Cover Story: Invincible Marketing
A young woman wears a wide smile and a bike helmet as a display ad captures her gleeful moment of pedaling down a New York City street. "YOU'RE NOT INVINCIBLE," yells white type on a purple background below her image. "SO GET HEALTH INSURANCE NOW, BEFORE YOU NEED IT," loudly suggests the next display ad image, which hosts a smaller "learn more" button next to the EmblemHealth logo.
It's messages like these on direct mail letters, postcards, banner ads, Facebook ads, DRTV, email and online that helped NYC-based insurance company EmblemHealth acquire 33,000 to 35,000 new "qualified health plan" members from Sept. 1, 2013, to March 31, 2014, says Shirish P. Dant, the company's head of consumer marketing and market insights. Insurance providers think of those six months as the first member enrollment period for the new Affordable Care Act. "Qualified health plan" members are 26- to 64-year-old Americans who aren't covered under Medicaid or their parents' health insurance.
In 2012, Dant thought of the 370,000 prospects in NYC, Long Island and Westchester County as unknowns, because they hadn't had health insurance before, and that meant Dant had no insurance data to help target marketing to them. So in April 2012, EmblemHealth hired Columbia, Md.-based customer relationship marketing (CRM) agency Merkle to help it create a prospect database; develop analytics, predictive models and segmentation; and enhance the insurer's focus on digital marketing.
Hence, the "young invincibles" segment was born, as was the happy cyclist's targeted banner ad. Other segments—such as "trusting families" and "pragmatics"—saw other messaging.
It seems the results make EmblemHealth smile as wide as that cyclist does.
"We met or exceeded our goals, but on different metrics," Dant says. "In terms of responses, direct mail did not meet our response goal, but … it exceeded our goal when it came to response-to-lead conversion."
"This was brand new for everybody," Dant says. "It was sort of uncharted territory, because it was a brand new program."
Lawmakers passing the Affordable Care Act in 2010 wanted the nation's uninsured residents—48 million in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (opens as a PDF)—to become insured.
So, by definition, EmblemHealth couldn't create lookalike predictive models from an existing database of customers. But the goal was clear: to acquire customers.
To do so, EmblemHealth had to create a database, gather consumer data, analyze it, segment it and employ it across channels, including digital.
EmblemHealth and Merkle gathered data from a government survey in which respondents stated whether they would sign up for insurance on the state exchange. (New York State opted in and created the New York Health Benefit Exchange.)
"We knew, for example, … in any given ZIP code, what proportion of people living in that ZIP code qualify for an ACA product because of their age and because of their income bracket," Dant says. "Then we used the data source, Merkle's data source, to identify people that met those age and income criteria. There were some other variables also that we looked at, but those were the primary ones. That is how we developed our model for deciding who we should be targeting our direct mail to."
So segmenting more than 8 million New Yorkers primarily based on age, income and where they lived, EmblemHealth and Merkle whittled the list down to 1 million. Then, Dant says, more than half of the 1 million remaining were Medicaid members. Ultimately, 370,000 names matched the qualified health plan prospect pool guidelines.
EmblemHealth had its goal: Ask 370,000 New Yorkers to pick its insurance plans.
Despite the types of targets being completely new to EmblemHealth, Dant says the company had an idea of whom it wanted to insure.
"Over the last couple of years, we have become extremely data-driven in terms of our direct marketing," he says. "We employ techniques like predictive modeling [and] decile analysis to drive all of our campaigns." For ACA marketing, EmblemHealth used behavioral consumer segmentation research conducted in 2012 and 2013 to better understand the under-65 population in its market.
"Based on that [research], we figured that our under-65 population consisted of five consumer segments," Dant continues. "We were able to describe those five consumer segments. We were able to develop demographic, psychographic and behavioral profiles of those five segments. … We were able to determine what the stated media preferences would be. We were able to figure out what types of messaging may appeal to consumers that make up those different segments."
EmblemHealth dubbed the segments "young invincibles," "trusting families," "health managers," "pragmatics" and "procrastinators."
In addition to what Dant terms "qualitative insights," EmblemHealth created a segmentation algorithm "which allowed us, based on a few [pieces] of demographic information … [to] actually predict which of the five segments somebody may belong to. We used that segmentation algorithm to actually map that segmentation to Merkle's database."
Figuring out where the best prospects were helped them figure out what communications to put in front of them, says David Magrini, SVP and partner at Merkle in insurance and wealth management consulting.
"Our entire campaign was based on a three-pronged framework that we had developed of: educate, engage and enroll," Dant says. "Initially, at least in the campaign, our mandate was very much to educate our prospects because, just given the fact that it was a brand new product for everybody, there was a lot of confusion. There was a lot of misinformation. There was a … lack of information that everybody had."
Educating and engaging with prospects also helped fill the sales funnel with qualified leads, Magrini says.
For instance, call center representatives were helping members understand the process and enroll, Dant says.
Magrini says the data drove "our campaign choices by channel, by segment" and helped EmblemHealth and Merkle "follow people through the purchase funnel in that same manner." Plus, no matter what channel the prospects were in, EmblemHealth engaged with them by using the appropriate creative for each segment.
"Young invincibles" may have seen that cyclist on a postcard, atop an email, in that banner ad and on DRTV. The television spots emphasized that EmblemHealth has "low-priced plans," which Dant says were the second-lowest-priced plans among that area's competitors for 2014.
"Trusting families" probably noticed a young couple, perhaps like themselves, who appeared to be moving into a home, in the image atop reminder emails telling them, "YOU MAY STILL QUALIFY FOR 2014 HEALTH INSURANCE." On their Facebook News Feeds, a different, but still happy, couple seems to laugh at something they're both viewing on a single smartphone, while below them appears the phrase, "Get off to a healthy start this spring. Don't miss the March 31 deadline to get health insurance for 2014."
Depending on the segment, prospects in "health managers," "pragmatics" and "procrastinators" segments may have seen a pensive hot beverage drinker below the first highlighted message, "WHAT A GREAT PLAN FEELS LIKE." That image was in the first direct mail piece EmblemHealth sent in Q4 2013. The second mail piece, also sent in Q4 2013, initially appears to show the message on the yellow taxi door below a grinning cabbie. "There's a reason millions of New Yorkers choose EmblemHealth," it reads in EmblemHealth logo purple before switching to the next line's white. "We offer quality health coverage at some of the lowest prices available."
During open enrollment, EmblemHealth sent millions of pieces of direct mail, Magrini says.
"Our first campaign was designed heavily around direct mail, with several million pieces of mail sent through multiple touches to target households," Dant says of the three separate mailings. "But during the course of the campaign, we reduced the mail volume, because digital search and display emerged as being more efficient for both responses and leads."
Dant says, originally digital marketing wasn't as targeted as the direct mail. The online efforts got more personalized around the same time direct mail wasn't reaching all of EmblemHealth's goals.
"It was more geo-targeted at that point," Magrini says. "But those learnings [are] what will be driving our digital strategies going forward."
New Yorkers eligible for EmblemHealth's insurance saw plenty more about the plans—and not just the two to three touches per prospect that came via direct means.
"It was a combination of direct marketing, brand marketing, as well as community marketing," Dant says.
The point was to ensure the message, that EmblemHealth is "What Care Feels Like," got delivered.
"One of the segments that we were heavily targeting was what we were calling … the 'Young Invincibles,' because we felt that they were more likely to be uninsured and also more likely to respond to the health plans that were becoming available through the ACA," Dant says. "Also, [because of] the fact that we were the second-lowest-priced plan, we knew that—based on our research that we had done, the segmentation research—we knew that the segment was highly price-sensitive."
Because EmblemHealth is fairly low-priced compared to its competition, "We also felt that would be the segment that would respond to our marketing," Dant continues. "As we were designing our direct mail creative, even our DRTV creative, our digital ... Our entire creative strategy was very much driven by the fact that we were going to target certain segments. I don't want to say that 'Young Invincibles' were the only segment we were targeting, but clearly the needs of the 'Young Invincibles' segment were definitely something that we were using to guide our creative decisions."
EmblemHealth provided prospects with many response options. For instance, the first batch of direct mail bearing the likeness of the steamy beverage drinker includes a personalized two-page letter. It has two mentions of the trackable URL emblemhealth.com/plans4u; five of a toll-free number, two of which are in the main copy; two notices of the location of the addressee's nearest AdvantageCare Physician's office; and two plugs for the EmblemHealth bus passing by, one suggesting that prospects call the toll-free number to make an appointment with its occupants.
What the mailing didn't have was a business response envelope or any other way to respond via direct mail. Prospects didn't get BREs or other direct mail response options "because there was no offer" and prospects have to go online to enroll, Merkle says. They decided that response channel didn't make sense for the campaign.
"There were two, maybe three, primary ways by which our prospects were responding to us," Dant says. "The first one was through a phone number—an 800 number that goes into a call center—where somebody could get more information and potentially get help with signing onto the plan. ...
"The second method was coming to a … site," he says. "There were multiple landing pages. They were all sort of customized to the individual campaigns. We knew exactly where somebody was coming from. They could provide their PII [personally identifiable information] on a landing site, and then we would reach out to them and give them the additional information they needed."
Physical store locations allowed prospects a third way to learn more about their insurance options.
"We call them EmblemHealth Neighborhood Care," Dant concludes. "Prospects had the opportunity to go to those locations and get information from us, and also get help in terms of signing up. In addition [and] sort of related to the third one, we also had various meetings and seminars. We had … vans—all of which gave people the opportunity to get more information from us and also get help, in terms of enrolling."
"[In] direct mail," Dant says, "We made some adjustments to the volume of mail that we were sending, and also to which geographies and types of prospects we were sending mail to, based on the responses that we were getting."
In DRTV, EmblemHealth monitored each station's performance and made appropriate campaign adjustments.
"We were reallocating media to the stations that were doing better," he says. "We also noticed that we had two DRTV spots, and we found that one of the two spots was doing better than the others. We increased the amount of media time that the better-performing ad was getting.
"In terms of reducing cost per lead for display, for example," Dant explains, "We noticed that Facebook was doing significantly better than the other areas, digitally. We again increased the amount of Facebook spend."
Magrini says the campaign was a living entity.
"Basically," he says, "as we monitor results on a daily basis, week-over-week and year-over-year, we're optimizing across all channels, based on the factors Shirish just mentioned."
The State of EmblemHealth
With a healthy digital strategy in place for the campaign centered on the 2015 enrollment period, the company fell a bit behind on one of its messaging elements. Dant says this year, EmblemHealth is sixth among its competitors in terms of pricing.
"Having said that, I'm not sure I can give you the exact membership target that we have for this year," Dant says. "But it is to grow our membership."
Now, the insurance provider knows to use more Facebook News Feed ads, search engine marketing and display ads.
"We have become smarter about which digital property providers we have better response [in] than others," Dant says.
Magrini names a couple more technologies: "Just to add there," he says, "in [a] digital perspective, utilizing a mix of traditional and sort of contextual buy in—as well as programmatic buy-in—we saw a success with both of those strategies."
Plus, EmblemHealth now knows some touchpoints won't end up attributed.
"There were quite a large number of people who were going directly to the state exchange and enrolling," Dant says. "Clearly, that was happening. We believe that it was driven by all of the marketing that we were doing, as well as by the community marketing and the brand marketing that we were doing."
Invincible marketing takes a lot of work, they say.