By Richard Goldman, CEO, Competiscan
Attention medical and insurance marketers: expect a busy direct mail marketing season to continue after a big boost at the end of last year.
The fourth quarter of 2020 – which encompassed the all-important 2021 Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) for Medicare Advantage that runs from October 15-December 7—saw a double digit increase of direct mail marketing year over year. Mailings increased 19% in 2020 compared to a single digit increase of roughly 8% in 2019, according to Competiscan research.
Why the increase in direct and digital marketing during the 2021 AEP? For one, the size of the market is increasing; over the next ten years, all Baby Boomers will age into Medicare eligibility. And, although older consumers over the age of 65 tend to favor talking to insurance agents in person to research and discuss Medicare plans, the pandemic forced this high-risk group to stay closer to home.
As a result, with a bigger audience and fewer in-person interactions, direct mail and email marketing become an essential tool to get the word out about plan benefits and offerings. According to Competiscan’s Medicare Advantage Survey conducted last month, that trend should continue as fewer seniors claimed that they would attend an in-person seminar in 2021, while more are likely to use the phone. This is important because based on our analysis, the most successful direct mail marketing pieces prominently featured instructions on how to reach a licensed agent via phone.
While COVID-19 continues to slow marketing activities for some industries, Competiscan anticipates that following in the footsteps of the 2021 AEP, direct and digital marketing for health care providers and insurance companies will continue to flourish during the Open Enrollment Period (OEP) that runs from January 1 to March 31, and ongoing Special Enrollment Periods (SEP) throughout the year. This is due to decreased in-person meetings and a growing pool of eligible consumers as more Americans reach Medicare eligibility.
Also impacting increased AEP, OEP and SEP direct marketing activity is a dramatic expansion of existing insurers’ regional footprint. In 2020, In 2020 we saw state expansions in notable volumes by key insuretechs including Bright Health, Devoted Health, and Oscar. That has led to a more competitive Medicare landscape, and one that’s put even larger, veteran insurance carriers on heightened alert.
With the demand for in-person meetings on the decline, now is the time for insurance carriers and medical marketers to invest those extra dollars in direct and digital marketing and to figure out how to differentiate themselves from the growing competition. Here are some tips to do that based on Competiscan’s proprietary research.
• Focus on regular engagement and retention efforts.
According to our survey, 77% of consumers 65 years or older said they plan to renew with their existing provider. However, retaining new customers in a virtual environment with consumers who prefer to interact in-person can be a challenge. Many providers are turning to direct mail and email marketing to close the gap. For insurers looking to retain their members in 2021, regular engagement is key. In 2020, 59% of consumers claimed their Medicare Advantage plan engages them in a positive way, and seniors indicated that the preferred frequency to be engaged was monthly.
• Offer the features and benefits that customers want.
With so many new entrants to the marketplace last year, even large carriers need to revisit their offerings. Be assured that the newcomers are trying out different tools, messages, features and benefits. That might mean targeting specific benefits to improve health, such as virtual fitness and wellness programs, which increased last year as more people stayed home. According to our survey, respondents said the most influential offerings when selecting a new Medicare Advantage plan are access to providers and physicians, doctor visits with low or no deductibles, and low out-of-pocket costs. Even though telemedicine and digital tools were deemed the least important, half of those surveyed said they had at least some influence in their selection. Meanwhile, coverage that travels with you was deemed less influential this year than last year, although still important.
• Test different types of mailings and home in on the right messaging.
With direct and digital mailings on the rise, now is the time to test out new designs and messages to stay ahead of the competition. Consider the type of envelope you’re using or the zip codes you’re targeting. Even with a traditionally less tech-savvy group, more consumers 65 and older are doing their own research online when it comes to selecting Medicare Advantage plans, so direct marketing messages have to be on point. Design and layout are also important. For example, according to our survey, the most successful direct mailings by a large carrier were able to connect because of clarity and good use of imagery.
With the 2021 Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) for Medicare Advantage in the books, now is the time to focus on the competitive landscape and test what works for the audience you’re trying to reach. A favorite quote of mine is “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” With research clearly indicating the growing impact of direct and digital marketing on Medicare plan selection, insurance carriers big and small, veteran and newbie, need to consider all angles and tools when it comes to getting a leg up on the competition.