Media Planning & Buying Opinions

The Healthcare Path to Purchase

Posted by Brian Quinn on September 7th, 2011 at 9:45 am

For years, health insurance providers primarily sold their services and plans through local sales channels to businesses, which then rolled them out to their employees. Very often, the consumer had very limited “power” when it came to deciding which provider and plan was right for them – you got what was offered, or you didn’t get anything. As a result, insurance providers focused their marketing and advertising efforts towards HR Managers, entrepreneurs and anyone in the position of making a purchase decision for their business.

That is all about to change.

With the recently passed universal health care bill, and growing concern over the long-term viability of Social Security and Medicare, all US citizens are not only required to have healthcare -- they are actively seeking personal healthcare options. Individuals now have the ability to choose which provider is best for their personal needs. Therefore, insurance providers will have to cast a wider (and more effective) net to sell their products to those not covered by a comprehensive corporate plan.

So, how can these insurance companies begin targeting consumers, while still executing effective campaigns to drive both brand awareness and new members? They will need to take a page out of the playbook that has been so effective for brands and retailers in recent years: creating engaging and informative shopper marketing campaigns that run on relevant retailers’ websites – in this case, notable retailers such as Walmart, CVS and Rite Aid.

Consumers regularly visit retail sites to purchase products or to conduct research before purchasing. By reaching them at this point along their digital path to purchase, brands capture the shoppers' attention at the perfect time and place: while they're in the shopping mindset and making their purchase decisions. Insurance providers have a new opportunity to begin developing comparable “retail channels” in order to message and position new offerings to the growing number of consumers considering personal healthcare choices. For instance, insurers could create a series of short videos that educate online shoppers about healthcare requirements, the services they offer, the network of doctors they are affiliated with and the various levels of co-pays associated with the plan. By doing this, the savvy insurance providers can empower the customer to make a purchasing decision, while edging out competitors.

Eight in ten Internet users already look online for health information (Pew Internet Study, August 2011). With consumers using online resources more than ever before to research healthcare topics, insurance providers will have to become proactive, creative and engaging in their efforts to reach consumers as they move along the digital path to purchase. Stagnant collateral, legacy sales channels, direct mail pieces and traditional print advertising will miss a significant demographic of consumers looking for healthcare options. It’s time that insurance organizations start evaluating shopper marketing campaigns that live on retailers sites – to target and engage consumers as they click their way to making a big decision about their protecting their futures and personal well being.

2 Responses to “The Healthcare Path to Purchase”

  1. Brian - good discussion of something that seems to apply to a lot of high-consideration categories. When everything is interactive and people are the media everyone can have a very different, yet logical to them, path to purchase. From education to automobile we've seen similar patterns and are trying to sort out a holistic approach that surrounds the consumer with interesting content in this age of channel blur. We simply don't know how or when a message will get thru so have to increase the odds of it happening. And yes, we still do direct mail - but simultaneously address email with different offers as well as altering microsite content. (Even looking at changing bidding strategies for search and social at the time of the drop to reflect the reality of going online after going to the mailbox.)


  2. Philip David Winton says:

    Brian, individual health plans as proposed by government will force insurers to think in a different way, and as you state, an unfamiliar way. And if they are slow to adapt, (especially regional insurers) they will be quickly absent from the consideration discussion.

    What this does do (in a positive way), is force insurers to identify and define their brand position and promise. It will be uncomfortable for some, but enlightening for all. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, all be trying to coral the healthy (risk adverse) population and minimize the amount of high risk members. Dollars and cents...

    Some insurers are betting on the health and wellness message, but I can assure you, based on several discussions with healthcare operators, there isn't much upside to that approach. Sounds good in theory, looks bad on paper.

    It will be an interesting time as we approach 2014. The healthcare bill as it is today could (will) change by that time. But, the time is now (regardless of what happens) for insurers to begin to uncover those definable moments and conversations with their future customers and partners.

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