Recent Posts
Connect with:
Friday / May 24.
HomemibusinessOld School Approach to Cut Through the Noise

Old School Approach to Cut Through the Noise

Ok, so most of us are online and social media savvy. Chances are that by now, if you run a business, you have a content rich website and promote your brand through social media and email broadcasts. However, with marketing messages coming at us, and to our customers, thick and fast from all forms of digital media, could the tapering off of traditional snail mail provide you with a fresh ‘old school’ approach to reach your customers?

Recently, I opened what was obviously a marketing letter because I felt something in the envelope. It turned out to be a coin, stuck to the top of the letter, which had some corny message about knowing the value of money and of my house.

I turfed the letter (after removing the coin) because I’m fairly confident I know the value of my house – after all, I live in real estate-obsessed Sydney – and I’m not interested in selling. BUT, I can still tell you the name of the local real estate agent and what that letter was about.

While the stunt no doubt added mightily to the cost of the mail out, the letter did manage to cut through the daily barrage of emails, posts, updates and tweets to grab my attention.

In a small practice, mail campaigns can be conducted as time and resources permit

So Much Noise

Robby Walker, co-founder of Cue, a tech company that markets an app that integrates email, calendars and social media services, has estimated that the average person receives 63,000 words of new information each day – about the length of a novel – in the form of emails, online updates and all the other ways we consume data.1 Cue’s review of its customer usage in 2012 revealed that the average user received 6.3 electronic messages, for every electronic message sent.

Interestingly, Cue also calculated that in 2012, its users took an average of 2.5 days to respond to an email (which, by the way, is roughly how long a ‘snail mail’ letter will take to arrive at its destination within Australia). Comparisons with the previous year showed the email response time was 10 per cent slower than for 2011.

This could be a reflection of how much email we’re getting. The US-based technology and marketing researchers, the Radicati Group, estimated there were 2.1 billion email users worldwide in 2012.2 Between them, these 2.1 billion users sent an estimated 144 billion emails each day. It calculated about 15 per cent of email traffic was spam.3

Is it any wonder we’re starting to tune out to all the noise!

International email marketing group GetResponse found Australia has one of the lowest “open rates” when it comes to email marketing campaigns. Australians open an average of 8.08 per cent of marketing emails sent to them. By comparison, in the US, 10.76 per cent of marketing emails are opened, while Europeans opened the most number,
with just over 13 per cent.4

“Email fatigue” has been cited as a reason why many people are tuning out of email and into social media. In one well-publicised example, global information technology company Atos announced in 2011 that it was adopting a zero-email policy.

At the time, Chairman and CEO Thierry Breton said the volume of emails sent and received was unsustainable. The company estimated that its managers spent between five and 20 hours a week on emails.

“We are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives. At Atos, we are taking action now to reverse this trend, just as organisations took measures to reduce environmental pollution after the industrial revolution,” Mr. Thierry announced.

The company turned instead to in-house social community platforms, immediately reducing emails by up to 20 per cent.5

U.S. IT research and advisory company Gartner has predicted that in the next few years, the “rigid distinction between email and social networks will erode” and more businesses will turn to social media.6

The Social Media Stats

A recent report by Sensis revealed 27 per cent of small businesses, and 34 per cent of medium businesses has a social media presence.7 Facebook, predictably, dominates but Twitter and LinkedIn
also have significant presence in the business environment for small to
medium enterprises (SMEs).

While 30 per cent of small businesses that have a social media profile don’t spend any money on social media activities, the average small business invests AUD$3,410 a year in social media. Remarkably, only one in four SMEs actually measure a return on that investment.

The Sensis report found that 22 per cent of social media users followed particular brands or businesses in general, and 18 per cent to access promotions such as those offered by group buying sites. Sixteen per cent used social media to research products or services they might want to buy.

However, only nine per cent of the 40-49 year age group (with their presbyopic eyes) used social media to research products and services to purchase. Most people following or liking business sites are doing so for discount coupons.

So consider what it is you are offering on social media – is it what people want? You also need to consider the demographics of your practice – does it fit with the profile of the average person using social media? Are you talking to the people who will actually spend in your business?


As many businesses have found, social media can bite back – it is not just hackers and trolls you need to be concerned about. By encouraging consumers to take part in a ‘conversation’ you are ceding control of your message. Ideally, that can result in customers becoming your advocates.
It doesn’t always work to plan.

Domino’s Pizza discovered this earlier this year, when the value of its shares plunged as consumers scornfully denounced an over-hyped social media-driven product launch that failed to live up to expectations.

The textbook case study of how not to use social media belongs to Qantas and its ill-timed 2011 #QantasLuxury twitter campaign. During the height of an industrial dispute that grounded its fleet, Qantas asked for #QantasLuxury experiences. Twitter went berserk, but not, perhaps, in the way Qantas intended. Among the responses: “#qantasluxury is chartering a Greyhound bus and arriving at your destination days before your grounded Qantas flight”; and “#qantasluxury (is) getting a pilot, a plane, engineers and baggage handlers”.

Commenting on both the Domino’s and Qantas social marketing failures, analysts warned that while marketers may own a brand, they aren’t always in control. When you give consumers a voice, you may not always like what you hear.

Embracing All Avenues

There are many reasons why snail mail still makes sense, particularly when used by a trusted health professional.

Snail Mail is Scalable

Direct mail campaigns can be conducted on a small scale to see if they work. In a small practice, mail campaigns can be conducted as time and resources permit and don’t require specialised IT knowledge. In most practices there are small pockets of downtime, and these can be used to work on a mail out.

Snail Mail is Personal

Yes, you can opt to send the same form letter out to all your patients, but get creative and you’ll see there’s a range of options available to help you personalise your correspondence with patients.

Snail Mail is Targeted

Direct snail mail can be targeted geographically and demographically with great precision. The same is true for email marketing, but social media is more of a general broadcast.

Snail Mail is Permitted

Unlike email, there’s no need to get permission to send someone a letter…
and you won’t get caught in someone’s spam filter.

Avoiding the Junk Mail Pile

To ensure your letters to patients aren’t confused with junk mail, direct mail experts offer the following tips:

Make it a practice priority to build and maintain an accurate database. Your patients already know you, so keeping them is easier than recruiting new patients – make sure you keep patient details

When targeting existing patients, use your logo or practice name on the outside of the envelope. If they know the letter is from you, they are more likely to realise
it is not junk mail.

Make it personal – use postage stamps, rather than metering. Handwrite the address, if possible. Yes, it is time consuming, but, again, your correspondence is less likely to be passed over as junk mail.

Use a unique size envelope or paper stock – people are curious and will be drawn to something different.

  • Make it colourful – white envelopes fade into the background but coloured correspondence or postcards can have a greater impact.
  • Craft your content carefully – many people skim letters, taking in the heading or first paragraph and the last line. Make sure these count.

There’s no suggestion that you should abandon social media and email marketing. Indeed, an online presence is all but compulsory in today’s business environment.

Electronic and online communication can provide enormous benefits to your business – and all indications are that its influence will grow even stronger. It has the advantage of being cost effective, instantly responsive and accessible.

But despite its benefits, snail mail still has a place in practice building to provide enormous cut through.

Getting something in the mail is a sensory experience. The envelope has a nice feel, your name is written by hand, and you need to tear it apart to reveal the mystery content that’s been sent, just to you. In the people-orientated profession of eye health, it is this level of personal touch that reminds your patients you care about them on a personal level.

And, after all, there’s something to be said for an appointment reminder that can be stuck on the fridge.


1. Quoted in Business Week, www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-06-19/is-cue-the-cure-for-information-overload

2. www.radicati.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Email-Market-2012-2016-Executive-Summary.pdf

3. www.radicati.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Email-Statistics-Report-2012-2016-Executive-Summary.pdf

4. http://support.getresponse.com/uploads/2011/07/EmailMarketingMetricsAroundTheWorld.pdf

5. Atos, Zero Email, at http://atos.net/en-us/about_us/zero_email/default.htm

6. Gartner, media release, available at: www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/1293114

7. Sensis and Australian Interactive Media Industry Association, 2012 Yellow Social Media Report, available at: http://about.sensis.co