B to C Marketing, Sales and Service: The New Battlefield for Health Plans – 09/17/10

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Historically, commercial health plans have leveraged a traditional “B to B to C” model for marketing, selling and servicing health insurance products to their members. The breakdown for this distribution model is as follows – Health plans “B” create a product catalog for their broker network “B”; and brokers in turn sell to employers or groups “C”.

The pressures of a post-reform world are forcing a shift in the sales strategies of payers. Medical Loss Ratio compliance rules for example, are pinching the income statements of health plans so significantly that getting closer to the member (i.e. eliminating the broker) will be table stakes if they choose to remain competitive. Net result? The traditional model will fade and be replaced by a direct-to-consumer (“B to C”) strategy.

This threat to the broker-driven sales model is compounded by consumer “connectedness” (everywhere-WiFi + prolific mobile devices + social applications) where empowered individuals are becoming engaged relative to researching, monitoring, communicating and paying for their own health care.

Around our shop, we’re referring to this shift as ‘consumer engagement’; a concept pioneered by a few BlueCross organizations who successfully cultivated direct-to-consumer messages via TV, radio, print and online media for some time. Early on these consumer-direct campaigns were an anomaly, but we’re now seeing this approach take hold more broadly. This is more than simply educating potential members about “the right health plan” – it’s a 1:1 marketing approach with messaging the places the health plan in a new light as an entity capable of tailoring health and wellness services (bundled inside of health insurance) to individuals.

Consider what UnitedHealth Group did during this summers’ PGA Masters Tournament. The health plan behemoth aired variations of its “Heath in Numbers” television spots to showcase an optimized health experience for their members thanks to uniquely intelligent tools and services.

If Cigna, Aetna, Wellpoint and others haven’t taken note, they will – and rest assured the big ad agencies will be quick to offer them ideas honed from decades long slugfests in industries like consumer retailing and banking. These health plans are stepping onto a new competitive battlefield, and will likely find themselves trying to out-market the likes of Walmart and Target.

TripleTree is way out in front of other strategic advisors on this topic and has strong viewpoints on where the next set of industry inflection points will occur. Principally, we’re convinced that the health plans can’t go it alone successfully – they lack the internal resources and specialized skills to tackle consumerism, much less the turn-key solutions need to support the state health insurance exchanges.

We’d like to know what you think, and have a great week!

We’d also like to invite you to participate in our one question survey:
Given the momentum around consumer engagement, prioritize the five initiatives below relative to your experience as a member of a health plan.

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Chris Hoffmann