Rachel Klaver is a marketing strategist, specialising in lead generation and content marketing.
OPINION: Last year, my Facebook advertising account was shut down.
One of my client’s accounts had been hacked, and when I jumped in to save her account, Facebook put a freeze on our ad account too, even though our account hadn’t been affected at all.
It took me four months to restore access to my account and hers. In that time, I lost track of however many other small businesses I saw have the same issue.
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Losing access to your Facebook ads can be huge for some small businesses. Losing access to your instagram account, or any of our social media accounts, can cut off a stream of leads and sales you may have depended on.
For some, like Dr Waseem Alzaher, there may not even be an option to advertise your business on Facebook using ads.
Alzaher founded The Cannabis Clinic in 2018 to provide people with a natural, plant-based treatment solution for mild to severe medical conditions.
While the product is prescription only, fully regulated and has to be prescribed by a qualified and registered doctor, it’s not a legally approved medicine so is not allowed to be advertised.
“It’s a total mind minefield because medicinal cannabis products are legally unapproved medicines, which means that they haven’t been proven to help for any specific condition. So they cannot be advertised in any way.
“So you know, on TV, you might see paracetamol advertised as they are approved for pain. Medicinal cannabinoids such as THC and CBD oil are not,” explains Alzaher
Alzaher has to walk a fine line on what can be said and not said online.
“We work within the legislation kind of provided by Medsafe. As a medical clinic we have requirements from the Medical Council as to what we can and can’t say, in terms of messaging and marketing.
“And on top of that, you’ve got you the digital platforms, which have their own policies around cannabis and what you can and can’t say.”
This has meant no Meta (Facebook and Instagram ads) and no Google AdWords.
I asked Alzaher to come talk on my Map IT Marketing podcast, in part because I like interesting businesses, but also because this inability to use Meta and Google advertising helped him divert his marketing energy and focus on email marketing, and going deep into marketing automation.
Even if you can use Meta or Google Ads, it’s worthwhile looking at what impact email and marketing automation could make on your business.
I’ve been lucky to work with many allied health businesses that also have limits on the marketing messaging they can use, and email marketing can become a powerful option.
Some businesses, like mine, have a really wide open scope of what we can and can’t say, and lower risk of being banned from Meta. We can still take advantage of marketing automation to increase sales and leads.
We’ve had a front seat to Alzaher’s creative process as an agency, as we’ve been fortunate to work with him as an ActiveCampaign partner and turn his ideas into reality. (When I say we, I mean my husband Rod, because getting me to complex automations is a recipe for disaster. You need a certain sort of brain and I don’t have it).
ActiveCampaign is a marketing automation platform. While some of what Alzaher has done would stretch many other platforms, most of the suggested options at the end of this column can be done on most automation platforms for small business.
Initially Alzaher spent time, energy and budget on building up SEO (search engine optimisation). While this is still part of his strategy, his website content was problematic for Google, so there were times when his content was downgraded because his business is considered a restricted industry.
“We absolutely rely on search engine marketing. But it’s not the only thing we rely on, because when we were too dependent on search engines we got punished a couple of times, just through natural search variability, and, you know, search engine algorithm update.
“I learned that whenever you’ve depended on something external, you take the risk of being hit from under you. There were some very, very hard days and weeks when things were fluctuating, and we wanted something we had more control over,” he explains.
Jumping into marketing automation hasn’t been without its issues around restrictions either. Initially the content was flagged as “drug use” and the marketing automation account he began with was shut down.
“We got kicked out of our email platform that we’re using overnight. They banned us because we unintentionally violated the terms and conditions. We had to dig our way back, and it was hard.”
When I asked Alzaher to break down his thought processes around how he decided what problems he asked to solve with marketing automation, he said it started with finding new ways to answer this question: “How can we see more positive results for our clients, and what can we do to make the process to get there simpler and more effective?”
Part of that involves trying to put himself in the position of people at each stage of the customer journey, from coming to the website for the first time, and then thinking about how to make the process as simple and easy to follow as possible.
“That’s where the inspiration comes from. It’s thinking, wow, you know, I think we’ve got something amazing. I think we’re helping a lot of people, I think we’re doing something really positive. How do we do more of it?” he reflects.
Robert Pollock has used medicinal cannabis for years, but has struggled with trying to get a legal prescription.
There are two key stages of the customer journey Alzaher spends much of his time improving. These are pre-conversion, before someone has booked an appointment, and then the stage after this, depending on the outcome of that appointment.
Starting with asking ‘will this help give our clients a better quality of life?’ and ‘will we help them achieve a good outcome for them?’, and why this will help, enables Alzaher to make marketing automation and other marketing decisions that move away from getting another sale, or making more money, towards client care and building relationships.
This fits in with his values both as a medical doctor and as an ethical entrepreneur.
Because of their clienteles access to the internet , using a platform that had both email and text marketing automation was essential. At the heart of every choice was the desire to better serve their prospective, current and past clients.
“We try to use ways and methods to communicate with people who are either our clients or our expressing interest in what we do. So we use both email and text messages at this point in time.”
This combination has seen an increase of people taking action. This is helped by the fact their problem is literally solving a pain point, so text messages are positively received.
“You’ve got much higher open rates and faster response times using text messages. Generally speaking, people have their phone with them the whole time. And usually when you get a text message, there’s that incentive to really open it.”
Instead of creating a generic email that goes out to his email list, Alzaher has asked for (and got us to help create) personalised email and text communication journeys that will look different to someone else depending on needs, communication styles, prescription requirements, engagement with the website and marketing material, and more.
The goal of the marketing automation is to help each person feel personally communicated with, on time, as needed.
In the past year there has also been an increase in using the marketing automation platform to collect data to improve marketing content. Some of the content created didn’t resonate with the Cannabis Clinic’s ideal audience initially. They also realised there was benefit in getting outsourced help to help with marketing automation.
“Having the ability to recognise our own lack of knowledge was key. Initially, we were doing everything, and we thought we were right, but we were so wrong and way off on the mark.“
Getting support helps free up time to look at what was working. “Once you’ve got the system in place, it’s about understanding what isn’t working, or what’s working, and that’s where the data comes in.”
Setting up reporting dashboards has helped him and his team get a clear view of how people were responding to emails and texts helped him make clearer decisions to serve the Cannabis Clinic’s client base. As he explains: “We want to diagnose the problem, then resolve it. Maybe that’s the medicine side of me coming in.”
With so much of the automation set up with a client focus, the next 12 months will now have more of a focus on internal communications. The same automation platform can be used to improve communication, remind team members of tasks, help them stay in touch with what’s happening in a growing organisation that has nationwide reach, and staff members all over New Zealand.
“We’ve realised that as we’ve grown in our impact, and we’ve helped more and more people, that people within our internal systems have struggled. And we need to change that.”
If you want to invest more time in email this year and move beyond the monthly or fortnightly bulletin, here are some simple starting points.
Spend time thinking about how you want your customers to experience you. Consider what this could look like at each stage of their journey with you.
Think about how your current email list could be grouped (or segmented) so you can talk to people in smaller sized groups and make it more personalised.
Spend time mapping out how you could create content and then support that content in a series of emails to help people who might not be quite ready to work with you yet. (This is called lead generation).
If you are an e-commerce business, you can use purchases to help segment behavior. Email marketing can help add 30% more revenue for e-commerce businesses.
Basic automations including a short series of welcome emails for new clients, or a post-working-with-you series to add further support can help retain engaged clients.
The key is to take the time to see email marketing and automation as serving your community instead of a task that has to be ticked off, or something that is just there to generate sales.
This mindset shift will help you create a sticky email marketing web that helps you grow, retain and re-engage people who have chosen to trust you enough with their email address.
Alzaher adds that it’s really important to think whether your content is something people will want to read.
“If you’re flicking over your own social media posts, or don’t want to read all of your own emails, then you might need to change things up a little.”