By Brad Stewart

How much time does your staff spend licking envelopes to hand-mail letters to your patients? How much energy and effort does your team put into managing patient follow-ups, recalls, end-of-warranty check-ups, and tested-not-treated (TNT) follow-ups? 

Are there gaps that exist in your patient follow-up systems that could be letting prospects and current patients slip out of your practice and into your competitors’ practices?

What if you could automate your database lifecycle marketing, using just the tools that are already included with many of today’s most popular office management systems (OMSs) and without putting in daily effort to manage your patient lifecycle marketing? 

Lifecycle marketing in our profession refers to ongoing marketing and messaging (mailers, newsletters, email updates, patient appreciation events, etc.) that a hearing-care practice conducts to keep its patients and prospects engaged with the practice and to keep the business top of mind.

This has been one of my biggest areas of focus as an audiology private-practice owner during the past seven years. That’s why I’m so pleased that several of the most popular OMSs now allow businesses, such as audiology private practices, to automate their most important patient interactions. 

What Is Marketing Automation?

You might or might not be familiar with the concept of marketing automation (FIGURE 1). Today’s technology allows businesses to create systems that will follow up with, nurture, and communicate to clients and prospects, without the need for business owners and managers to lift a finger.

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FIGURE 1. The cycle of creating both in-clinic and automated direct mail and email touchpoints to improve long-term patient engagement.

An automation can be as simple or as complex as you wish, but it should at least do the following:

  • Send pre-made communications to patients and prospects at set intervals or based on set actions/triggers (e.g., a patient purchasing hearing aids triggers a series of communications).
  • Include clear calls to action (CTAs) that influence a desired result.

You might be thinking: “But automation is so impersonal. I want to have a hands-on approach with my patients.”

I hear this all the time. However, the reality is that automated marketing doesn’t have to be impersonal. In fact, if it is implemented well, it will make your patient relationships feel much more personal and intimate because you will have so many more customized touch points throughout every year, with every patient in your database.

With persuasive and professional messaging that is personalized, based on your patient’s phase in their relationship with your practice, you should see the following results:

  • Leads and prospects trust you before ever entering your clinic.
  • Your patients stay connected with your clinic, ensuring they never leave for your competitors.
  • You consistently re-engage patients who are TNT and convert them into active patients without manual follow-up.

Email and Direct Mail

In an audiology practice, I found two methods to be the most effective for automation marketing: email and direct mail. 

If you strategically stack email marketing campaigns with complementary direct-mail marketing campaigns, you will see great return on investment (ROI), with minimal financial investment.

For example, if you send an annual check-up email, you could also send a postcard to increase the response rate and the likelihood that your patient will come back in for continuing care. This type of strategy can be used with any of your database marketing campaigns, using email and direct mail pieces that complement each other and increase the likelihood that your patients will respond.

The results of adding automated, trigger-based direct mail have been extraordinary in my clinic. Other clinics report benefits of direct mail, as well. 

BlueWing, a marketing company, tracked the performance of 11 clinics using an automated marketing system from September 2020 to January 2021 and reported $1,544 in collective marketing spent on automated direct mail resulted in a total of $74,997 in total sales across those clinics (BlueWing, 2021). The ROI on that marketing spend was 4,758.4 percent, with a $4 cost/appointment and $37 cost/unit. These numbers are unheard of in the audiology marketing industry.

Automated marketing doesn’t have to be impersonal.

Why Is Marketing Automation Important?

The audiology and hearing aid marketplace is becoming more competitive. This is simply a fact. Your patients now see hundreds of hearing-related marketing messages a year. Consumers can become overwhelmed by marketing messages and can easily be pulled from your clinic.

Digital marketing is now commonplace. Independent businesses that fall behind can get lost in the noise. For this reason, a structured and automated follow-up process that is on-brand will keep you top of mind and remind patients why they chose you in the first place. 

The traditional “sales funnel” focuses on the customer experience up to the point of the sale, but no ongoing experience. Without continuing the relationship, your patients will be transactional versus relational (customers for life!).

The Three Campaigns That Will Create 90 Percent of Your Results

What I found with years of testing in my clinics is that there are three lifecycle-marketing triggers that will create the vast majority of your database marketing success—post-fitting follow-up, end-of-service-plan/end-of-warranty follow-up, and tested-not-treated follow-up. The good news here: This campaign process doesn’t have to be complicated!

You can build these campaigns and launch them in your clinic using the integrated patient-marketing software and trigger systems that may already be included in your OMS. Most systems that have integrated marketing tools also have simple training videos showing how to set up campaigns. The customer support team for your system can assist you in making sure the campaigns function properly. 

Once you build all three campaigns, you will be in the upper echelon of audiology practices. Your patients will feel engaged with your practice and your team will be much less stressed because they will not worry about getting too busy and getting behind on patient outreach.

As you consider each of the patient-outreach campaigns outlined below, consider reviewing your current communications (if any) and creating messaging that would work well in an email format. Then, work with your direct-mail vendor to create complementary mail pieces to be sent out at the same time as the email to reinforce the digital messaging.

Campaign #1: Post-Fitting Follow-Up Campaign

This campaign will be triggered by your patient’s fitting date. All of the emails and mailers that go out in this campaign will be dripped out relative to the fitting date. Inside the post-fitting campaign are a few subsets of the campaign that you can run for greatest impact. 

Post-fit, follow-up series

During this time, the patient is the most aware that hearing aids have created a profound change in their life. This is the time to build new reviews, create video reviews, build your “inner circle” or “better hearing ambassador” programs. 

Email automations will help you stay connected between appointments. This is when you can send a welcome video to new patients and give your patients another avenue to communicate any questions or concerns they may have.

Device aging

This campaign is also triggered off of the fit date and the messaging is focused on the age of your patient’s devices. You would be surprised how often we have people upgrading their two-year-old devices when this campaign is used as part of our early-upgrade strategy.

Bi-annual check-ups

These reminders only have the CTA of coming in for a check-up (possibly generating service revenue, depending on your business model). However, often by pairing these campaigns with satisfaction surveys or questionnaires, we see an increase in sales of accessories and technology early upgrades included with the check-up appointments.

Campaign #2: End-of-Service Plan/ End-of-Warranty Campaign

This campaign may become two different campaigns, depending on how you operate. For most of our patients, the service plan and warranty coincide. However, they might be two different dates for you. If this is the case, most OMSs have expiration dates for service and warranty that you can use as separate triggers for these automated campaigns.

The most critical CTAs for these campaigns are extended service plan options and extended warranty options.

I recommend that you use the appointments as an opportunity to educate your patients and, if appropriate, to demonstrate new technology. You may be surprised by how many patients are excited to upgrade into the most current hearing aids or purchase new accessories at these appointments and by how grateful they are that you educated them about the latest and greatest technology available.

Campaign #3: Tested-Not-Treated (TNT) Campaign

Many people ignore their patients who are TNT or make a token attempt at follow up. However, these individuals can be part of one of the most valuable groups in your database, if you have a system for follow up and proven strategies to guide them to treatment solutions that meet their needs and address their objections and concerns.

I suggest sending a healthy mix of education (e.g., make and send a video honestly addressing the top five to seven concerns most people have about hearing aids) and offers. 

In my clinic, we send 12 emails and five pieces of direct mail over the course of two years after a TNT consultation. We see the greatest ROI on the pieces we send in the first eight weeks. Overall, however, we see about 20 percent of our TNT patients return and purchase hearing aids, compared to the three percent industry-average TNT conversion (Minchow, 2010). Some of these purchases are as long as 18 to 24 months after the initial consultation.

So How Do I Automate My Marketing?

The good news is that, with today’s OMS tools, you don’t have to be a technology guru and you don’t have to pay a marketing agency thousands of dollars a month to automate your marketing. Several OMSs have great automated marketing features built into their software, so it’s possible that the software you’re using every day in your clinic already has these tools available. You just need to do the work to set them up for your practice. An ideal automated workflow is illustrated in FIGURE 2.

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FIGURE 2. Ideal automated workflow that takes a prospect through the full patient lifecycle marketing automation process, and the long-term potential benefits of automated patient lifecycle marketing. 

Most of these systems have training guides for setting up marketing automation for your practice. Basically, it’s simply a matter of writing the email content. 

Many OMSs offer stock email templates. In addition, email templates and direct-mail pieces are available for purchase from other companies. Some OMS providers even partner with other companies to provide direct mail. However, I would not recommend using the stock emails because, as discussed below, the content and copywriting in your messages will be the difference between success and failure. 

One of the most critical parts of an email’s impact is the subject line.

Copywriting Is Key

The messaging in your marketing pieces (also known as the copywriting) is the key to the success of your marketing campaigns. 

If the messaging is overly technical or boring, your audience will quickly lose interest and your marketing won’t be effective.

If you choose to build out your own marketing automation messages, remember that you are talking to a person. Make the language informal, personal, on-brand, and compelling. Ensure that, if the message has a call to action, it is strong and persuasive. 

When writing marketing campaigns, I recommend using the following strategies:

  • Use fewer words. The more concise, crisp, and to-the-point your messaging is, the better.
  • No technical jargon. Write at a fifth-grade reading level.
  • Use open loops or messaging that doesn’t tie up immediately. Our brains desire completion and your patient will keep reading to close the loop.
  • Make sure the first sentence is attention grabbing. 

One of the most critical parts of an email’s impact is the subject line. If it’s boring or generic, it won’t get opened. 

Think about your own email inbox. If you are like me, you probably delete 80 percent or more of the promotional emails from companies you investigated or have done business with.

An email subject has to feel personal, like it’s actually a friend writing you an email. Or it should be compelling, with open loops that cause people to click and learn more.

If you received an email with the subject line “I’m sorry,” you would open it. Conversely, if the subject line from a business says “New statistics on the impacts of hearing loss” or “Come learn about new technology,” you are probably going to hit the delete button without ever opening the email. 

Match your messaging to the medium. If you are writing an email, it should read like a personal email, not a marketing newsletter. People are inundated with marketing, but they are open to a friendly email from their audiologist.

For example, one of my most successful email campaigns was sent to all of the patients in our database with devices at least three years old, as well as all of our TNT prospects. You’ll find the language in the email is informal and non-technical, just as if I were writing an email to a friend.

This single email generated more than $60,000 in revenue in our clinics:

Hi [[Patient First Name]],

I know it’s been a while since we talked.

A new product was just released by one of our top hearing aid manufacturers. It’s rechargeable and does about 30 percent better than the previous generation in noisy environments. Sound quality is the best I’ve ever seen.

I’d like to have a sampling of people test them out so I can get some real-world feedback. Are you interested in trying a pair for a couple of weeks at no charge and sharing your experience with me?

If so, reply back or give us a call to set it up. Hope to hear from you soon!

Brad Stewart, AuD 

Conclusion

This article is not an all-inclusive review of everything an audiology clinic can do to market its practice in today’s world. I consider a strong, automated, database marketing program to be the foundation of best practice in our industry. Most clinics do not have these key systems built out for their practice. 

You have already worked hard, and likely spent a lot of money, to get patients into your clinic and establish a relationship of trust. Therefore, it should be your top priority to make sure that those patients that already know, like, and trust you continue to work with you and refer their friends and family to you. 

An automated marketing program is a very cost-effective marketing strategy and it also results in higher patient engagement with your practice and builds the value of your brand and your practice over time.

If you have not already developed an automated strategy to stay engaged with the patients and prospects in your database, now is the time! It will be the best thing you do for the health of your practice this year. 

This article is a part of the September/October 2021 Audiology Today issue.

References

BlueWing. (2021) Internal corporate report.

Minchow D. (2010) Minimizing your “tested-not-sold” patients. Hear Rev 17(6):18–23.

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