Doctor with megaphoneIt doesn’t take much prompting on our part to get a response. Any mention of direct mail advertising in healthcare marketing, and the room divides into two groups.

First, there’s the “eyes-roll-upward” bunch—with body language-speak for: “You’ve got to be kidding! Direct mail is as old school as black-and-white TV, and just about as innovative.”

But then there’s the “sly-and-knowing-smile” group. These are the practice owners, hospital marketing executives and medical corporate types who know direct mail (DM) has new strengths and performance abilities. This marketing-savvy group prefers to keep the “Nuevo Direct” secret weapon to themselves.

While the first group dismisses direct mail as a casualty of email and the Internet, the DM industry, processes, formats and systems have embraced technology and marketing advances. The “Nuevo Direct” is more relevant than ever, with benefits that include lower costs, higher efficiency and effectiveness, enhanced Return-on-Investment and greater patient, and prospective patient, connectivity.

Regardless of which of these two camps you relate to, here are a few of the changes in direct mail that have kept it relevant and important to healthcare marketing and advertising.

  • VDP, PURLs and the personalization power of direct mail. The unflattering expression, “spray-and-pray,” comes from a time when direct mail was spattered indiscriminately. The territory was large and ill defined, and the blanket target was “Resident,” “Occupant,” or “Our good neighbor at…”

Technology provides personalization tools that demand the recipient’s notice, readership and action, and dramatically increase response.

Variable Data Printing or VDP: Each direct mail item or groups of items can be printed with customizable variations in text and/or image. In any given mailing, the text can be personalized to include the recipient’s name, use a different visual element, change the offer, etc. These changeable and more impactful components can be matched to demographics, psychographics, geographics and other variables. Content fits the addressee in marketing to precision audience groups.Dynamic imaging deserves a further note. This is where a photograph or image is manipulated to include personalization. Examples we’ve seen include the name of the recipient floating in alphabet soup, or a name drawn in sand on a beach.Personalized URLs or PURLs: A PURL is often used along with VDP for a precisely individualized effort. Think of this as an Internet “micro-site” that uses variable page elements to produce a personalized information page. A direct mail recipient, for example, could respond online via” Hazel’s page could be different from her neighbor “…com/LarryLawyer.” This one also overlaps with the next, media integration.
  • Channel integration leverages the effectiveness of direct mail. Using more than one media magnifies the reach and effectiveness of an advertising campaign. (By one study, the additional return can be up to 20 percent.) Using QR codes is an example of integrating healthcare direct mail with mobile connectivity. Scanning via a smartphone takes the recipient from the printed piece to online information instantly. In addition, a QR code can be used with a PURL.
  • Unique shapes and dimensions are more affordable. The once-prohibitive cost of creating direct mail in unusual formats or die-cut designs has come down with advances in printing. This option can’t be justified for every occasion, but when appropriate, the distinctive physical form can make the DM item standout from its surroundings.
  • Surprisingly, direct mail reaches younger audiences. The Millennials demographic group—born 1985-2004—are a connected crowd, but tend to tune out the digital advertising clutter, according to research. In fact, Millennials are receptive and responsive to direct mail. What’s more DM supports a branding message that is often lost in social media.
  • And if your audience is older… While older demographic groups, including Boomers, can be tech-savvy, the physical/tangible qualities of direct mail provide an inherent trust and believability factor.
  • Deliver Magazine and Critical Mail…tools from the United States Postal Service. Of course the USPS has a selfish interest here, but if you haven’t noticed, the online and the print magazine Deliver—both are free—have excellent content about mail marketing strategies. As an example of a USPS product that demands attention, look at their new Critical Mail service. This one’s suitable for time-sensitive and urgent delivery at a flat rate.
  • Economy print-and-mail resources are now available online. For do-it-yourself and low-end projects, you can compose and quickly print DM projects via commercial websites and cloud services. Although not recommended for professional-level healthcare advertising, it can be a quick and affordable resource for small-scale projects.

There’s no doubt that the sour economy slowed the use of direct mail a couple of years ago. But according to the industry’s Direct Marketing Association, 2010 was a turn-around year, with additional growth in 2011 and an upward trend for 2012.

Nope. Direct mail isn’t dead, stale or old school. In fact, it’s a fast-moving healthcare communications form that continues to refine and improve its efficiency and effectiveness. For more on this topic, here’s a helpful checklist: 7 Insightful Tips for Better Healthcare Marketing Direct Response Results.

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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Stewart Gandolf

Stewart Gandolf

Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder at Healthcare Success Strategies
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is CEO of Healthcare Success, a medical marketing and health care advertising agency. He is also a frequent writer and speaker. Most importantly, he is happily married and a "rock-n-roll daddy" to two wonderful girls.
Stewart Gandolf
Stewart Gandolf


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