Effective Email Strategies for the HEOR Audience – Part 1 of 3

At HealthEconomics.Com, we’ve sent >4 million emails since Fall 2007 containing HEOR news, policy updates, jobs, and resource announcements.  We’ve learned a few tricks, read a lot of reports, conducted our own research, and talked to a series of “experts”.  If you are crafting a digital marketing strategy focused on the HEOR Community that includes email communication, this blog is intended to give you some tips.  Most of what I read out there in blog postings and White Papers is basic Marketing 101:  Target the Right People.  Make it easy to respond.  KISS principle.  Avoid the modern-day “circular file” (i.e., SPAM filters).  I’m not going to rehash these, unless I have something specific to HEOR to add.  What I will describe, however, are some best practices for the HEOR audience to help you maximize your email blasts sent through HealthEconomics.Com and other means.

These are tips, but they are not stone-cast rules-of-thumb.  Things change quickly in this digital world, so what is true today may not be true next year.  At HealthEconomics.Com, we like to test theories.  Therefore, if you want to evaluate something (positioning statement, subject line, content, time/day of send, format, etc.), please discuss this with us.  We’d like to work with you.

I’d like to extend a thank you to DMD Marketing Corporation for some of the content of this blog posting.  Our HealthEconomics.Com team attended a DMD-sponsored Workshop, “Creating Effective Email Marketing Strategies”, held during IIR’s ePharma Summit, March 4-6, 2013, in New York City, and I’ve consolidated some of their findings here.  I’ve used a lot of data from our in-house research on our own email campaigns, and reviewed the published online literature on email strategies.

The result is a 3-part series on Effective Email Strategies for the HEOR Audience:  Lessons from HealthEconomics.Com, which will be provided through our blog tHEORetically Speaking.  Once these 3 blogs are posted, I will make the entire series available for a PDF download.

Tips for email blasts sent to HEOR:

1. Word to Avoid (aka SPAM Triggers):   

What words in the subject line or email body trigger SPAM filters?  HubSpot has a pretty good list called “The Ultimate List of Email SPAM Trigger Words”, released in January 2012.  Trigger words change over time, and whether an email gets through is based on  degree of aggressiveness of the recipient’s SPAM filter, whether the hyperlinks link back to legitimate sites, and reputation of the sender.  Additionally, SPAM filters are increasingly context-based (rather than zeroing  in on a specific word), so even some of these “Trigger Words” may not really be the death knell for your email.  Nevertheless, we suggest you err on the side of conservatism, and avoid most of these words on HubSpot’s list.

I often see certain SPAM trigger words in HEOR-targeted emails that our Advertising Partners send out via HealthEconomics.Com.  My suggestions….

  • Words to avoid:  Online degree; opportunity; university diplomas; claims; cost; insurance; price; US dollars; satisfaction; success; Dear friend; Hello; click here; the following form; diagnostics; medicine; #1; thousands; important information regarding; offer; prize(s); terms and conditions; winner/win/won; you have been selected; sign up free today; free; offer; guaranteed; apply online; get started now; test.
  • Punctuation to avoid:  ?, !, $
  • Styles to avoid:  ALL CAPS, numbers in place of letters (e.g., V1@grA; H3LL0)
  • When testing emails:  Avoid the word “Test” in email even to yourself; spam filters are suspicious of test emails and dummy placeholder text.

2.  Subject Lines:  Relevant and Short.

Malcom Gladwell, author of Blink, says it  takes us about 2 seconds to jump to a series of conclusions.  Your email has just a second or two to grab a recipient’s attention or be trashed.  To bring this point home, test yourself.  Switch over to your email right now, scan it, and see how YOU evaluate your emails.  Which do you open?  Which do you read?  Which do you click-through for more information?

To optimize a Subject Line for HEOR:

  • Be relevant.  Don’t just advertise: educate and add value.  Give the audience something to download (white paper, slides, video).  Give them results of a poll.  Share a graphic.
  • Use these HEOR-related words, if appropriate, which are proven to generate opens and clicks
    • Pricing, any Pharma company names, Oncology, Market Access, China, Industry views, Payer Relationship.  These change over time.  Comparative Effectiveness was “hot”, now it’s not.
      • Need help?  HealthEconomics.Com and Dr. Peeples offer consulting to develop your marketing campaign and email practices.  We can help you improve your subject line, email content, graphics, and call to action.  Contact Patti here.
  • Short is usually better (but HEOR can handle much longer subject lines than the average, as long as the content is relevant)
    • Some experts tout 140 characters or less in Subject Line (i.e., Twitter post length).  Others say 50 characters.  As mentioned, HEOR people are heavy “word consumers”, but don’t overdo it.
  • Avoid articles (a, an, the), adjectives, and adverbs.
  • Give a sense of urgency (if there is a deadline, mention this)
  • Tell them what to do:  If you require an action from recipient, state it in the subject line (and then state it several times within the email.  This is your “Call to Action”.)
  • Don’t mislead.  At HealthEconomics.Com, we’ve refused to send out emails for some companies because their subject line was not really consistent with content, and it was (in my opinion), misleading.  That’s a no-no for HealthEconomics.Com, and should be a no-no for your company too.
    • An example of a misleading Subject Line is:  Pfizer Challenges NICE (and then advertise a conference that focuses on Market Access)
  • Be credible.

3.  Open and Click-Through Rates: What Drives Success?

Nothing happens if people don’t open your email.  The reputation of the sender is the single most important factor driving open rates.  Do you know the sender? Are they expecting your email?

Relevance of the Subject Line is the 2nd most important factor driving open rates.  Consistently with our HealthEconomics.Com audience, we see high open rates if you are offering the recipients a way to learn something new, save time, and self-improve (think downloadable White Papers, PPTs, Article Summary, short video).  There are words that generate interest, and these come in and out of fashion (see list above).

HealthEconomics.Com has a highly credible reputation (82% of our audience views us as the primary news and information source for HEOR).  As a result, our open rates are consistently high, as shown in Table 1 below.

We’ve sent out > 4 million emails and a total of 376 newsletters in the past 4+ years (Sept. 2008-Feb. 2013), encompassing both our General and Jobs Newsletters, as well as Special Newsletter Blasts on behalf of our advertisers.  The distribution list for the first issue sent on September 15, 2008 was 4,937 individuals, and had an open rate of 25.5% and a click rate of 36.4%.  It was the first newsletter of its kind in the HEOR field and met with very good reception.  Today, as our audience has expanded to 20,500 recipients from many areas of the HEOR spectrum (from recruiters to Phase II researchers), the mean open rate is 13.6% and the click-through rate is 16.6%.  Based on industry comparisons, our open rate (OR)  is good, and the click-through rate (CTR) is extremely favorable.  A high CTR suggests that the audience is extremely interested in the content of the email blast.  Comparisons to industry standards are shown below.

Table 1.  Performance of All E-Blasts Sent From HealthEconomics.Com from September 15, 2008-February 18, 2013. (N=3,935,124 emails).  

Metric Mean (range) Median
Open Rate, % 13.6% (1.6-25.5) 13.3%
Click-through Rate, % 16.6% (0.6-100.0) 15.0%
Opt-out Rate, % 0.12% (0.0-0.7) 0.10%
Bounce Rate, % 4.3% (0.0-26.0) 4.0%
Opens, N 1,348 (82-2,582) 1,240
Total Click-Through, N 335.2 (1-2,658) 312
Unique Click-Through, N 187.1 (1-730) 191.0
Average sent, N 11,038 (867-22,293) 10,303
Blocked, N 230.5 (0-1,285) 102

Average email open rates vary significantly by industry, and are declining industry-wide due to how email clients are handling images.  Constant Contact, our email distribution provider, provides statistics by industry but there is no industry sector that matches HealthEconomics.Com as we are not “Healthcare” (vitamins, services), nor are we “Communications” in terms of industry sector.  But, it helps to have some kind of metric to compare.  According to Epsilon and Direct Marketing Association’s Email Experience Council, the average open rate for 2Q 2012, based on 7.3 billion emails, was 25.6% and click rates were 4.4%.  IdealWare suggests that a “good” Open Rate is ~15%.

Another important metric is the Click-Through Rate (CTR).  According to IdealWare, it is suggested that you should expect CTR to range between 1-10% (if you are asking for an action that does not involve money).   DMD suggested that a common Open Rate to Click-Through Rate Ratio would be 10:1.  HealthEconomics.Com has a ratio of 0.8:1 (13.6:16.6).  This is extraordinarily favorable, as a lower number is better, suggesting a higher volume of click-throughs per emails opened.

Other important measures of email success include the following metrics:

Adjusted CTR (ACTR) is calculated by dividing the number of click-throughs by the number of messages opened.  The Adjusted CTR removes the impact of the Open Rate to measure how effectively your email text and format is directing people to your links. Generally, expect to see an ACTR of 10-40%.

The Response Rate is the best way to measure the effectiveness of an email campaign. After all, it likely doesn’t matter if readers open or click your email if they don’t ultimately do what you were hoping they would do.  A good fundraising email Response Rate might range from 0.75% to 2%. A Response Rate for an advocacy email is likely to be considerably  higher than one for a fundraising email, at 3-15%.  Usually our sponsors have these data to calculate Response Rate, as the Call to Action takes the recipient away from our data collection source.

Response Rate = # of actions taken / # of messages delivered

It can also be useful to compare the number of actions taken by the number of click-throughs—we’ll call this an Adjusted Response Rate. This rate provides more insight if you’re trying to optimize your Web site landing page—the page where people actually make the donation or take the action. The Adjusted Response Rate takes out the open and click-through rates as variables to let you see how many people decide not to take action after they click through.

Adjusted Response Rate = # of actions taken / # of click-throughs

If you have a good open rate, and a low click-through rate, it means that the recipient was interested but not driven to act.  You lost them in the Call to Action.  If you have a low open rate and a high click-through, then you had a message that was relevant to a small percentage of people, but it was useful to that targeted group.  You may need to target your subsequent campaign more carefully.

In Part 2 of this 3-part series, we will address Graphics and Email Design, and the final Part 3 of 3 will focus on Call to Actions and best Day/Time to send emails to maximize response.