Email Marketing

By Phyllis Hanlon
[Business Side]

Seven years ago, David Bruneau, LMT, owner of Serenity Massage & Bodywork in Whitinsville, Massachusetts, trudged from local gyms to New Age stores to hair salons hanging flyers advertising his business. Those marketing efforts, which also included local newspaper ads and word of mouth, brought in clients, but he realized he needed to do more. The e-mail addresses clients put on intake forms held the answer.

Massage therapy is all about relationships and Heather Gallegos, marketing consultant and owner of Spa Solutions Clientele in the San Francisco Bay area, suggests e-mail as a way to strengthen those relationships. Before jumping on the electronic bandwagon though, she offers some basic advice.

First, make sure you have permission to communicate with your client, Gallegos emphasizes. She recommends an opt-in list where contacts ask to be placed on your e-mail list either through a link on your website or in an e-mail.

Second, subject lines can mean the difference between an e-mail that is opened or one that lands in the trash. First names often entice people to open an e-mail, but Gallegos cautions not to use last names and make sure the subject line is clear and not deceptive. She also urges users not to write subject lines in all capitalized letters.

As for content, Gallegos believes massage therapists should provide something of value to clients, such as tips or announcements. For instance, e-mails can focus on a specific health condition, like carpal tunnel syndrome, and give a definition, treatment options, and preventative measures. “Promotion is okay, but should be secondary, not in the first or second paragraph. Tie it in at the lower end of the e-mail,” she says. “Be caring and nurturing. It’s part of the credibility of your relationship.”

Gallegos also reminds us to always check spelling and grammar. In addition to using spellcheck, “Have someone else read it. It’s a little step, but could make a big difference if someone catches an error.”

Many recipients won’t think to forward an e-mail, so Gallegos suggests you include such a request. When your e-mail message is sent to other individuals, it becomes a form of viral marketing and can earn you new clients.

Consistency is also key, so Gallegos advises choosing one template or look for your e-mails, something neutral that can be used all year long. “You don’t want to be tied to hearts, wreaths, or four-leaf clovers,” she says.

Initially, Bruneau sent only e-mail appointment reminders to clients. The response was overwhelmingly positive so he began to use this means to reach people on a regular basis. In most cases, Bruneau sends e-mails to fill holes in his schedule. It takes him approximately 20 minutes to compose the message, which he then transmits in waves. With a database of between 600 and 800 names, he is forced to break the list down to batches of 200 or so. Otherwise, the e-mails are flagged as spam and may not reach their destination.

Bruneau says, “This is definitely a nice tool, a good way to fill open appointments. The e-mails keep you fresh in someone’s mind,” he says. And the convenience can’t be beat. “People check e-mail at all times of the day and night. Some respond at 2 a.m.”

Bruneau’s method validates the philosophy of Alan Allard, president of Genius Dynamics, Inc., who believes that e-mail marketing makes clients feel special. He suggests sending weekly, short e-mails to keep you on the client’s radar screen. “The cost of gaining a new [client] is five times that of retaining a current [client] and turning them into a loyal, referral machine for you,” he says.

Content Management

Joe Ackerman, CORE Structural Integration Practitioner from Burlington, Massachusetts, began his marketing strategy approximately six years ago with direct mail advertising for his massage business and myofascial and structural integration trainings. He dished out a significant chunk of money for a trifold brochure, official list of area massage therapists, and postage; he ended up with a depleted bank account and little to show for his efforts. Ackerman says, “When I advertised one workshop by e-mail, the response tripled.”

Ackerman began sending e-mail appointment reminders and his no-show rate dropped dramatically, so he broadened his marketing to include welcome e-mails to new clients, follow-up e-mails, and a bimonthly e-newsletter.

In addition to the usual demographic data, Ackerman’s intake form requests primary and secondary complaints, treatment goals, other practitioners’ names, hobbies, and areas of interest on the intake form; he then inputs it into ACT, a database program. At a cost between $200 and $300, ACT compares favorably to some other database programs that can run twice the price. Ackerman then draws from this database to send his various e-mails.

As business expanded, Ackerman decided to launch a newsletter. Sometimes content reflects only his practice and at other times he collaborates with yoga studios, fitness centers, and other health-related businesses to create articles. “I got 12 to 15 new clients from a newsletter that carried a yoga article,” he says. “The newsletter went out to my clients and to theirs. I’m expending time creating relationships with people who have similar interests.”

As his database grew, Ackerman explored various content management companies to help with his newsletter distribution, but found that not all interfaced with his extensive ACT database. He dreaded the prospect of having to re-enter all his contact information. Thankfully, for him, he found SwiftPage, based in Englewood, Colorado, which works with ACT.

Dan Ogdon, director of marketing, says integration is one of SwiftPage’s key selling points. “Most third party e-mail companies ask you to upload your contact list online,” he says. “You keep your list in Excel, Outlook, or ACT, and we integrate your contacts into your e-mails.”

When customers flag their clients by hobby or some other designation in the database as Ackerman does, SwiftPage scans the Internet for articles pertinent to those interests and can send customized e-mail, thus enhancing its value.

Content management companies can also remove the mystique of the Internet for those who feel they are not tech-savvy enough to communicate electronically. SwiftPage offers a choice of 65 templates and users receive six e-mails over 30 days to introduce them to the company. An online demonstration and 45-minute phone conversation with the sales director presents “top-to-bottom information and opens the lines for questions and answers,” Ogdon says. 

Operating strictly on a month-to-month basis with no contracts to sign, SwiftPage provides basic service for $14.95/month. More sophisticated packages are $59.95/month.

Gemma Mendham, marketing manager for Montreal-based Campaigner, emphasizes that anyone can achieve a professional looking newsletter with the help of the step-by-step tutorials and technical support a content management company provides. Campaigner features tabs that identify specific tasks. For instance, if you’d like to import a list from another database program or create a list, a wizard will guide you through each step of the process. “There is no need to know HTML,” Mendham says. “You can change colors and fonts so the newsletters will look and feel like your brand.”     

Tracking ranks as one of the most valuable features a content management company provides and can help you determine if your newsletters are reaching the right demographic and sending the right message.

Mendham explains that following every newsletter transmission, Campaigner users can select a report that will provide valuable information. “You will get a summary of who opened your e-mail, who clicked through, who forwarded it, and who unsubscribed. If you drill down in the report, you’ll find out what links people clicked on,” she says. All this data helps improve your next newsletter. “You can learn from earlier campaigns. This information helps you know what works.” 

In addition, Campaigner offers tutorials, live chats, and educational webinars in which video segments impart information on a relevant topic. “We teach e-mail best practices, thus increasing your knowledge of e-marketing. We also offer tips and articles on our website,” Mendham says. Additionally, customers have access to a question database. “You ask a question and it will intuitively answer and give you step-by-step instructions.”

Campaigner’s basic cost is $25 per month, based on the number of contacts to whom you send your e-newsletter. Campaigner also has a pay-as-you-go option. For those still undecided, Campaigner has a no-obligation, free trial. “You can test the product and build your list before you buy a contract,” Mendham says.

Although traditional marketing plans can attract customers, massage therapists can maximize their practices with the help of their computers. “E-mail keeps you in your customers’ minds with a low-cost tool. It can also drive traffic to your business for a small investment,” Mendham says.

Kevin Stirtz, author of Marketing for Smart People, points out that content management companies can also help your e-mails stay out of the electronic trash bin. When sent by the uninitiated, e-mails run the risk of being picked up by spam filters. He explains that spam words change almost daily and might include body parts and words such as “free,” “sale,” or those related to drugs, gambling, get-rich-quick-schemes, dating, and credit. “ contains a list of words that will flag your e-mails as spam,” he says. “Also, use Google to become aware of current spam words that commonly get filtered out.”               

Return on Investment

Derrick Amoriko, LMT, owner of Massage Harmony in Austin and Westlake Hills, Texas, began using e-mail in his practice in 1997 and recommends the strategy to other massage therapists. The $40 he spends each month for Constant Contact, located in Waltham, Massachusetts, to send and track his e-mail is well worth the price. “In the last year-and-a-half, I’ve sent e-mails to 22,000 contacts. With e-mail marketing, it takes time more than money,” he says, “but your return on investment is very strong.”

Amoriko advises other massage therapists not to overlook the educational value of e-mail. He suggests choosing a different massage modality every month and providing a detailed description. “Sometimes a client will want more information on certain types [of massage] or may want to speak to a therapist,” he says. He adds that links to other sites, such as local businesses, artists, and health-focused companies help to create an invaluable community network.

One of Ackerman’s clients gives the e-marketing idea a thumbs-up. Bob Whirty of Andover, Massachusetts, appreciates the appointment reminders, follow up, and general “how’s-it-going” e-mails he receives. “I had structural integration and I like the specific follow up information on exercises to support the work he did,” Whirty says. “I usually pick off some nuggets of health information from his newsletters.”

Whirty adds that the e-mails demonstrate Ackerman’s commitment to his career choice and his clients. “He’s engaged in his profession and that shows in his e-mails,” he says. “I like to know that people I deal with are up to date in their field.”

Although the e-mails are important, Whirty recognizes the fact that he can contact Ackerman by phone at any time as well. “Sometimes you need to follow up with questions and answers on the phone,” he says.

Not everyone is sold on the idea of e-mail as a marketing tool, though. Roseanne Longo, LMT, owner of Hands-On Healthcare in East Brookfield, Massachusetts, believes that electronic communication overwhelms her clients, particularly those in the corporate world who already receive an exorbitant amount of e-mail. “So, another e-mail that they don’t need or have time for is just not my style, and with the additional risk of virus transmittal, I like to limit my recipients,” she says.

Love them or hate them, e-mails are here to stay. It’s up to you to decide if the time and financial investment in e-mail marketing is worth it for your massage practice. 

 Phyllis Hanlon is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer and writing instructor whose articles have appeared in numerous regional and national health-related publications. She can be reached at