3 Phases to Snare Prospects

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The U.S. healthcare and pharmaceutical markets face unprecedented changes in how products and services are marketed and delivered. So let's look at the basics of how direct marketing messages are delivered, communicated and responded to.

The best long-term marketing ROI typically requires an integrated approach: e-mail, Web sites, direct mail, telemarketing and sales follow-up. However, with the downsizing of field sales forces and the rise of non-personal promotion campaigns and online detailing, direct marketing is being asked to do more and more.

In an effort to make campaigns do more, we often get lost in the latest technologies or tactics and forget that marketing communication remains a very human phenomenon. As in interpersonal relationships, marketing comprises a series of steps or phases. How can direct marketers use the best tools and tactics at each stage in an integrated way?

As marketers engage prospects in a dialogue, whether through mail, e-mail or sales calls, a successful campaign typically takes prospects through three phases: attention, interaction and involvement. All three must occur for prospects to act based on your campaign. The trick is to move prospects through these stages as cost effectively as possible.

Attention. We often think of the process of getting a prospect's attention as a gimmick, perhaps the direct marketing equivalent of a life-sized Easter bunny waving down cars at a local florist. In truth, getting a prospect's attention is the result of solid thinking that requires discipline and great execution.

Doctors and other healthcare decision makers are exposed to 3,000 ad messages a day. How will yours get noticed? The attention phase aims to get the prospect to focus on your message. It is just as important in this phase to not drive the target away with an irrelevant message or inappropriate teaser.

The first tool in your attention "toolbox" is data. Accurate, relevant personalization on mail and e-mail can have stopping power. We have all experienced the misspelled name on a mail piece. You got the prospect's attention, though she is unlikely to go to the next stage.

Format is another powerful tool. It is well documented that with dimensional mail, a thicker piece communicates value and gets opened at a higher rate than flat mail. Atypical package shapes, oversized postcards and captivating graphics also grab attention.

Effective messaging via relevant teaser lines, benefit statements or offer lead-ins on the outside of a mail piece or in an e-mail subject line can stop prospects in their tracks. Credibility-building techniques, such as familiarity with the brand, a known return address or an affinity relationship, also draw attention.

Delivery method often is an overlooked technique. Don't you open all of your FedEx packages? Finally, simply using multiple delivery vehicles (e-mail, mail, telemarketing), integrated over time in waves, builds familiarity and credibility. Remember, getting a prospect's attention often doesn't occur with the first attempt. Persistence pays.

Interaction. This phase is characterized by interest generated through an alignment between the prospect's needs and your offer/benefit. Your prospect is saying: "This looks interesting. Let me take a closer look." The package is opened, headlines are read and a decision point is reached: keep it or throw it away. The interaction phase requires a compelling perceived benefit, the offer must hit home and credibility must be established.

The interaction toolbox is full of ways to help prospects move to the next stage. It includes simple and compelling copy: "free," "limited time offer" or "important information for your patients inside." A format that turns, flips, pops up or talks also can draw the target into message points. Offers for information or tools to help doctors explain information to patients can be effective here.

The interaction phase is an invitation to become involved. It presents a chance to invite prospects to an educational event, special preview or Webinar.

Testimonials, referrals and data comparisons from credible sources can give doctors confidence in proceeding with your brand. Using surprise or a well-conceived emotional appeal also encourages interaction.

The goal is to have the prospect say, "I like it, I see how I can use it, I want to know more."

Involvement. The prospect is now fully engaged. The offer is read again, body copy is reviewed and questions are raised and, hopefully, answered. The target needs to believe the benefits of acting on the offer outweigh any risks, or you risk the target exiting the process. In the involvement phase, the target also seeks reinforcement from colleagues or other credible sources. Pieces are passed around and e-mails forwarded - "What do you think?"

Format appears again in the toolbox. Pieces worth keeping, sharing and using for instructional purposes move this phase along well. E-mails with rich content and links to other information sources also work.

Letting the target choose the method for future communication gives the target a sense of control over the process and increases his commitment. As the prospect moves toward taking action, marketers need to make it as easy as possible by offering multiple ways to respond: e-mail address, Web landing pages, 800 number or business reply cards.

At the end of a successful involvement phase, the box is checked, the number is dialed, the "send" button is clicked and the chance for a marketing dialogue has begun.

The three phases share some themes. First, integration is critical to any marketing process. Traditional tools and the latest technology need to work together. Next, look at your marketing as a process rather than a series of loosely linked events. Any process, once understood, can be measured and leveraged to your benefit. Finally, put on your customer hat and walk through the marketing experience as your prospects will experience it.

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