Rapid, hyperpersonal information through effective segmentation – Dutch Association for Neuromuscular Disease

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The Dutch Association for Neuromuscular Disease is an organisation of and for patients suffering from neuromuscular disease. Members are given the option – mostly used by the elderly – to receive information via regular mail. Although this is not a profitable solution, it does fit well within a system of solidarity. On the other hand, the association possesses a high level of ambition and a large degree of professionalism. For example, DM is a key aspect of its communication strategy.

To coincide with its offline quarterly magazine, the association strives to offer more personal up-to-date information more frequently. It does so with its Contact Digitaal newsletter. This newsletter, which is sent out twelve times per year, is an independent campaign and a core aspect of the association’s communication. The primary focus is on interaction with the website – where people can come into contact with fellow patients – personal communication and the recruitment of new members.

The organisation has achieved a major success with just 0.2 FTE and a limited budget allocated to email marketing. This was realised through extensive segmentation and personalisation.

Clear objectives for the Contact Digitaal newsletter

The main objective of the Contact Digitaal campaign is as follows:

  1. More personal communication: offering rapid, up-to-date, personal and relevant information pertaining to neuromuscular diseases

The subobjectives of the Contact Digitaal newsletter are:

  1. Stimulating interaction: by visiting the website more, people come into contact with ways of interacting with fellow members/patients sooner and more often. On top of that, more people attend gatherings where they can also interact with each other.
  2. At minimum, compensating for the outflow of existing members – usually due to their passing – by recruiting new members (from follower to subscriber to member)
  3. Increasing the reach among relevant audiences/stakeholders (followers), e.g. among aid workers and carers.

Various forms of retention: followers, subscribers and members

The Dutch Association for Neuromuscular Disease wants to stay close to its target audience: people suffering from neuromuscular disease. Memberships are an important form of retention, but not everyone is keen to become a member of an organisation – especially a patient organisation. People’s insecurity is a factor here. The association has therefore introduced other forms of retention: in addition to becoming a member, people can also become a subscriber or a follower. When someone wants to join the organisation, they can create an account on the association’s website and choose between becoming a follower, subscriber or member:

  • A follower “only” receives the monthly Contact Digitaal newsletter. Potential followers (prospects) come into contact with the Dutch Association for Neuromuscular Disease via social media, the website and the waiting rooms of specialised hospitals.
  • In addition to receiving the newsletter, a subscriber can also access a library’s worth of reliable digital information and they will receive Contact magazine every quarter. Subscribers are often patients’ family members, friends and carers.
  • On top of the aforementioned benefits, a member can also participate in gatherings, attend the annual convention, interact with other patients and receive personal support. Members are generally people suffering from neuromuscular disease.

The goal is to recruit as many followers as possible and then entice them with the Contact Digitaal newsletter to become a subscriber or a member by emphasising the benefits this provides, e.g. free attendance of gatherings.

The communication mix of the Dutch Association for Neuromuscular Disease

Furthermore, the association also sends out the following newsletters to complement Contact Digitaal:

–       Diagnosis newsletter (segmented by diagnosis). This newsletter is also available offline for members without an email address.

–       Email newsletter about gatherings (segmented by diagnosis and region). This newsletter is also available offline for members without an email address.

The other tools in the organisation’s communication mix are: the website, the members’ personal environment on the website, social media, letters, the offline members’ magazine (4x per year), brochures, flyers, the Webcast, the Web forum, the Spieracademie (e-learning), personal contact, contact via telephone and gatherings (circa ninety per year), including the annual convention Spierziektecongres.

The hyperpersonalisation of Contact Digitaaal through careful segmentation

The segmentation and personalisation work as follows: by creating an account on the website, you can complete your profile by listing your diagnosis and interests such as nutrition, finances, upbringing or heart problems. There are fifty-three topics to choose from and it is possible to change your selections as you go from being a follower to a subscriber and a member, for example because the state of your disease advances. The organisation has a library’s worth of digital documentation, such as articles that have previously appeared in paper newsletters.


“We can automatically generate one million variants per newsletter for our target audiences: individual members, subscribers or followers (Erik van Uden – head of communications)”

The best scoring article is shown in the subject line

Interest tags are attached to each article, e.g. “heart problems,” “region,” “diagnosis,” neuromuscular disease “G and B” or “people in a wheelchair.” The CMS then assigns a weighting to each tag. The articles are filtered and sorted using an algorithm (for which the input of a documentalist was used). The association’s custom-made CRM plays an important role in this. Everyone (followers, subscribers and members) then receives a personalised newsletter that automatically contains their ten most relevant articles. Each article is rated on certain values (via the CMS) and the best-scoring article is shown first. The title of that specific article is also shown in the newsletter’s subject line.

“The title of the best-scoring article is automatically shown in the subject line”

Interaction with the website where people interact with fellow patients

From the appealing text in the Contact Digitaal newsletter, people are taken to (the personal environment on) the website, where they can read the full article. Their personal page contains related articles (via a preselection) and they are notified of new and relevant information, e.g. pertaining to upcoming events and forum articles about the sharing of one’s experiences, etcetera. People can also interact with fellow patients via their personal page. From the website, they can then go back to read the rest of their personalised newsletter.

There is a need for diagnosis-specific information

The results speak for themselves. Firstly, the open rate: personalisation makes communication more relevant and interesting. The figure below shows that the open rate is high (always above 60%) and increasing (from October on the left to March on the right) up to 66%.

Furthermore, the number of visitors to the website has increased significantly because people click through from the newsletter. The peaks in the figure below, following the publication of a new edition of Contact Digitaal, occurred on 10 October (11,052 views), 7 November (11,548 views), 7 December (11,572 views), 16 January (11,928 views), 19 February (11,077 views) 15 March (12,038 views) and 11 April (10,063 views). The average number of visitors is usually around 8,000 per day.

Their own conclusion: the open rate (the title of the best-scoring article is shown in the subject line) proves that people appreciate receiving relevant and personalised information. The organisation’s understanding of people’s preferences and needs is growing. There is a strong need for diagnosis-specific information, while information of a more general nature is far less popular. Reports about research and medication (articles that give people hope) also perform well, as does anything pertaining to finances.

“We are learning more and more about people’s needs. The open rates show that people want diagnosis-specific information”

Integrating channels and generating even more interaction

The organisation wants to link its Web forum – which is designed to facilitate interaction – to the Contact Digitaal newsletter. The Webcast – an information instrument that can be used to show specific broadcasts about e.g. a diagnosis – will also benefit from integration with the Web forum and the newsletter. This will result in even more interaction between all channels. The association therefore strives to further integrate its various channels. The newsletter itself can be finetuned by working on the content and its distribution.


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