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Web Exclusive: Healthy Changes

1 Jun, 2016 By: Doug McPherson Response

If any industry can sing along with the old Bob Dylan lyric, “The times, they are a changin’,” it’s healthcare. After the Affordable Care Act and plenty of mergers, scientific marketing is proving it’s a healthy choice.

The great advertising executive Bruce Barton once said, “When you’re through changing, you’re through.”

Wise words for any marketer but especially those selling healthcare during recent years — they’ve had to be as adept with their strategies as surgeons with their scalpels.

Stewart Gandoff, CEO of Healthcare Success Strategies, a marketing agency in Irvine, Calif., says that’s because of more mergers between hospitals, clinics, and insurance companies and that CEOs are demanding measurable results. “They want scientific marketing that delivers patients and results,” Gandoff says. “A lot of the leaders in healthcare today are frustrated former medical students who understand science so we’re seeing them put more emphasis on measurements.”

Gandoff adds that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has flooded the market with consumers seeking information about plans, so search engine and social media marketing are both gaining traction. “Healthcare typically lags behind other industries in terms of marketing, but today it’s beginning to get better and more sophisticated,” he says.

Will Holman, director of communications at UnitedHealthcare in Minnetonka, Minn., says the fact that consumers find the healthcare system complex served as the inspiration of its award-winning “We Dare You” campaign ( It has taken home eight marketing communications and advertising awards.

“We wanted to help make things simpler and empower consumers to take charge of their health,” Holman says. “When consumers better understand their health plans and are more engaged in managing their health, they can make better-informed, more confident decisions.”

We Dare You encourages followers — via dares (or challenges) — to make one small healthy change per month and document it on social media with photos, videos, and other posts. Holman says the interactive campaign has not only led to healthier habits, but also fostered an interactive online community of brand loyalists.

Participants can easily share their photos and content from the website with friends and family via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. Influential health, wellness, nutrition, and fitness bloggers are also engaged to promote the dares. 

Holman says upwards of 3,000 photos are uploaded every month — everything from folks doing jumping jacks and burpees to eating their fruits and veggies.

The campaign also features activities on the company’s website to help consumers get the most out of their health plan such as:

  • Quizzes on how to make the most of healthcare and pharmacy benefits.
  •  A concentration game that matches health insurance terms and definitions or UnitedHealthcare tools and services.
  •  Videos and polls that highlight member benefits, how to use UnitedHealthcare services, and help avoid cost surprises.

Multi-Channel Musts

Another who agrees healthcare marketing has grown in complexity is Jari Rousas, vice president at Merkle, a performance-marketing agency with several healthcare-related clients.

“There are a wide a range of considerations that influence strategy, and the communication needs are vastly different from health insurance to pharmaceutical, and from over-the-counter to hospital system,” Rousas says.

She adds that initially for any client, Merkle works to understand where the client is in the evolution of their program and who the target is — healthcare pros, patients, or caregivers … or a combination of all of them — and what insights they have about their targets.

“We also like to look at what’s worked well and how they measure performance: is it registration for a copay card, or a prescription, or health insurance acquisition and retention,” she says. “We also want to know what part of the customer journey they’re focusing on — from acquisition to retention for a drug or over-the-counter product is the first measurable conversion. Then we want to know if they’re seeking treatment information or reaching out to speak to a doctor, tracking a doctor discussion guide, or request for a starter kit.”

For health insurance, Rousas says an important consideration is the geographic footprint and, within that footprint, what their share of voice is, along with competition and industry factors.

As for specific marketing and advertising strategies that are showing success today, Rousas says there’s no one-size-fits-all formula, and that patients seeking information don’t take a linear course. Their searches can cross multiple channels and screens at a given moment.

“Our most successful clients are using integrated multichannel marketing, seeking to understand where their targets are looking for information, getting involved in conversation, and finding what will move them through the funnel,” Rousas says. “They determine how to deliver the messaging that’s timely, engaging, and relevant to the audience and channel.”

The most effective programs, she says, have a strong key performance indicator in place.

“What’s old is new again. Reaching people with direct mail, e-mail, and phone was just the beginning,” she says. “Today, with addressable marketing, we can realize the potential of people-based marketing in healthcare, finding these people by device and personal identification to give them a relevant and engaging communication — whether to educate about the product, share resources about health, or giving condition information.”

Rousas adds, “Healthcare advertisers who understand the strength and value of a channel in the customer journey are most successful. Different channels work better in different stages of a patient’s journey. But TV, digital, social media, radio, etc., are most successful when they’re combined. We use models to validate channel mix and spend allocation by channel — we make decisions on data and we look carefully at how channels work together to change behavior.”

Specifically, she says Merkle has found digital channels to be very effective in healthcare marketing and that many consumers seek information about healthcare online via search and social. So tactics can include search, display, and paid and organic social activity to drive people to websites.

Rousas adds that to drive health insurance leads, she’s found DRTV and direct marketing “to be workhorses.”

Addressable Success

One of Merkle’s clients, EmblemHealth, is a New York healthcare insurer, selling Medicare and other health plans directly to consumers. Under the ACA, there is a limited open enrollment period to attract new members who sign up for the Health Insurance Exchange (HIX) and Medicare. Roughly 80 percent of new members are enrolled in the fourth quarter.

Merkle’s job was to make the most of that quarter, so it segmented audiences by geography — down to neighborhood level, age, income, and behavioral data. It then tailored messages to each segment.

Next, it tapped an online and offline media mix that included: out-of-home subway ads to spread general awareness; DRTV spots to create targetable reach; direct mail (particularly for the over-65 audience); paid search and display targeting warm prospects to encourage them to convert; landing pages that enabled information capture for lead nurturing; and paid social media using look-alike pools to target ideal prospects.

The results: EmblemHealth passed every goal and reduced its cost-per-lead. For the fourth-quarter 2015 Medicate enrollment period, the campaign produced a 220-percent increase on response goals, a 188-percent increase on lead goals, and a 132-percent increase on member goals.

For HIX enrollment, the campaign notched a 111-percent improvement in cost-per-response, a 103-percent improvement in cost-per-lead, and a 36-percent improvement in cost-per-member.

Merkle says four reasons for the results are:

  1. An addressable strategy delivered via creative, customized by channel.
  2. A foundation in data, including media mix optimization and lead models.
  3. Marketing automation services and prospecting database.
  4. A strong partnership with the EmblemHealth team.

Shirish Dant, senior director and head of consumer marketing at EmblemHealth, says during the past two or three years, the company has become much more data driven. “We now use predictive and analytical modeling to target consumers,” Dant says. “We’re much more precise and more disciplined in understanding the senior population.”

In particular, Dant has learned that a certain segment of seniors finds EmblemHealth’s service more attractive than other seniors. “We know their profiles very well and we can target them much more effectively and efficiently,” Dant says.

Efficient indeed: from 2012 to 2015, for one campaign, EmblemHealth reduced its cost-per-lead by a third and its cost-per-member-acquisition by 200 percent.

“Of course these kinds of results require you to invest in technology, but once you have it, then you can be really smart about dialing up on what’s working and dialing down on what’s not,” Dant says.

EmblemHealth has also learned that older folks are clearly consuming more media online so it is putting more of its marketing dollars in digital and social media.

“The way the older population consumes media has changed considerably. Baby boomers are dramatically increasing their use of online and social media,” Dant says. “Not long ago we were spending very little on digital or social, but now some of our campaigns are exclusively digital and social — and they’re very productive.” ■

About the Author: Doug McPherson

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