A prestigious domain name after the “@” wields untold persuasive power. Who could resist an e-mail from gbush@thewhitehouse.gov, or Almighty@hereafter.com?

There's reason enough now for old offline dogs to learn new online marketing tricks. The prime motivation is that online physicians are a growing market. You can find virtually any number you want if you check enough sources, but no matter who you believe, it's a big group, and it's getting bigger. OK, so we know lots of docs are on the Net. How do you get your message to them?

Doomed to Deletion?

Banner ads are a possibility, but they can be pricey and don't pull all that well. While banners generate less than one percent “click through” response rates, e-mails generated response rates of between 5 percent and 25 percent in 1999, according to The New York Times. While those rates are doubtless declining due to the inundation of e-mail boxes with direct marketing messages, they still beat banners.

So use banners, but don't rely on them because e-mail works much better. As Woody Allen said, 90 percent of life is showing up. E-mail, like other direct response vehicles, does just that. Like a brochure in your mailbox, e-mail is there one morning, in your in-box, demanding to be dealt with in some way. Perhaps it's doomed to deletion. Or maybe you'll be moved to give it a chance.

The two most important aspects of every e-missive are the “from” line and the “subject” line. These elements of e-mail are the equivalents of branding graphics and teaser copy on the envelope of a direct mailing. The “from” line is where you leverage branding. Avoid whatever@hotmail.com. A prestigious domain name after the “@” wields untold persuasive power. Who could resist gbush@thewhitehouse.gov, or Almighty@hereafter.com?

The subject line is your last chance. Catch the doc's attention with “Your CME Credits,” or “Registration Confirmation.” The copy would flow accordingly. Copy for an e-mail with the “Your CME Credits” subject line might be, “Do you have enough CME credits? If not, read on.” An e-mail with the subject “Registration Confirmation” might read “Can we confirm your registration for our upcoming new conference on Genital Warts?” Another approach is to use a subject line that drives to the topic of your conference, e.g., “Genital Warts Update.”

Here are two more tips:

  • Short 'n' Sweet Keep e-mails brief — in line with people's online attention spans.

  • HTML — Hot or Not? Notice how some e-mails look like a Web page and others look like a typewritten sheet of paper? The former are called HTML e-mails. They're colorful and can be more engaging, and some say they pull better than the latter, referred to as “text only.” But be careful — for example, some versions of AOL can't read HTML e-mail, so it can hurt you more than help you if you don't understand the nuances.

Diversify Your Promotional Portfolio

So, should you relax, save on postage, and e-mail your way to success? Not exactly. The main problem is list availability. No more than 40,000 physicians' e-mail addresses can be found for rental, at least by me — and it's my business to know these things!

Then there's cost. E-mail is not free, unless you broadcast in-house to your past attendees (which, by the way, is not at all a bad idea). But commercial lists run in the $250 per thousand range, with additional charges for set-up and broadcasting.

The bottom line: Right now, keep your promotional portfolio diversified, especially if you're trying to reach specialists. Use banner ads and e-mail. But continue to use direct mail and other proven direct-marketing methods. The Internet may put the postal service out of business someday, but relying on it entirely to promote meetings could put you out of business next Tuesday!

Terry Nugent has 25 years' experience marketing medical meetings. Since 1989, he has been director of marketing for Medical Marketing Service Inc., an American Medical Association database licensee. Send your questions or topic ideas to T-Nugent@SLISTS.com.