Photo of the Kaiser Permanente boardwalk tent at the Colorado State Fair in 2014.

It’s amazing what people will tell you in exchange for the chance to throw a beanbag through a hole.

There’s no doubt that many of the people who came to see our South By Southwest presentation on Sunday were there for the bloody Marys and taco bar. But it was exhilarating for me nonetheless.
Being invited to present at a conference my friends and family have heard about has caused them to ask what it’s all about.
It’s about converting a $2 million investment into a conservative $50 million in revenue. And helping thousands of people find quality, affordable health care in the process.
The program my team has been building over three years is a departure from spray-and-pray marketing, stuffing mailboxes with junk. We invite people into a conversation about health that answers their questions and talk about their needs. Then when they are in the market to buy health insurance, we make it easy for them to get the plan and benefits they need.
Our “Boardwalk” tent at festivals is the most obvious departure from tradition. It’s a triple-wide tent full of games and a green screen photo booth. Before kids can toss bean bags or spin the Wheel of Health, Mom or Dad answers an iPad questionnaire, providing their name, email address, household income, and health insurance status. It’s amazing what people will tell you in exchange for the opportunity to throw a beanbag through a hole.
A day or two after the event, the participants receive an email thanking them for their visit and offering to continue email correspondence about health and health insurance. Very few have opted out, and the email open rates are well above marketing benchmarks. The key is to be thoughtful about the concerns and questions consumers have about health issues and the changes wrought by the Affordable Care Act.
As a former newspaper reporter and editor, I find it fun and rewarding to once again inform the public. As we become more sophisticated, we are able to tailor the outreach based on the audience’s email open rates and their clicks through to more information. We stay in conversation as long as we provide information of value.
The automated portion of this program allows us to keep track of the online interaction with our growing email database. The program, using one of the industry’s leading digital marketing systems by Marketo, assigns scores to each consumer based on their online behaviors. For example, someone who has indicated they are going to be making a health insurance choice in the next couple of months and who has shown interest in the health information we have sent to them will achieve a score total that makes them a “qualified lead.” They are ready to be turned over to the sales team, which reaches out by phone to try to close a sale. The sales agent has much more than a phone number. He or she has the information the consumer has provided us to date, such as their current and past insurance experience, their health needs, and family size. The agent can offer a plan that is tailored to that prospect and better explain benefits of importance to them.
In the first year of health care reform, 23 percent of the people who entered our marketing program are now customers. Even after the sale, we continue to engage them online with content that helps them get more from their care and coverage. That online behavior is tracked by the automated system, making next year’s renewal conversation even more tailored to their needs.
Now that we have the infrastructure in place, we are able to quickly test other ways to bring prospects into our program. We have used our Facebook presence and content, online advertising, and old-fashioned email prospecting. We have to be thoughtful about the content we push out because it’s easy for the consumer to opt out of the program if we are perceived as spamming them.
The program is much less expensive than the more traditional marketing methods, such as direct mail. Not only is an email the fraction of the cost of a letter, there is much less wasted effort. The letter that is tossed in the trash without opening gives us no feedback. They may not ever be a customer, yet we will send them circulars for months and years to come.
The prospects in our system have “opted in” to the exchange in some way. We know from the information they have provided and from their ongoing engagement with our content that they have some level of interest.
My colleague John Common and I have been asked to tell our story again next month at the Marketing Nation Summit hosted by Marketo. We will be joined by our partners in the Sales Department, who have helped us fine-tune the program and are delighted by the improved quality of leads they receive.


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