Reaching Out to today's health insurance consumer

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It's fascinating to consider how many choices consumers have today. There are infinitely more media channels, more ways to gather information about products and services, and seemingly never-ending ways for prospective customers to make a purchase - how they want and when they want. In health insurance specifically, it is important to note the emerging trends that many forward-thinking direct marketers are supporting and applying.

Driving consumers online

In the past few years, the health insurance industry has seen the online channel become much more highly evolved. Major insurance carriers now deploy online solutions, and telephone agents have been successfully integrated into Web sales strategies. Online insurance brokers are aggressively using traditional direct marketing strategies and techniques to drive consumers to Web sites. As a result, more and more consumers are moving from simply shopping for health insurance online to actually buying health insurance online. This is a big step forward from only a few years ago.

Driving consumers to retail

A hot topic among savvy health insurance marketers today is the concept of creating a bricks-and-mortar presence. This includes the use of physical storefronts and tractor-trailer trucks deployed to various events. The big idea here is that consumers can come in and kick the proverbial tires on a policy while speaking to an agent. Such retail locations would also be ideal for handling customer service issues. The health insurers we know that are considering this route are looking to successful retailers from which to emulate bricks-and-mortar best practices.

The appeal behind the retail model is that the atmosphere is interactive, open and comfortable. Gone are the days when consumers want to sit on the other side of a big oak desk talking to an insurance agent. That said, the new retail model affords an attractive alternative for those consumers who prefer the interactivity of purchasing insurance from another human being.

Healthcare marketers that adapt this new retail model will use tried-and-true direct marketing approaches to drive people to storefront locations much the same way Blockbuster or Barnes & Noble would use geo-demographic direct mail to target prospects based on physical location.

Integrating media

Sophisticated health care marketers are also more aggressively integrating traditional offline marketing channels with online distribution. The intention here is to ensure that consumers are able to shop and purchase through their preferred channel or channels. With the power squarely in the hands of the consumer, it is incumbent upon all marketers - regardless of industry - to use all channels and direct marketing methods available to reach and satisfy a consumer's need to use various channels for research, purchasing and customer service.

Direct marketers of health insurance are wise to recognize that the days of measuring success solely on a media-specific cost per lead and cost per sale are gone. Instead, the future is brightest for those insurers that measure the total result - the aggregate of all marketing activity, including online, offline, and agent/broker efforts - to measure the results of their total direct marketing investment on sales.

The reality of the marketplace today is that direct marketing raises the awareness and interest for all media channels consumers are using when shopping for and buying health insurance, and total sales are supported by all direct marketing efforts. Today's health insurance consumers are "large and in charge" and those marketers in it for the long run are adapting their approaches to meet changing consumer wants and needs.

Linda Armstrong is senior vice president of account services at DMW Worldwide LLC, Wayne, PA. Reach her at larmstrong@dmwdirect.com.

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