Hey, Digital Health and Benefits Innovators: There’s a Better Way to Reach Payers as Buyers

It’s one of my great privileges at Bliss that I get a front seat to witness – and influence – the staggering pace of healthcare innovation. People with chronic conditions now have hybrid human/digital support to manage those conditions. Mental health is finally losing the stigma that had held back investment in (and use of) meaningful care interventions. And first-movers are using OpenAI’s GPT-4 to surface fast, accurate, actionable insights, so we’re realizing more of the promises of the preponderance of patient data.

We’ve had a lot of conversations with Bliss legacy clients and new partners about where these innovations can make the biggest impact on The Quadruple Aim. Lots of them at the ViVE 2023 event in March.

“We want to reach payers,” innovators say.  

“That is a very good idea,” we respond. “Let’s do it – we know these audiences well. Which payers?”

That’s when they tend to pause, as we’ve found that many emerging health solutions define their buyer markets with the broadest noun possible – “payers.”

So one of the first conversations we tend to have is the incredible opportunity to deploy audience analytics and persona development to really target messages to specific buyer pain points within that monolith of payers.

It’s a discussion our team of analytics-driven storytellers has been welcoming, because wow, there is so much space for meaningful impact here:

  • Medicaid plans submitting RFPs to state insurance departments need to prove they’re incorporating social determinants of health and ensuring network adequacy. States contracted with more than 285 Medicaid Managed Care Organizations in 2020.
  • More than 3,500 Medicare Advantage plans are seeking to boost their Star ratings while offering competitive new benefits as CMS continually evolves what Medicare Advantage is allowed to cover.
  • There are 1,400 Taft-Hartley plans managed by multiemployer labor unions exercising collective bargaining efforts on behalf of members with disparate health needs.
  • And there were 30,200 self-insured health plans in 2022, up from 22,900 in 2018. This means there are a lot of new plans out there trying to find the best way to address population health within their membership. (And by the way … they’re onto you. The Business Group on Health’s Health Innovations Forum exists to help large employers find, vet and implement health innovations. Are you prepared for that opportunity?)

Fine-Tune Messaging & Distribution to Maximize Marketing Dollars

The field is absolutely ripe for refinement, but most innovators targeting payers don’t put a fine focus on their markets.

If you know, though, that a multiemployer health plan is supporting a union of long-haul truckers, who are more likely to smoke and be overweight, you’ll likely catch their attention with member engagement in smoking cessation programs, and encouraging uptake of remote management of diabetes, heart disease, and mental health.

If you’re trying to reach the chief medical officer at Medicaid plans, our persona research shows you’re going to want to lean in to your qualitative data on initiating and executing solutions that improve clinical processes, quality of care and utilization management.

And if you need to talk long-term impact on health, consider outreach to the larger parent organizations that manage both commercial plans and the Medicare Advantage plans employees in their regions age into.

This is the crucial prep work that makes any sales-enabling communications program really sing: If you haven’t narrowed down your buyers, and built personas that match up your services with relevant buyer roles’ pain points, then you’re probably spreading a limited marketing budget too thin.

An Audience-First Focus Guides What You Say, and Where

The bigger impact, in the payer space, isn’t with one-to-many marketing communications; it’s with one-to-few, where you speak the same language as your buyer and can present as a solution to the problem that’s been keeping them up at night.

With an audience-first approach, Bliss looks at payers with a narrower lens. As our clients refine their key markets, we’re helping them refine the messages that matter, whether those messages are about clinical data that proves an approach matters to health outcomes (ideally, third-party validated) or about turnkey collaboration to engage members so they use the services a payer is offering. (You of course have year-over-year retention on your list of goals in this crowded marketplace, yes?) 

We approach this methodically with an ABCDE model. Define and research your Audience first, and identify the B: Behavior you want that audience to take. You’re a good part of the way toward setting KPIs at this point, which sets you up to continue through the alphabet of communications strategy … A+Bà C for Content. What do you write and speak about that’s different from what others say? What words matter most, based on keyword analysis and digital “listening” to the conversations your market is having online, in media outlets, in annual reports or in their investor calls?

From C: Content, we go to D for Distribution. The Washington Post or Kaiser Health News might always be the right answer, but when you need more than two media hits, you want to be looking at whether you’re reaching trade associations like Medicaid Health Plans of America with member-centric case studies that matter, the private-company influencers like the Purchaser Business Group on Health, or (not “and”) maybe you want to focus on the IFEBP Annual Employee Benefit Conference, reaching sponsors of health plans for union members.

E for Evaluation wraps up the ABCDE model of audience-first strategies to reach payer audiences. Evaluation should happen way more often than annually. It should be a regular part of your program so you’re continually tracking against your KPIs and catching opportunities to pivot and accelerate.

If you’d like to learn more about the payer landscape and what it means to find your voice within it, let’s talk. I’m at LDeForest@TheBlissGrp.com.

The sound of a small bell during a dark night…is louder than the din of traffic outside your window during rush hour. Surprise and differentiation have far more impact than noise does. – Seth Godin

By Liz DeForest

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