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October 29, 2013
Obamacare as a Marketing Case Study
The introduction of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) is a marketing case study in what not to do.

Health exchanges are a new, fundamentally different, and untried way for consumers to approach healthcare, especially for those millions without it. Established insurance brands compete with lesser-known brands and start-ups in a free-for-all retail arena that is driven primarily by monthly costs.  

Communications have to take a retail direct marketing approach rather than a wonky policy-making tone and manner. Governments and insurers need to become 24/7 retailers. And the websites ought to scale and work properly.

This unique marketing opportunity is especially challenging because nobody really understands what Obamacare is or how it will work. And political voices on the left and the right are dedicated to keeping it that way. Surveys of healthy millennials, the most desirable and necessary customers, indicate many see no need to insure themselves.

To compete in this marketplace, consider these seven tactics:

Brand Identity Rules. If they’ve heard of you, you have a fighting chance. Awareness and preference are top priorities. Even well-established insurers, used to selling through employers, will be below the radar. Establishing a clear brand voice and positioning is critical to retail success. We just might be on the cusp of a new round of spokespeople on the order and magnitude of Flo, The Gecko, or the AFLAC duck, though early efforts in several states seem to be very fluffy and short on details. Voice, tone, attitude and manner count. The classic insurance industry posture — we know what’s best for you — will not fly.

Two-Way Conversations. Establishing a direct-to-consumer brand requires engaging your target customers in a meaningful conversation. Your best prospects don’t just buy a product; they buy into the company providing it. Aligning brand values and sentiments with best prospects is critical. Establishing a position as a knowledgeable friend and adviser without preaching or scaring prospects matters. Giving consumers opportunities to ask and to tell will separate the winners from the also-rans.

Name It. Keep it simple and intuitive.  Bundling plans with snappy, telegraphic names will assist consumers. A “Young Family Plan” instantly communicates targeting, intention, and value. Anticipate likely consumer segments (e.g., singles, partners, new families, growing families) and construct affordable packages with fewer rather than more choices to resonate with millennial consumers.

Talk Price. Millennials are unemployed, underemployed, and strapped. Everything they do is run through an affordability filter. The driving marketplace variables will be the what’s-in-it-for-me compared to the monthly price. Consumers will separate “must-have” from “nice-to-haves” then decide how the price will impact their monthly budgets.
Don’t be bashful about communicating price and value. Don’t hesitate to offer different payment schemes. Even though it’s mandatory, if the fine is cheaper than the fees, there is no incentive to buy. Smart players will sell-in very affordable plans and then up-sell over time.  

Be Present. Millennials are on the move and highly social. Presenting your brand in social and mobile media is table stakes. Understanding which devices and forums serve which marketing objectives is important. Insurers need the ability to target, segment, and engage millennials in multiple channels at any time of the day or night. Nobody will fill out an application on a smartphone in the back of a cab. But they will fill out the form on a tablet or on Facebook while they are searching and researching the competition and consulting friends.
Concentrate on Channels. Speak with one voice across channels. Your website, TV, radio spots or print ads, 800#, Facebook presence, email, and postal mail must look and feel similar. Leverage the inherent qualities of each channel for maximum customer engagement. Expect consumers to use multiple channels to discover, research, and assess offerings before and after buying.

Use Technology as a Utility. Make it easy to print out, email, and share content. Don’t fear comparative shopping. Anticipate the conversations and frequently asked questions that will come up in the news media, in online communities, on blogs, in search or live chat, and in-person between friends and family members. Develop content for those situations and deploy content and PR assets accordingly. Think about ways to syndicate or seed branded content in places where your best prospects regularly go. 

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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