printing cost quote, as well as 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.

Evaluating success

After posting, you should evaluate your direct mail success. 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.

Browse online to find examples of effective public and private health campaigns for further inspiration before you start.