We are definitely living in an age of information overload. I can barely handle the hundreds of choices from my cable TV provider.
Hundreds of television channels, a variety of social media options, and a rise in business networking opportunities leave us little time to think about and digest what we hear and read, and what it all means.
Then there is the issue of direct marketing and what is the best strategy for engaging the customer while we join the millions of other companies seeking their 15 seconds of customer attention.
The best direct marketing may come in the form of personal and direct contact with the potential referral source. Certainly, direct marketing is a challenging task because of the myriad obstacles between you and customer, but there are options.
From joining civic groups, professional associations and even your local chamber of commerce—there are many ways to directly reach potential customers. You may need to become a joiner, and this may be a challenge for someone who is uncomfortable in the role of company public relations agent and brand representative.
Still not sure what is the least expensive and most dynamic way to engage the customer? I have learned that sales people can be trained, directed and supported in ways that help guide them to successfully reaching the potential referral source. They can be assisted with an effective list of guidelines and strategies for reaching out to potentially valuable customers.
The strategy and mission of any direct marketing plan must include both paper and media opportunities. You are competing with the local grocery store, the big box retail store and all those sending flyers to your mailbox for that small amount of time in front of the potential customer.
With this in mind, never forget direct marketing has a cost, and you must address the value of the investment against the acquisition cost of each customer. If you spend $10,000 on a mail campaign and acquire only 15 customers who note they called from the mailer, you need to question the reason for this advertising. Is it to simply to support a client or a program—or is it about generating business?
Direct mailing may not generate the business you expect. Sometimes you just need to test the waters and see what works, but only at an appropriate and reasonable cost. For that reason, it is always valuable to ask a new referral source or customer, “How did you hear about us?” It may be an important indicator of what direct marketing strategy is working. It may have nothing to do with anything but your physically showing up at a conference and sharing with colleagues who you are and the new programs or products you offer.
Consider the Challenges
Carefully crafted marketing materials are only valuable if they are to the point, directed to the appropriate audience and distributed with discretion. As a former social work administrator and case manager in a 1,350-bed hospital, I don’t recall selecting a homecare provider based on the impressive and creative design of their marketing materials or their elaborate capability brochure.
Customers are attracted to marketing pieces that are all about them, not all about you. Are you able to meet their needs and challenges? The piece needs to make customers believe you understand why they need to consider giving your company a try.
A generic brochure may not work. Tailor your brochure, flyer or handout to the needs of the customer. The needs of a discharge planner, insurance-based case manager or office manager are not all the same. Social workers have length-of-stay issues to deal with, and the physician’s office manager may be doing all she can to reduce the number of after-hours phone calls to the office.
In the last 10 years, the cost of paper has almost tripled, and that alone should encourage you to be more strategic when developing your direct marketing plans. Direct marketing materials can be expensive. Four color brochures and nonstandard paper sizes will increase your costs and may prevent easy and cost-effective mailing. Providers often order either too many pieces or not enough. Increasing your order may possibly save you money later when you need more of the same materials for a large conference or meeting.
But most important and my first serious warning: Stop distributing materials to people you do not believe will have any interest in your company. Just handing out materials at a convention to every single person who walks by your booth is a tremendous waste of money. You might as well pass out dollar bills, as that will certainly gain you more attention than handing out materials that will never be read and almost for sure, will never leave the hotel or conference center.
Work Your Mailing List
Whether you are sending materials out via the U.S. mail, or find it more cost-effective to use email marketing, it is all about the list. Your investment in a new brochure, powerful e-newsletter or email marketing message, will hold little value if you are not working from a current mailing list. Ask all referral sources to update their email and mailing addresses—and I mean the ones they actually read.
Ask patients and referral sources to share with you their most current email address, and always ask about the best way to reach them with important information. You should constantly monitor emails that are bouncing. You need to know that referral sources have changed employment or if patients have moved. You will soon realize that developing a direct marketing piece is much simpler and less problematic than ensuring it reaches the right person.
When considering any of these direct marketing strategies, you must realize few will ever be effective after a one-time conference or a one-time mailing. You want your direct marketing piece to be something the referral source or patient remembers when the need arises. It is, therefore, about the frequency and the consistency of your message. You may need to go to many conferences, join several planning committees, deliver the same brochure more than once, and email more than two reminders about your new aids to daily living.
Finally, direct marketing is about reaching out to the right customer for your business, with the right message, while always considering the financial impact on your bottom line. There
is always a cost in acquiring a customer, and you need to gain an understanding of what that may be in your homecare business.
Wouldn’t it be great if all your new customers came to you based upon hearing the news about your stellar reputation or reading your outstanding testimonials, instead of having to reach out through a marketing campaign at all?