Retailization has plans retooling

January 1, 2014

Differentiate your brand as B2B becomes B2C

With up to 30 million uninsured Americans potentially entering the market in the upcoming years, health plans must shift their marketing efforts toward individual consumers, while maintaining their relationships with business clients.

“The environment in which health plans operate today has rapidly shifted from a business-to-business (B2B) to a business-to-consumer (B2C) model,” says Gregg Michaelson, CEO of Linkwell Health, a marketing firm. “In turn, health plans need new strategies to expand their brand through positive word-of-mouth, maximize member impact and increase loyalty among existing members. Health plans can capitalize on the enormous opportunity that state and federal health exchanges provide by marketing to individuals browsing for options that best fit their needs and lifestyle.”

Michaelson says that because of the emerging consumer-centric landscape of healthcare, plans must now offer useful, targeted services to differentiate from other plans.

“In the past, members chose health plans based on the choices offered by their companies, which was based on the health plans offering competitive rates to the sponsoring employers,” he says. “Plans that adjust their marketing strategy to focus on the unique needs of the consumer will likely experience a tangible benefit.”

Educate consumers

With so many changes in healthcare from policy and procedure to wellness initiatives, health plans are at the forefront to disseminate information to current and future members.

“Plans have had to adjust their consumer responses and try to explain-to the extent that they could-what was and is happening, as situations continue to change almost daily,” says Scott Overholt, vice president of healthcare markets for The Agency Inside. “While this situation remains very much a political one, health insurers have stepped up in a major way to educate and guide consumers during a challenging time.”

As of now, the majority of people signing up on healthcare exchanges are Medicaid populations, and those with pre-existing conditions who need insurance the most. This can cause an imbalance that is risky for health plans.

“The plans that believe the 3Rs [risk adjustment, risk corridors and reinsurance] will shield them from financial loss have tried to acquire as many new members as possible,” Overholt says. “Those plans that don’t believe the 3Rs will protect them have embarked upon the hardest thing they’ve ever tried to do: that is, acquiring the population’s healthiest and youngest consumers.”

Capturing the attention of elusive “young invincibles” will be a challenge, however, they are more likely to respond to social media marketing, which is less costly than traditional marketing channels.

“They are a big part of the uninsured. We have to consider now that we are not seeing a lot of these people joining the exchange. They just aren’t interested,” says Neil Waldron, chief marketing officer of Rocky Mountain Health Plans (RMHP) in Grand Junction, Colo.

Attracting those customers will take marketing in a way that health plans may not have had to do before-using social media in addition to other web, print, television and radio channels to get the attention of consumers. Just participating on the exchanges and relying on collective marketing won’t be enough to promote a plan’s brand to the younger, healthier population. Most will shop on price.

Using Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest to provide eye-catching, shareable information  does a lot for brand recognition and shows that you are a trusted source for consumers.

“This content, combined with coupons for ‘better-for-you’ products, encourages health plan members to make small lifestyle changes that will improve their health over time,” Michaelson says. “Since health plans are directly connected to a consumer’s wellbeing, content from this type of trusted source provides a unique opportunity to create a positive impact.”

Waldron says that RMHP has done some out out-of-the box marketing, including an online zombie video that has earned more than 20,000 viewers, in attempts to capture a new, younger customer. But this is in addition to traditional advertising that highlights the company’s values.

“In Colorado, our state exchange does a fair amount of advertising. But if you only rely on the exchanges, than you have to be more competitive,” says Waldron, who adds that ultimately the lowest price will attract consumers who don’t have much experience buying insurance plans.

Making a purchase

Overholt agrees that exchanges will capture people’s attention, but the plan’s own branded  site provides an opportunity to explain more nuanced information about the plan products being offered.

“Most plans have built sites to ensure shoppers have a ‘competition-free’ experience. When consumers visit a health plan’s consumer portal, they find everything they need to know to make an informed decision-videos, FAQs, buying guides,” Overholt says. “As far as getting consumers there, plans are using all media-mass and targeted, traditional and new. All media used ultimately drives consumers to the health plan’s website.”

Ultimately, successful marketing to a more educated health consumer will involve crafting a new strategy, and not relying on what worked in the past, Michaelson says.

“A one-size-fits-all approach generally doesn’t work. It is key to customize and personalize, and to be sure that the content or offerings that members are receiving have real value,” says Michaelson. “Repurposing obvious material or sharing irrelevant information to the group you are targeting is another mistake to avoid.”