How to Sell Health Insurance in the Era of Obamacare

Blue Cross and Blue Shield Exec Turns to Consumer-Marketing Tactics

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How do you market health insurance in the era of Obamacare? Kind of like soap, cereal and other consumer products, according to one leading health-insurance company.

"We probably have a lot to learn from the Procter & Gambles of the world, and those types of companies that have been marketing to consumers for years," said Darren Rodgers, chief marketing officer at Health Care Service Corp., which operates Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in Illinois, Texas, Montana, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

Darren Rodgers
Darren Rodgers

In other words, as uninsured residents enter the market, companies must appeal to individual buyers, vs. relying solely on tried-and-true business-to-business marketing techniques. The first hurdle, of course, has been to deal with the technical glitches that have plagued the federal health-exchange website. The site, used by 36 states, offers health plans operated by companies such as Health Care Service Corp.

Mr. Rodgers discussed the glitches and explained how his company is changing its marketing and data-gathering techniques in response to health-care reform.

Ad Age: Are you frustrated by the shaky rollout of

Mr. Rodgers: I know the individuals who have not been able to access the site or who have not been able to complete the enrollment process must be frustrated … [But] there is some time here for the growing pains of the process to work out before anyone is really impacted. And that's what we try to tell the folks that call us. We try to remind them that your coverage wouldn't be effective until Jan. 1 anyway, so we will keep working with you and with the federal government to make sure that ... your coverage is effective on that date.

Ad Age: How have you changed your marketing to reach Obamacare consumers?

Mr. Rodgers: We've had to, first of all, figure out who those people are. We've been pretty good in the past about using business data, buying information from Dun & Bradstreet and others to profile corporate clients. But we have had to learn to delve into the individual-buyer marketplace, and a lot of these people today aren't even buyers, they are uninsured.

Ad Age: What data sources have you tapped to find those people?

Mr. Rodgers: Because many of our new clients will be coming from the ranks of the uninsured, we couldn't use the data that we have internally, but we had to go out and use external sources of data. … Some of that data is available publicly. ... We also have used Acxiom data to build profiles of communities so that we could target our marketing message.

Ad Age: What did you find out about your target market?

Mr. Rodgers: There will be a lot of opportunity with the Latino market. … The market that we are targeting is typically younger than our current customer. They are more text and mobile-enabled vs. PC-enabled. They don't typically have jobs where they sit in front of computer terminals all day, but they tend to have a smartphone or at least a mobile phone to get text messages. So we had to develop campaigns that could work via text.

Ad Age: Explain the texting campaign.

Mr. Rodgers: We didn't buy mobile phone numbers and then blanket-text-message people. People had to [volunteer] them. Some of that [occurred] at events and more of it was [through] the general messaging that we pushed out [including through branded digital videos]. We had a lot of people searching for information about health insurance or the exchanges on YouTube. The younger generation uses YouTube as a search engine.

Ad Age: Are you using traditional media?

Mr. Rodgers: We are using all of the traditional media. … This time of year is generally where we spend a lot of money, because we have various things going on [including open enrollment for employer-based plans]. We are used to having a fall media blitz. The things that are a little different for us are the targeted messages we are doing to reach individual consumers and to go after some of the newer markets. [We are] advertising on Spanish-language [media] more than we have in the past [and] advertising on bus stops that are in certain parts of towns where we know there are more uninsured.

Ad Age: Describe your creative approach.

Mr. Rodgers: The Blue Cross and Blue Shield brand is so universally recognized and universally associated with health insurance. … We also know it's an aspirational brand within the uninsured marketplace. ... Because of those things, we felt that it was appropriate to continue our strategy of just general brand advertising, but to make sure that it's in the places it needs to be to hit the [new] markets. We didn't necessarily need a new message; we just needed to be where [the consumers] are.

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