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How Marketing Can Save Healthcare

By Russell Benaroya

Marketing and healthcare in the same sentence can kind of make people feel a little squeamish.  There is something seemingly uncomfortable for health insurance to market to people based on health related information gathered through medical claims data.  There is also a perception that people don’t want to be marketed to about their health.  I think both of these statements are false perceptions we must debunk if we truly believe in putting the consumer at the center of their health. 

Goodbye Member Abrasion!

Have you heard of this term, “member abrasion”?  Member abrasion basically means that health insurance plans don’t want to piss off their members by bombarding them with communications that get annoying.  Many health plans, as a result, don’t experiment because they fear member abrasion.  They also believe that their net promoter scores are so low they don’t want to do anything that might make them worse.  But herein lies the opportunity.  It can’t get much worse so why not change what you’re doing and lean in?  Of course we don’t want to piss off a member (that’s just basic logic) but we live in a marketing world and I can’t think of one company that I feel has “abraded” me.  I am capable of deleting emails and not thinking anything of it. 

If I believed in abrasion I would say that it comes by sending out highly repetitive communications through the same channel. That gets annoying.  But similar communications through multiple channels or different communications through the same channel is not going to trigger the member abrasion concern.  Can we please stop using member abrasion as an excuse for why marketing in healthcare is so sensitive and challenging?  Phew, okay.  Let’s move on.

Back to Basics

Engaging people to become better equipped to manage their health is so ready-made for marketing it makes me giddy.  Marketing is not selling.  Marketing is about developing a demand for your product and fulfilling the needs and interests of the customer.   It might be best captured in the the famous 4 P’s (what’s the product; what’s the priceor value; how will it reach the customer’s place; and how will it be promoted).  Health plans are struggling to engage consumers in their health because the fundamental 4P’s aren’t being prioritized. 

But what would it look like if marketing did take center stage within a health plan, where there was a commitment to member marketing and a belief that customers actually would like to be marketed to because they are so healthcare illiterate they don’t know what they should be doing. 

Product – Let’s redefine the healthcare product to be more than just a health insurance policy.  If it’s important that the consumer take certain actions to reduce the need to trigger that policy the product should come with something that would be enjoyable to market, like free visits, screenings or new services being promoted.  And I’m suggesting that these actually get marketed with the intent that health plans actually want these services getting used by certain of their customers.

Price – What is value of health screening, an immunization or a primary care wellness visit?  What about signing up for health coaching, using telehealth, or accessing second opinion services?  It’s hard to market a service if the health plan doesn’t know the value of the thing they are marketing.  But let’s assume it has real business value (which it does) then the price or value might come in the form of an incentive to encourage a member to take action.   Even more interesting is that the value of that incentive could be (and should be) different based on the value of that specific consumer engaging in it (example:  a chronic utilizer of emergency room services is more valuable to steer to telehealth than someone who has never stepped foot in an emergency room).

Place – Place is about distribution.  Where will consumer engagement be marketed.  Here’s the deal – not every member is created equally for a health plan.  There are certain people managing chronic conditions that are more important than those that are healthy and active.  Where do these people show up?  How do they want to be communicated to? 

Promotion – The strategy to promote consumer engagement is where health insurance plans need to embrace marketing automation.  Getting a 360 degree view of their member will help determine the most appropriate touchpoints and places to engage that align with the interests and needs of like consumers.   

Marketing has been undervalued at health insurance plans for too long.  Today, marketing may be the most important function to driving consumer engagement and bending the cost curve.  Consumers don’t risk becoming abraded.  They risk being so unsure of what to do that their health suffers. 

As we stare into the abyss of the future of healthcare in America, it’s hard to agree where we go from here.  So much of our work is spent putting band-aids on fundamental structural problems that we don’t have time to see that we can build a bridge to the other side.

Posted on September 26, 2016 04:00 PM