The Intake

Insights for those starting, managing, and growing independent healthcare practices

How to use direct mail marketing for your medical practice

Direct mail offers your practice benefits that email can’t touch.

a left white hand holding a silver pen to show how handwritten-appearing signatures can enhance direct mail marketing

At a Glance

  • Direct mail seems to be an outdated form of communication; however, it has several advantages over email
  • Deciding on your marketing message, and sending your message to the right audience at the right time, is key to success
  • As a medical practice, taking advantage of direct mail can be a key way to engage patients and prospects

You aim to grow your patient base but may be unsure about marketing your new practice. After all, you chose scrubs, not suits.

You’ve likely heard about using customer relationship management (CRM) tools to build valuable marketing mailing lists, often framed within online and email strategies. Unfortunately, that approach isn’t necessarily the most effective.

People are inundated with digital messages. On average, an individual receives approximately 121 business-related emails per day, with many going straight to spam. This overload leads to email fatigue — a state you don’t want to induce as a healthcare provider.

Depending on your specialty, another dynamic to consider is that aging patients may not have access to or use email, leaving them entirely out of the communication loop.

A surprising solution to this marketing dilemma? Use direct mail or snail mail as part of your marketing strategy.

Isn’t direct mail outdated?

The belief that email outperforms direct mail is understandable. At its inception, email overtook snail mail for several reasons: it was new and exciting, deemed easier, arrived immediately (pre-spam filters), and didn’t cost postage.

For effective marketing, you need to do what gets the best results. In this instance, the answer is direct mail. A significant 72% of recipients read physical mail immediately or on the same day as they receive it. In contrast, 35% of emails go ignored and unread. 

Why does direct mail marketing work?

Direct mail can be anything from a small postcard to a pamphlet or magazine. Once the recipient possesses the physical piece of mail, they are 3 times as likely to open it: 9 out of 10 people who receive physical mail open it instead of the 2-3 out of 10 open rate for email.

People, in general, are suspicious of email advertisements. When surveyed, 82% of those born between 1981 and 1996 and 76% of all physical mail recipients trust print ads more than electronic ads. This is not surprising in light of the increase in email scams and the negative effect they have on their victims.

The fact that people trust print more than email results in better response rates, which translates to higher ROI. Even though direct mail may incorporate nominal printing and postage costs that email does not, email has its own CRM costs. Regardless, the exponentially higher open rate results in more than twice the response.

Emotional connection establishes trust

Let’s address the oft-overlooked reality: physical mail remains relevant. If it were outdated, mailboxes and post office boxes would be fully in the past.

Receiving physical mail makes people feel important and valuable. It is also a medium that doesn’t increase recipient stress levels simply as a result of how it is delivered. To put a fine point on this, ask yourself: would you be more excited about a happy birthday card in the mail or via email?

Physical appeal

Physical mail is more likely to leave a lasting impression because it involves tactile and physical appeal as an object as well as a message. It can incorporate heavyweight and appealing paper or papers with different textures, glossy photos, graphic design elements, and tactics executed over chronological time. Humans are tactile creatures, and print mail allows you to engage with our shared desire to touch.

Physical mail has another advantage: it takes up physical space. With email, only the direct recipient interacts with a message. But any member of a household can potentially interact with physical mail, which must be handled and sorted before it is recycled. This also gives you moments longer to make an impression compared to the quick deletion — or spam filtration — of email.

How to make direct mail marketing work for you

Direct mail can be a valuable tool. The question is, how do you make it work for your medical practice?

Decide what message you want to convey

Because direct mail can be created in varied formats, you are not limited in the message you want to communicate.

For sending reminders or brief holiday or birthday greetings, standard postcard sizes work well. For distributing a tip sheet that informs and educates about, for example, heart attack or stroke warning signs, glossy multi-page formats are more effective.

Your communication with your patients and prospective patients doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all strategy.

Buy a direct mail marketing list

Building a list of prospective patients and their addresses can be daunting. Fortunately, some companies focus on the medical industry and are ready to help you find your target audience.

These organizations include:

Define the list parameters by specifying indicators such as age, medical concern (seasonal allergies, high blood pressure, etc.), and geographic radius. Ask the marketing list service if it is compatible with the mailing service or software you use.

Personalize your messages

Mailing lists also allow you to personalize your messages to your target audiences. Yes, audiences: you can have more than one mailing list, each with a different purpose.

Not only can you address each individual by name, but you can target specific, relevant messages to them. You can also avoid sending irrelevant materials. For example, there is no need to send a non-smoker information about smoking cessation. Doing so anyway — in the hopes that perhaps the non-smoker knows a smoker who could benefit — mitigates other personalization efforts. The patient’s first reaction may be to question whether their physician even knows who they are. 

To avoid the unintentional faux pax, segment your mailing lists and use them the way you intend. It’s also a best practice to eliminate duplicate mailings to the same patient. This issue tends to occur when multiple lists are merged to serve a larger population. The solution? When creating the mailing, indicate that it should go to only unique names and/or addresses and that duplicates should be disregarded.

Track your marketing campaign impact

Just as you can measure email marketing campaigns, you can track direct mail marketing.

For instance, promotions often offer consumers a unique code for a product discount for tracking. Offering discounts in healthcare, especially to Medicare-covered patients, puts you at risk of violating guidelines from the Anti-kickback Statute and Civil Monetary Penalty. However, you can track responses in a few ways:

  • Create a QR code for your booking link specific to each marketing campaign
  • Establish a separate phone number for inquiries that result from each campaign
  • Get a different post office box for mailed responses

If you hire a marketing firm to care for these campaigns on your behalf, it will provide the tracking. Make sure your contract includes how often you will receive updates on the campaign’s start dates, stop dates, and success.

Whether or not you work with a marketing company, don’t leave mailing projects open-ended. Doing so is a waste of your time and resources.

Available direct mail marketing tools

Hiring a marketing agency isn’t your only option. If you want to keep the direct mail marketing process in-house, many automated tools can help you become self-sufficient. Some examples include:

  • Canva: a tool to create eye-catching campaign materials.
  • MailChimp: a tool to create and import mailing lists to communicate with identified populations.
  • Postalytics: a service designed to facilitate the success of your direct mail campaign

There are multiple mailing list aggregators. Before becoming enamored with any of them, determine whether the program will support a direct mail campaign or only an email process. Salesforce, for example, is strictly email-based.

Use direct mail to promote your medical practice

Using direct mail to communicate with existing patients or to introduce your medical practice to prospective patients is a valuable tool. It is more likely to end up in your intended recipient's hands and be read. Email, on the other hand, has a high “ignore” rate.

Taking advantage of direct mail’s benefits will help you retain your existing patients and grow your practice to meet or surpass your business goals.

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Karmin Gentili

Karmin Gentili has been a freelance writer and editor since 2016. She has over 25 years of experience in corporate HR and compliance consulting. She has worked to further elevate her skills by pursuing and receiving multiple certifications, including copywriting, video scriptwriting, effective content positioning, case study writing, and SEO. Her love of writing motivates her to use those skills to develop content for the medical field that ensures others can work toward achieving their goals.

Reviewed by

Baran Erdik, physician and healthcare consultant

Dr. Baran Erdik, MD, MHPA is a physician with further specialization in internal medicine/cardiology. He has traveled the world, working as a physician in New Zealand, Germany, and Washington State. He’s been published numerous times and currently works in healthcare compliance and consulting.

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