Promoting Your Business with E-Mail

E-mail is the most popular online activity. Recipients prefer it to direct mail, it is more cost effective than direct mail, and it is easy to execute, measure, and analyze. Studies have shown that e-mail can increase retention rates, and, if appropriately used, can increase customer loyalty. E-mail marketing is an untapped gold mine just sitting in your computer right? It can be, but only if you follow some basic steps. Whether you are thinking about a more efficient way to communicate with referral sources, are considering an online newsletter to patients, or you are a manufacturer looking for a more cost-effective way to get to reach your customer base, here are some simple steps to make your e-mail marketing more effective.

E-mail Best Practices: Are You In or Out?

Your first step is to build a permission or "opt-in" mailing list. An opt-in is simply a request to receive information about products or services. This could be a request to receive regular online patient education information, updates on new clinical services or a reminder that a CPAP mask needs to be changed. This also is known as permission marketing, meaning that the customer actively requests that they receive an e-mail from you.

Unsolicited e-mail, also known as spam, continues forever until an opt-out request is made to stop it. This method is referred to as distraction marketing. Why practice permission marketing over distraction marketing? In addition to building customer good will, most recipients are eager or curious to receive email they have opted-in to receive, especially if the content is personalized. Unsolicited commercial e-mail is deleted 77 percent of the time without being read. An even better way to assure that your recipient wants to receive what you want to send is called "double opt-in." This requires the recipient first opt-in and then reconfirm their interest by responding to an e-mail they receive from you. Permission marketing always provides a cleaner, more qualified mailing list over unsolicited spam.

E-mail marketing is an untapped gold mine just sitting in your computer.

Start building your list by getting permission from your existing and prospective customers through your Web site, postcard or other mailings, trade shows, and your sales force or customer service representatives. Then build trust by only sending e-mail appropriate to their interests, and provide a way for recipients to opt-out at anytime. If you don't already have an appropriate database to manage your e-mail contacts by type or area of interest, you can use an outside resource like

Dealing with Spam and the Spam Assassin

Unsolicited junk e-mail accounted for 36 percent of all e-mail last year, up 8 percent from the year before. It is no wonder that spam is creating less tolerant e-mail users. This situation has lead to spam filtering and the Spam Assassin. The Spam Assassin is an e-mail filter that identifies potentially unsolicited e-mail and prevents it from ever showing up in your inbox. Since junk e-mail filters sometimes block totally ethical solicited e-mail, you must be very careful when you craft your e-mail message. An acquaintance of mine who publishes a canoeing and kayaking magazine had an entire e-mail marketing program blocked because the word "paddler" was used. The e-mail filter rejected the e-mail because the word paddler was considered politically incorrect. To avoid the Spam Assassin, don't use exclamation points in the subject line, never use three exclamation points anywhere, and don't use all uppercase letters in a word. It is also a good idea to personalize your message in the "To" line and avoid using generic terms such as"Dear Dr. or Patient." You may be interested in learning more about the Spam Assassin, not only if you decide to begin an e-mail marketing program, but also if you want to reduce spam in your personal email. Go to for more information.

Privacy is the Best Policy

Privacy is an important consideration before embarking on any e-mail marketing program. Keep in mind that any e-mail you send that did not result from an opt-in campaign-meaning your recipients agreed to receive your email-is considered spam.

You should develop a formal privacy policy, disclose it as part of your opt-in programs, and then stick to it, including specifics for each of your target audiences. In particular, with regard to patients, you must ensure that you do not divulge any patient information or clinical records. You may want to investigate joining an Internet privacy program, such as the one found at, for guidance and a "seal of approval" to increase consumer confidence.

How to Build Your E-mail

Since 90 percent of your target audience has a connection speed of 56k or less, you will need to keep your e-mail short and to the point, and avoid images and attachments unless they are vital to your message. You also will need to make sure your content is relevant to your target audience. For example, if you are announcing a new service your homecare business is offering, you may want to prepare different e-mails for physicians and patients.

For improved readability, keep your paragraphs short-no more than five to six lines-and keep the line length of your message to 65 characters or less. This line length will ensure that the message will appear the same in about 90 percent of e-mail applications. Also, when composing your message, test in both HTML and text formats to see how it reads. HTML gives you more formatting and content options, but if plain text is all you need, keep it simple.

Once you have your message ready to send, never cut and paste your list into the "To" line. The reason? Every recipient will be able to access the individual names and e-mail addresses you used. To preserve privacy and confidentiality, create a group list that includes all your recipients and mail to the group.

E-mail marketing is an untapped gold mine just sitting in your computer.

The timing of your e-mail is also important. In addition to coinciding your message with any events you are promoting, send your e-mail out on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Studies have shown that these days give you the best chance of having your message read.

Hit the Send Button

There are a number of ways to measure the success of your e-mail marketing program. Consider tracking such things as the growth in your mailing list, the number of e-mails successfully delivered, (usually in excess of 90 percent), an increase in patient referrals, store traffic, or referrals from referral sources. If you are a manufacturer, you might track hits on your Web site or requests for a product you are promoting. If you follow the best practice suggestions for ethical e-mail marketing you can increase customer loyalty, build your referral base, and provide quality clinical services to your patients.

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of HME Business.

About the Authors

Patrick T. Gates is the vice president of T. M. Gates Inc. He received his BS from Michigan State University. He can be reached at (513) 248-1025.

Paul W. Schmitt is a senior design engineer for Mine Safety Appliances Co. He can be contacted at (412) 736-5941.

Mimi San Pedro is president of ContourMed in Little Rock, Ark. She can be contacted at (501) 907-0530 or by visiting

Lieber is an HME industry consultant and trainer in Sherman Oaks, Calif. Miriam Lieber Consulting, 15030 Ventura Blvd., Suite 1038, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403; (818) 789-0670.

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