6 Strategies for Medicare AEP Marketing Success

What makes for a successful AEP goes beyond strategy, beyond creative and goes beyond media. It delves deep into an effective team, working well together. Collaboration toward a common goal doesn’t happen by accident.

The leaves have changed into radiant hues and have begun to drop, football season is in full swing, and we’re already deep into Fall. Over dozens of Medicare Marketing AEP seasons, healthcare marketers have come to view Fall from a different lens. And now we’re in the middle of the Medicare Annual Election Period.

What makes for a successful AEP goes beyond strategy,  beyond creative and goes beyond media. It delves deep into an effective team, working well together. Collaboration toward a common goal doesn’t happen by accident.

In our experience, working with many clients, AEP success comes from a combination of at least six dynamics. Simply stated:

1.) Planning — There. I said it. While this may sound basic, every year as the Medicare Marketing landscape changes, it slows down even the fastest among us. Time and again we’ve seen how rallying EARLY around the metrics you’ve achieved for the AEP and marrying them with strategic trends in the market can be crucial to success. Why?

After the planning comes the real work. Timing is everything is a cliché for good reason. So much happens early in the season. We know that Medicare beneficiaries who are open to switching made up their minds months ago that would do so. And as of Oct. 1, they were flush with opportunities to do so. Backing into that timing and making “early” your priority is easier than it sounds. But you can do it.

2.) Collaboration — Boiled down, direct marketing equals sales! When AEP sales and marketing teams work closely together, fireworks can happen. Information sharing is a two-way street.

Based on their first-hand knowledge of the competitive landscape, sales teams have a unique perspective that can benefit creative. Face it, when themes persist in their work on the front line — they translate well into messaging.

The same cohesion is required to ensure that sales makes the most out of the opportunities that are generated by your marketing team. Sharing information early and often with materials and other resource will help to prepare the call center for the work you’ve invested so much in.

3.) Reporting — Determining what metrics matter for your AEP is the first step. Then put in the plan to make sure you can do it. In all of our years of AEP campaigns, I can confidently say that this can happen. But also, that it doesn’t always happen by flipping a switch. Be sure to ask for what you want while there is still time to figure it out!

4.) Optimization — CMS rules and timing don’t really allow much in the way of creative flexibility “on the fly”. But once you are underway there is still much magic to be spun through optimization. Regular analysis of your media  and a mechanism for acting on it can make or break your performance. Don’t just “set it and forget it”.

5.) Embrace the Details — As I read this blog and compare it with the hard work of the season it makes me realize that so often success is in the details. The every single day details that we chase down to get right.

6.) Partnership — Partnering with the right agency can make all the difference. Look for follow-through. Look for energy. Look for experts!

Finally, remember that your goals are not met by AEP alone. Let’s get busy on making the most of the rest of the year.

Solving the Puzzle of a Medicare Age-in Strategy

As Medicare acquisition marketing gets harder, the next frontier will evolve. In this next stage, growth strategies are likely to swap to more of a robust age-in strategy. Getting the age-in year “right” relies not only on a tightly managed communication plan but also the content to support it.

As the Medicare marketing landscape has changed, we have seen the rate of Medicare eligible consumers who switch plans drop, and then plateau. In this next frontier, growth strategies are likely to swap to more of a robust age-in strategy, preparing those coming up on their Medicare eligibility for the process of selecting the best plan for them.

The journey that consumers take during their 64th year as they navigate their choices opens up some exciting possibilities. They’ll be choosing between Medicare Advantage, Original Medicare and other options. And healthcare marketers will be navigating:

• A wide open calendar – the Initial Enrollment period lasts seven months. A plan for communication to your age-in prospect pool as they age-in will be custom to their timeline.

A wide open media frontier – with an audience that engaged in a variety of media channels. In fact, in the U.S., there are more Facebook users from the 65 and above age group than those in the 13- to 17-year-old group.

• The potential for scale with age-in that comes with the influx of boomer population.

As exciting as the opportunity is, being there for the age-in “when” is also complex. But mainly from the perspective of doing so efficiently. Think about it, over the span of a year, consumers will choose their point of entry. Getting this “right” relies on a tightly managed communication plan and the content to support it.

The age-in timeline will need to support:

  • Awareness – Trying reaching out to the audience early, this way you’ll inspire confidence and make it easier to engage. Starting early will ensure you are part of the consideration set.
  • Engagement – Try to connect their planning process to your brand by engaging in a dialogue. And then tailor your approach. You’ll want to have the content available to satisfy the research needs of your audience.
  • Conversion – If you’ve done all of these things well, you’ll be in the position to support the really good stuff – the shopping!

That’s a lot! And determining the right amount of touches is daunting! That’s why we recommend investing in a data environment to help you make sense of the situation.

Your age-in data environment should enable:

  • Clarity – aggregate all relevant prospect and customer-level activities into one analyzable and consistent source.
  • Accurate reporting – drive accurate and timely reporting from your offline and online marketing spend and efforts
  • Deep insights – build a foundation for discovering marketing insights based on real world customer interactions.

A data environment will give you the confidence you need to make decisions and be in control of the situation. Then you’ll be able to set up all of the nifty content you need for success!

Are Your Data Decisions Sending the Right Message?

The old way of “house-holding” is relevant when making household purchases, like cable service. But, it’s not relevant with making individual purchases, like shoes. Today even a 3-year-old child has a say in the type of shoes they wear. We like to think of the new way to view the household as the Intelligent Household where each person in the household is treated like an individual and each consumer journey matters. Separately. Individually.

How much thought have you given to the act of “house-holding” your data? Quite possibly a lot. Grouping customers together into “family units” is known as house-holding. This is done for at least one important reason — savings. After all, treating the individuals within a household uniquely seems pretty expensive. But, at what cost does this savings come? Understanding a customer’s household is a big part of your data driven marketing efforts.

The Data Driven Decision of Intelligent House-Holding

The old way of “house-holding” is relevant when making household purchases, like cable service. But, not with making individual purchases, like shoes. Today even a 3-year-old child has a say in the type of shoes they wear.

We like to think of the new way to view the household as the Intelligent Household where each person in the household is treated like an individual and each consumer journey matters. Separately. Individually.

Gender Identity Matters in Marketing and Data, Too

Here are two ways to consider – or reconsider – your approach to house-holding data for both digital and print impact.

1.) The impact of gender differences on response

With all of the brands dedicated to serving only-women (and there are even some few focused on only-men) it got us to thinking. Do men and women respond at the same rate to the same things (when the product and service applies equally to both)? After all, they are both people — and we are making our best creative appeals to people without any particular bias.

Surprise! There is a difference. And, at least for some of our work, the difference is not small. Certainly not small enough to overlook. It’s a whole new data-driven discovery.

When you consider the fact that it is far more common for women to be “house-holded” within the name of the man of the household and when you consider the fact that women often make the purchasing decisions, this does not yield an optimized approach.

Instead, why not seek to identify the ways you can make a creative appeal more to each gender and try it. For example, women are more hungry for information, background and rationale – and may be more skeptical of promises. There’s a lot of good data and research that supports this direction — and I’m abbreviating it here.

2.) The loss of a connection established

I struggled mightily for how to phrase this one. Here’s what I mean. I have a certain brand to which I am quite faithful. I make many purchases within this particular brand — spend more than my fair share on their products, and I own their credit card, solely in my name. My husband also favors the same brand. His name is not on my credit card, and he does not have one of his own. Yes, he buys things at the same place, but not with the same account and not with one of their store cards. Yet, when I go to MY page on their site, I have been house-holded — based on some fancy data work that they no doubt worked hard to manipulate. After all, we both do make purchases and we do live at the same address.

“Hello, Spyro!” it greets me cheerfully when I land on the profile page of my account, where he has never once made a purchase.

At what cost does this slick data manipulation come? Well, loyalty, I’m afraid. And reputation. I’m not exactly thrilled with this, and neither is he. He gets served up recommendations for teenage girl clothes and my identity is seemingly lost — or at the very best, hidden. Not ideal. And frankly, it doesn’t make them seem very smart.

As marketers we know it is important to value your clients and demonstrate that value in ways large and small. I sincerely doubt that this brand is even aware of the impact this (likely operationally-driven) act. Yet this simple mistake adds-up to ignoring people who spend money. Ouch.

This particular house-holding offers no advantage — there is no savings in the bill or statement sent, so I doubt due diligence was paid to the change. Once my page was mine. And now it’s not.

What ways have you seen gender differences impact your marketing efforts?

Why Direct Mail Is the Rodney Dangerfield of Media

If you’re in control of marketing and you’ve ignored the direct mail channel — you may be making a mistake. And yet, like the famed Energizer Bunny, the mail channel keeps performing. For most of our clients, their direct mail program reliably brings in more leads than any other single channel. By a lot.

If you’re in control of marketing and you’ve ignored the direct mail channel — you may be making a mistake. Easy to dismiss, for its role as a dinosaur — direct mail is the Rodney Dangerfield of media. I’ll admit that’s an almost extinct reference — but the comedian’s famous “I don’t get respect” act truly fits here. Great direct mail campaigns lead to big time sales — which — ultimately yield respect. Years ago, after starting a career in advertising, I fell in love with direct mail for the oh-so gratifying value of measurement. Now with so many options for measurable media, that tangible benefit is no longer limited to the mail.

Somewhere along the line though, gradually people began to doubt the power of the direct mail channel. Smart people. For well over a decade we have had doubters question and condescend about the dinosaur that is mail.

It’s easy to see why. After all, do people really read their mail anymore? And the cost per impression is high.

Get ready to be surprised.

And yet, like the famed Energizer Bunny, the mail channel keeps performing. For most of our clients, their direct mail program reliably brings in more leads than any other single channel. By a lot. In all of our Medicare Marketing work, the direct mail reliably drives more members and responses than any other channel. The list goes on.

There was a time that no one thought using offline media to drive online results made sense. Think again.

In fact I’d say, the best way to think about direct mail is as a sales channel. You can identify your target universe and work back from the point of sale to determine the metrics. A true cohesion among sales and marketing teams.

It’s not old news. And it’s not the only news. The really exciting part is that your mail performance can and will be enhanced by other channels

Here are some rules for determining how and when to use direct mail as part of your marketing mix:

  1. Do the math — Whether it be on the back-of-a-napkin, or via a comprehensive pro-forma spreadsheet, finding out in advance whether you can afford the cost of a direct mail lead is the best first step. At our agency, our teams are trained in direct mail math – those basics are “job one”!
  2. Start with a test — If you walk around the office showing people your mail, I can already tell you how that will go. Pretty much no one will like what could turn out to be the best performing direct mail package. Nothing beats the value of “in-market” testing.
  3. Feature an offer — An offer is something that goes above and beyond the product features. While an offer is not mandatory, it really helps.
  4. Hire an agency — This is a deceivingly detailed business. Any agency that has been in business for a number of years (with a specialty of direct mail) has faced problems. Lots of obstacles big and small that you’d rather avoid. But, beyond the value of smooth-sailing, you’ll likely get a better performing piece from a group that lives and breathes direct mail best practices. I promise it will be more than worth it.
  5. Hire a proofer — See No. 4. This is an area where you’d rather not make a mistake. It’s expensive.

Experienced direct response (and also sales) professionals honor the channel that is direct, because it’s proven itself as a valued part of the plan.

Once it works for you, you too will find yourself committed to the mail. Even if, like me, you never check your own mailbox!

Medicare Marketing: 3 Strategies to Address Acquisition Declines

If you’re responsible for Medicare marketing, you are most likely already prepping for the eight weeks in the Fall that have become pivotal to your business strategy. It’s the only time of year that most seniors can make a change to their Medicare Advantage coverage so the noise during this timeframe has built to a crescendo. But beyond market competition, you face another challenge. In recent years the rate of seniors who switched plans has plateaued or outright declined. You need to rethink your approach.

If you’re responsible for Medicare marketing, you are most likely already prepping for the eight weeks in the Fall that have become pivotal to your business strategy. It’s the only time of year that most seniors can make a change to their Medicare Advantage coverage so the noise during this timeframe has built to a crescendo.

For acquisition marketers, the stakes are high and your goals are clear. Entice eligible seniors to switch to your plan during the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP).

But beyond market competition, you face another challenge. In recent years the rate of seniors who switched plans has plateaued or outright declined.

As recently as 2015, 23% of seniors switched plans. Today, it’s a mere 9%. What does a decline like this mean? If you apply the 9% to your marketable universe before calculating your expected return, the math itself will demonstrate the problem.

You need to rethink your approach to Medicare marketing.

But before you move to a new strategy, let’s dig a little deeper into the data. Turns out, the Medicare switchers are largely, if not exclusively confined to those who had an event or interaction that would predispose them to switching during the year.

It could be a customer service issue, a price complaint — or something else entirely — either way, it points to the conclusion of Deft Research that “switchers are not created during the AEP. A combination of consumer experiences and insurer outreach throughout the year creates them.”

How best to react? Embrace the challenge with a proactive approach to change.

3 Strategies to Address Medicare Marketing Declines

1. Rethink seasonality — Only 88% of seniors who had decided to switch plans by the start of AEP, actually switched. Similarly, 90% of those who decided to stay with their same 2017 coverage ultimately did. What does this data imply about seasonality? Although transactions occur during the AEP, the real work –relationships with members are year-round endeavors.

2. Engage with your audience — Embark on a strategy to build or establish a relationship ahead of the transactional AEP. Since today’s 65-year-old was in their mid-40s when the Google search engine launched, they are internet savvy, social and will engage. There are lots of ways to keep them warm, informed and connected.

3. Get to know the “new” senior — Could it be that the new senior audience is misunderstood? Let’s think about that… while “misunderstood” is a term usually reserved for teenagers, today’s Boomers see themselves, and aging very differently. They are dealing with their own version of being underestimated by today’s businesses. The boomer generation is dedicated to changing the way society thinks about retirement and aging. Loyalty is a two-way street with this audience. While the “old” senior citizen may have been known for their loyalty, the new senior is discriminating and looking for value to support their lifestyle — their needs come first!

While switching has been down — shopping behavior has not.  This dynamic leaves the window open for more change to occur, especially if you take their lead and engage the new seniors outside of a transactional and limited approach.