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5 Tips for Revving Up Your Medicare Enrollments

Denise Graham and Boni Peluso

Tip 1—Know Your Audience

As a Medicare marketer, you know how critical it is to meet your membership goals every year. Medicarians are not the easiest group to market to. They are wary of marketing, and their vision issues can render your materials unreadable. In this first of a 5-part series, KERN Health will help you develop a greater understanding of this audience. We’ll show you how you can communicate on a more personal level and create materials that are more compelling and effective. Understanding how this audience thinks, how they feel and some of the challenges they face will give you a leg up in your marketing efforts.

Readability

If your audience can’t see your materials, they won’t bother trying to read them—and there goes your sales opportunity. When you develop materials, consider how vision changes affect the color palette you choose, the fonts you select and the layout designs you develop.

As we age, our vision goes through some drastic changes. Our pupils get smaller and let in less light. What’s more, older eyes see all colors as more muted. Here’s how you can make your communications easier and more inviting to read:

    • High contrast helps to separate layout elements and aids readability. For instance, don’t use light blue type on a medium blue background, or light yellow type on a white background.
    • Forget about thin, lightweight fonts—medium weight is better. Legible, continuous text requires fonts that function well under low-vision conditions. Highly readable fonts include:
      • Arial
      • Avenir Next Medium
      • Century Schoolbook
      • Frutiger
      • Glypha Roman
      • Helvetica

And make sure your font is equivalent to 12-point Times New Roman.

  • Build as much white space into your layouts as you can, as it helps to prevent eye fatigue. This also makes materials less daunting to read.
  • Too much white type reversed out and long headlines in all caps are also difficult for this audience to read. Boomers prefer sentence case for their headlines. It’s okay to have a word or two in all caps, if you’re into that.
  • Pale pastels should not be the main focus of your color palette. To the older eye, most pastels look gray and lifeless. Save pastels for content box backgrounds with black or dark type. To attract and engage Medicarians, use vivid, bolder colors, especially in the warm end of the spectrum. Warm hues project health, vitality and caring.

Visual Memory

How you depict your audience reveals how well you understand them.

  • Always present a visual image that is both relevant and realistic. A good balance combines active shots with those showing people relaxing and chilling.
  • People aging into Medicare can hardly believe they’re Medicare age. So they don’t identify with photos of people in their 70s and 80s. This audience still thinks of themselves as being in their 50s. So choose photography that depicts a younger look.
  • The younger spectrum of boomers prefers candid, “in the moment” photography. The older spectrum prefers portraiture. If you’re casting a wide net, we suggest blending the two.
  • Whatever you do, make sure the shots look as natural as possible. Photos that appear staged or depict an unrealistic interaction (e.g., physicians and patients always smiling) will inhibit the effectiveness of your communication.
  • Make sure your photography doesn’t involve complex images or cluttered backgrounds. Keep the scenes as simple as possible. Also, do not crop photos too tightly. Disconnected imagery does not connect with this audience. And although blurred edges and soft focus can convey warmth in a photo, these visual techniques are challenging for this audience to see.

Style & Substance

To ensure your marketing communications are persuasive and resonate with the audience, it’s good to understand this target’s backstory.

  • Baby boomers came of age during turbulent times—the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution and drug experimentation. They are rebellious, skeptical of authority and still interested in shaking up the status quo.
  • Those aging into Medicare are the “Rock and Roll Generation.” They grew up listening to the Beatles, Elvis and the Rolling Stones. They are hip and cool and want to be respected and spoken to in a way that acknowledges their youth—not their age.
  • They are financially conservative, and even the more affluent among them want good value for their money. They also want straightforward information before making any important or large financial decisions, and choosing health care is a critical financial decision. They believe that credible information comes from established institutions.
  • Medicarians are more stressed than prior generations and are particularly stressed and confused about what to do for their Medicare coverage. They want security and reassurances as they search for the coverage that’s right for them.
  • There are more women than men in this audience, and about 50% of them are great-grandparents. They may be burdened not only with taking care of elderly parents, but also with having their own children come back home to live. So, we refer to them as the “Sandwich Generation.”
  • Baby boomers are resentful of manipulation and marketing fluff. The minute they feel snowed, condescended to or stereotyped, you’ve insulted and lost them. And whatever you do, don’t refer to them as Seniors. It’s a term they hate, because they think of themselves as vital and active.
  • Boomers at heart are still optimistic. They changed the world in ways not many other generations have. So your content should appeal to their aspirations. Write in a friendly, conversational tone. Don’t presume you’re buds yet, though. You have to earn that privilege and respect. Write in a clear and simple manner and shoot for an 8th-grade reading level.

It’s important to keep all these things in mind when you develop your creative concepts and messaging. Establishing an emotional connection in a concise way is key to the success of any campaign targeting Medicare eligibles. Strategies that have the best chance of success are those that reinforce the strong sense of self that this target holds dear.

Tip 2—Put Your Money Where Your Audience Is

In Tip 2 of our 5-part series for improving your Medicare ROI, KERN Health will provide insights into how to get a bigger return on your marketing dollars. When money is allocated correctly, you’ll have a much better chance of meeting or exceeding your goals for new members. There’s no one strict formula because there are variables at play. But this you can count on: The more you understand your audience, the more successful you’ll be.

Medicare marketers have long debated where the best opportunity is to get more bang for their bucks—during AEP or Age-In? With 10,000 baby boomers aging into Medicare eligibility every day, it makes sense to allocate more money there, right? Yet 65% of a marketing budget is typically targeted during AEP, and here’s why: Prospects age into Medicare only once. After they make their initial Medicare health plan selection, the best chance to get them to reconsider and switch to your plan is during AEP.

Customer Journey

Prospects have the potential to be exposed to your plan throughout the customer journey and through all available media, including:

  • Broadcast (TV & Radio)
  • OOH (out-of-home)
  • Direct Mail
  • Shared Mail
  • Newspaper Ads
  • Digital Display Ads
  • Search Engine Results
  • Physician Referral Letter (a high-performing tactic)

When thinking about your marketing mix, keep in mind that the Medicare Shopping Journey is not linear. Your target might first see your TV spot and then go online to research, or vice versa. Because of this, it can be difficult to pinpoint lead attribution. Successful marketers understand this and account for this fact when evaluating campaign performance. And typically, there’s an accumulative effect. It can take 5–6 interactions with your communications before they take action.

Digital Marketing

The idea that Medicarians aren’t surfing the Internet or interacting on social media is pure mythology. Every year, baby boomers get more mobile and digitally savvy. In fact, more prospects are using mobile to do Medicare research than ever before. And as younger prospects who are fully functional with social media and mobile become Medicare eligible, the more they will gravitate toward familiar digital marketing like Facebook ads, SEM and display ads. If digital media is not yet part of your marketing arsenal, then you are missing an important tactic for reaching your audience.

No Cookie-Cutter Strategies

What’s successful in one region of the country may not replicate somewhere else. A rural audience can react very differently from an urban audience. And Medicarians are as diverse as any other target. As you test and learn, keep an open mind to opportunities and, although there are some benchmarks to follow, consider these questions when developing your plan:

    • Are you new to the market—is your brand an “unknown”?
    • Are you entering into a mature marketplace with heavy competition, or are you the only game in town?
    • What are the geography considerations? A California plan will not perform the same as a New York plan.
    • Is it an election year? Elections consume available media, so there is a lot of “noise” in the marketplace.
    • How do your benefits stack up against the competition? Do you have $0 premiums, etc.? Do you offer dental, vision and Rx coverage?

Health club memberships, chiropractic, etc.?

  • Are you a 4- or 5-Star plan?
  • Do you have a strong physician network?

Preferred Physicians & Extra Benefits

How do your benefits stack up against your competition? Does your physician network include preferred physicians? These are important considerations in the Medicarian decision-making process. Because they are high utilizers, Medicarians look for specific benefits and doctors and compare them across plans. They are willing to make trade-offs, however, so it’s important to highlight extra benefits like Rx, vision, dental, hearing and fitness. The hierarchy of how you structure your content relative to these benefits will depend on how rich each is, so keep that in mind as you begin your development process.

Test & Learn

With all the variables that you have to consider, it’s important to test and learn and establish your own baseline metrics against which to measure. Then and only then will you have a strong handle on what kind of ROI you can expect. Tracking and monitoring results, setting baseline metrics and modifying strategies as you advance your learning agenda will allow you to improve your ROI year over year.

Tip 3—Closing the Sale

Your campaign is up and running and generating qualified leads. Yay! This is both an exciting and a critical time. Now you need to convert those leads into members. In Tip 3 of our 5-part series for improving your Medicare ROI, KERN Health will explore key sales channels and provide insights into how you can convert more successfully, because there’s nothing sadder than a wasted lead.

Capturing Sales Online

As the younger stretch of baby boomers age in to Medicare, they are bringing their Internet savviness with them. Marketers are seeing more engagement with their websites than ever before, with more enrollments occurring online. This is why it’s important that your site be as highly functioning as possible. Consider incorporating these kinds of features:

  • Click to call or click to chat—As prospective members surf your site, questions often occur to them. It’s productive if you connect with them immediately and provide answers.
  • Online enrollment applications—When a prospect is online and ready to commit, facilitate their enrollment online so they don’t have to leave the environment.
  • Educational videos—When posted on your site, educational videos keep your prospective member engaged and informed. The longer prospects stay on your site, and the more expertise they think you have, the better. Topics such as “Medicare Basics,” “How to Choose the Right Medicare Plan for You” and “Countdown to Medicare” are very popular with the Medicare audience. These videos can also be uploaded to YouTube, which expands your presence online.

Mastering Telesales

You cannot underestimate the value of a good telesales operation. When a lead calls in, they are motivated. They want information and a personal connection. This is another critical step, because how telesales handles the call can make or break your goals. Are your agents knowledgeable, friendly and helpful? Or confused about your plan benefits and distracted? Are calls handled quickly? Or are your prospects and waiting, until they give up and hang up? Here are some important aspects to consider:

  • Multi-tiered staff models are best practice. One tier will screen for eligibility (Is the caller in the right ZIP code? Do they have their Medicare card? etc.). This saves your real salespeople tons of time and energy. The next tiers include licensed agents who can sell leads once they’ve been qualified.
  • It’s ideal to staff 24/7 during AEP. If budgets do not support this, ensure that you can increase staff during the last two weeks of AEP, as applications increase during this time.
  • Training is a MUST to prepare telesales agents for the onslaught of calls and questions they will receive. Call-in scripts are also valuable at guiding agents through FAQs and sales closure.

Boosting Field Sales

Successful plans take advantage of up close and personal interactions to increase their enrollments. They use a combination of the following tactics:

  • Brokers have become a very important sales channel, especially in light of the Affordable Care Act. They can drive as much as 70% of sales in some markets. But it’s important that you establish your commission structure and payment processes up front for this channel, so they are competitively incentivized and there’s no confusion down the road.
  • In-home appointments are perfect for those prospects who need more hand-holding, AND, they have an insanely high close rate of 90+%. But you must balance this with the fact that they take A LOT MORE TIME. You can schedule only a handful of appointments in a day versus talking to double-digit seminar attendees 2 or 3 times a day.
  • Seminars and Community Events help to facilitate the application process for multiple people at the same time. For this reason, they are a very successful alternative sales channel for those prospects who require face-to-face interaction. Be sure to have the proper sales support tools in place like signage, sign-in sheets, PowerPoint and/or video presentations, the right amount of enrollment kits, etc. The last thing you want is for seminar attendees to show up and not have the right materials to close the sale. These leads are “hot, hot, hot” and you don’t want them to swim off the hook.

No Skimping on Preparation

There is a lot of prelaunch work that goes into ensuring your sales channels are active and ready to maximize enrollments and report out. If this foundation is not well established, you can upset potential members and quickly see marketing budget efficiencies go out the window. Don’t make that mistake—be prepared!!!

Tip 4—Retaining Your Medicare Members

Acquiring new members is only part of your AEP mission. They are valuable assets that you don’t want to squander. So it’s important that you have a retention plan in place. This will help onboard these new members into your plan experience and stimulate their loyalty.

In Tip 4 of our 5-part series for improving your Medicare ROI, KERN Health will share some ideas on how best to keep these assets you worked so hard for as members long-term.

Low-Hanging Fruit

The best retention strategies focus on retaining commercial members as they transition into Medicare coverage. This audience is prime for conversion into your Medicare plan. They know your brand, they’re already connected to doctors in your network and their loyalty has been established. This segment should be a priority in your lead nurturing.

Onboarding Builds Loyalty

An onboarding program is essential to successfully introduce new members to your organization and the many benefits and health services that you offer. It’s also helpful in transitioning commercial members into some of the changes and advantages that will occur with Medicare.

Ideally, you would reach out within the first week of their membership (by letter, email or phone) to extend a personal welcome and explain the plan philosophy. This is also the perfect opportunity to detail local facilities by including maps, discussing transportation options and, most importantly, helping them get established with a network doctor. Finding the right doctor is the #1 driver in member satisfaction and retention.

Keep Communication Flowing

New members, especially Medicare members, have a higher propensity to be disenchanted. You want to demonstrate that your organization cares about them and that they are part of something beneficial, healthy and positive. If you only communicate with them once a year, they’re likely to feel neglected—and when the next AEP rolls around, they could jump to another plan. Here are some insights around what age-related content you could be sharing with them on a regular basis. This can be done via letters, updates to a blog on your website or even a monthly newsletter:

  • Ages 65–69: This segment’s priority is health maintenance. It’s a good idea to highlight the importance of preserving their health as they age. So focus on prevention topics.
  • Ages 70–75: Many in this segment are living with chronic diseases (being prediabetic is often the case), so emphasize your disease management program or new disease findings that you can share.
  • Ages 76 and older: At this later stage, it’s helpful to emphasize the importance of benefits, coverage and potential savings–Medicarians at this age visit a doctor an average of 9 times per year, if not more.

Cultivate a Strong Connection

Remember, your organization depends on your members’ satisfaction and loyalty. It’s much more economical to retain a current member than it is to acquire a brand-new one. What’s more, their positive word of mouth to friends and family can help set the stage for more new members down the road.

Tip 5—Ensuring Your Success

In the last 4 tips, we’ve shared some good insights on acquiring and retaining new Medicare members. In Tip 5, we’re going to look at some key elements that can help your day-to-day operations. It’s important to remember that being efficient, accurate and compliant helps to keep costs down and build trust with your audience. It’s equally important to ensure that your vendor and agency partners support these goals. In the eyes of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), you are ultimately accountable for the performance of not only your organization, but the outside organizations you hire and work with as well.

CRM Pledges to Put Patients First

CMS’s goal is to make sure that Medicare consumers have meaningful information about plan quality and costs so they can make well-informed decisions. As a result, every July, CMS publishes an update to the comprehensive Medicare Marketing Guidelines (MMGs). This document is designed to help marketers communicate effectively to their audiences and stay in compliance. Plans include:

  • Medicare Advantage Plans
  • Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug Plans
  • Prescription Drug Plans
  • Union Sponsored Group Health Plans
  • Medicare-Medicaid Plans
  • Section 1876 Cost Plans

The Risk of Noncompliance

CMS works alongside the states to enforce Title XXVII of the Public Health Service Act (PHS Act), to ensure that consumers in all states have protections. If your marketing materials are found to be out of compliance, it can be costly. Your organization could be audited, fined and, in egregious cases, even restricted from marketing for a period of time. What’s more, when materials are out of compliance they often have to be revised, resubmitted and reprinted. That’s a terrible cost in terms of both time and budget—not to mention a big blow to your client’s confidence in your abilities.

Best Practices for Staying Compliant

At KERN Health, we advise you to familiarize yourself with the Medicare Marketing Guidelines and follow them to a T. Here are some different suggestions for building a process to help you achieve your compliance goals:

  • Create a special department whose sole mission is to understand, interpret and review marketing materials to assure compliance
  • If your plan can’t afford to start its own department, you can enlist proofreaders to take on the responsibility of learning and applying the guidelines
  • Hire MMG specialists who work on a contract basis—but note that they are often quite busy during the run-up to AEP, so it can be challenging to get advice promptly
  • Have everyone on the Account and Creative teams go over the guidelines every year. CMS.gov also offers The Medicare Learning Network, which offers free, 24/7 access to web-based training courses, including Medicare Parts C and D General Compliance Training.
  • Develop checklists. They are invaluable for the Creative and Proofreading staff to help ensure that the materials developed are compliant.

There is good news: The more you work with the MMGs, the easier they are to implement. But you must be prepared—there are no shortcuts. You have to commit and invest to ensure that your organization has representatives who are steeped in this important knowledge.

The Importance of Style Guides

To say that Medicare work is complex would be an understatement. Not only are there CMS rules that have to be honored, but there are also visual issues for the Medicare audience that have to be addressed, along with cognitive issues that make it extra important to keep content clear and simple. If you don’t have a dedicated team that creates all your Medicare marketing, chances are you’ll be sharing the work inside and outside of your organization with teams that need to get up to speed quickly. It’s worth the time and effort to create a style guide that gives everyone who develops and reviews your Medicare marketing materials a clear road map with regard to the appropriate typefaces, color palette, style of photography and tone of voice. While style guides do take time to create, the time it will save you on the back end—maintaining quality and consistency, and helping you to create more effective materials—is immeasurable.

Finding the Right Agency Partner

Like any other team experience, you want a partner that is not going to make more work for you—or worst of all, put you in compliance jeopardy. Here are some factors we recommend looking for in an agency partner:

  • It’s better to find an organization that already has proven experience marketing Medicare plans. The learning curve will then revolve around your brand and your products. Otherwise, the agency will have to get up to speed on EVERYTHING, and that can be challenging—especially under tight schedules.
  • We believe it takes a certain temperament to create Medicare materials. The agency has to be willing to do the due diligence it takes to get things right. If the agencies you’re reviewing don’t have the account experience that proves they’re detail-oriented (accounts like Medicare, healthcare, pharma, financial, etc.), keep looking.
  • While direct marketing is still the workhorse, Medicare marketing is becoming more and more of a multichannel experience. Your agency should be proficient in DM, digital/mobile, SEM, OOH, social, traditional media and collateral.
  • You’re going to be working very closely with your agency partner, so compatibility is crucial.
  • Ask yourself these questions:
    • How responsive do they seem?
    • Is the prospective agency aware of what’s going on in the marketplace? Are they familiar with your competition’s strengths and weaknesses and how your plan can capitalize on all that?
    • Are they savvy in the ways of new media, bringing you valuable ideas and insights? Or are they simply doing what you tell them to do?
    • Is their staff big enough to handle the workload? And if they bring in freelancers, how will you know they’re being trained properly to create compliant Medicare materials?
    • How accountable are they? This is important to know. Because if an error does get out, how will they fix it? Will they step up and resolve it? Or will they sidestep?
    • How clear are their processes? You need to make sure their approval processes are simple to follow, so there are no version-control issues.
    • And finally, do they have a sense of humor? Because here at KERN, we guarantee that humor really helps to keep everything in perspective and get this work done well.

Want to learn more about the best practices for successful Medicare marketing? Email Denise Graham, Account Director at KERN Health, at dgraham@kernagency.com. Or call her direct line at 818-449-4468. We’ll be happy to arrange a meeting to answer any questions you may have.

Denise Graham

About Denise Graham

In addition to her agency Account Management background, Denise has worked for multiple health plans, including Kaiser Permanente and PacifiCare. She has spent much of her career promoting Individual and Families and Medicare healthcare products. She was a key player in the development of Kaiser’s “Total Health” brand strategy and implementation in addition to the acclaimed “Thrive” marketing and ad campaign.

Boni Peluso

About Boni Peluso

Boni is a Medicare specialist with over 9 years of experience marketing to Medicarians. As an Associate Creative Director, she leads the Medicare creative development team at KERN Health.

5 Tips for Revving Up Your Medicare Enrollments

Denise Graham and Boni Peluso

SHARE

Tip 1—Know Your Audience

As a Medicare marketer, you know how critical it is to meet your membership goals every year. Medicarians are not the easiest group to market to. They are wary of marketing, and their vision issues can render your materials unreadable. In this first of a 5-part series, KERN Health will help you develop a greater understanding of this audience. We’ll show you how you can communicate on a more personal level and create materials that are more compelling and effective. Understanding how this audience thinks, how they feel and some of the challenges they face will give you a leg up in your marketing efforts.

Readability

If your audience can’t see your materials, they won’t bother trying to read them—and there goes your sales opportunity. When you develop materials, consider how vision changes affect the color palette you choose, the fonts you select and the layout designs you develop.

As we age, our vision goes through some drastic changes. Our pupils get smaller and let in less light. What’s more, older eyes see all colors as more muted. Here’s how you can make your communications easier and more inviting to read:

    • High contrast helps to separate layout elements and aids readability. For instance, don’t use light blue type on a medium blue background, or light yellow type on a white background.
    • Forget about thin, lightweight fonts—medium weight is better. Legible, continuous text requires fonts that function well under low-vision conditions. Highly readable fonts include:
      • Arial
      • Avenir Next Medium
      • Century Schoolbook
      • Frutiger
      • Glypha Roman
      • Helvetica

And make sure your font is equivalent to 12-point Times New Roman.

  • Build as much white space into your layouts as you can, as it helps to prevent eye fatigue. This also makes materials less daunting to read.
  • Too much white type reversed out and long headlines in all caps are also difficult for this audience to read. Boomers prefer sentence case for their headlines. It’s okay to have a word or two in all caps, if you’re into that.
  • Pale pastels should not be the main focus of your color palette. To the older eye, most pastels look gray and lifeless. Save pastels for content box backgrounds with black or dark type. To attract and engage Medicarians, use vivid, bolder colors, especially in the warm end of the spectrum. Warm hues project health, vitality and caring.

Visual Memory

How you depict your audience reveals how well you understand them.

  • Always present a visual image that is both relevant and realistic. A good balance combines active shots with those showing people relaxing and chilling.
  • People aging into Medicare can hardly believe they’re Medicare age. So they don’t identify with photos of people in their 70s and 80s. This audience still thinks of themselves as being in their 50s. So choose photography that depicts a younger look.
  • The younger spectrum of boomers prefers candid, “in the moment” photography. The older spectrum prefers portraiture. If you’re casting a wide net, we suggest blending the two.
  • Whatever you do, make sure the shots look as natural as possible. Photos that appear staged or depict an unrealistic interaction (e.g., physicians and patients always smiling) will inhibit the effectiveness of your communication.
  • Make sure your photography doesn’t involve complex images or cluttered backgrounds. Keep the scenes as simple as possible. Also, do not crop photos too tightly. Disconnected imagery does not connect with this audience. And although blurred edges and soft focus can convey warmth in a photo, these visual techniques are challenging for this audience to see.

Style & Substance

To ensure your marketing communications are persuasive and resonate with the audience, it’s good to understand this target’s backstory.

  • Baby boomers came of age during turbulent times—the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution and drug experimentation. They are rebellious, skeptical of authority and still interested in shaking up the status quo.
  • Those aging into Medicare are the “Rock and Roll Generation.” They grew up listening to the Beatles, Elvis and the Rolling Stones. They are hip and cool and want to be respected and spoken to in a way that acknowledges their youth—not their age.
  • They are financially conservative, and even the more affluent among them want good value for their money. They also want straightforward information before making any important or large financial decisions, and choosing health care is a critical financial decision. They believe that credible information comes from established institutions.
  • Medicarians are more stressed than prior generations and are particularly stressed and confused about what to do for their Medicare coverage. They want security and reassurances as they search for the coverage that’s right for them.
  • There are more women than men in this audience, and about 50% of them are great-grandparents. They may be burdened not only with taking care of elderly parents, but also with having their own children come back home to live. So, we refer to them as the “Sandwich Generation.”
  • Baby boomers are resentful of manipulation and marketing fluff. The minute they feel snowed, condescended to or stereotyped, you’ve insulted and lost them. And whatever you do, don’t refer to them as Seniors. It’s a term they hate, because they think of themselves as vital and active.
  • Boomers at heart are still optimistic. They changed the world in ways not many other generations have. So your content should appeal to their aspirations. Write in a friendly, conversational tone. Don’t presume you’re buds yet, though. You have to earn that privilege and respect. Write in a clear and simple manner and shoot for an 8th-grade reading level.

It’s important to keep all these things in mind when you develop your creative concepts and messaging. Establishing an emotional connection in a concise way is key to the success of any campaign targeting Medicare eligibles. Strategies that have the best chance of success are those that reinforce the strong sense of self that this target holds dear.

Tip 2—Put Your Money Where Your Audience Is

In Tip 2 of our 5-part series for improving your Medicare ROI, KERN Health will provide insights into how to get a bigger return on your marketing dollars. When money is allocated correctly, you’ll have a much better chance of meeting or exceeding your goals for new members. There’s no one strict formula because there are variables at play. But this you can count on: The more you understand your audience, the more successful you’ll be.

Medicare marketers have long debated where the best opportunity is to get more bang for their bucks—during AEP or Age-In? With 10,000 baby boomers aging into Medicare eligibility every day, it makes sense to allocate more money there, right? Yet 65% of a marketing budget is typically targeted during AEP, and here’s why: Prospects age into Medicare only once. After they make their initial Medicare health plan selection, the best chance to get them to reconsider and switch to your plan is during AEP.

Customer Journey

Prospects have the potential to be exposed to your plan throughout the customer journey and through all available media, including:

  • Broadcast (TV & Radio)
  • OOH (out-of-home)
  • Direct Mail
  • Shared Mail
  • Newspaper Ads
  • Digital Display Ads
  • Search Engine Results
  • Physician Referral Letter (a high-performing tactic)

When thinking about your marketing mix, keep in mind that the Medicare Shopping Journey is not linear. Your target might first see your TV spot and then go online to research, or vice versa. Because of this, it can be difficult to pinpoint lead attribution. Successful marketers understand this and account for this fact when evaluating campaign performance. And typically, there’s an accumulative effect. It can take 5–6 interactions with your communications before they take action.

Digital Marketing

The idea that Medicarians aren’t surfing the Internet or interacting on social media is pure mythology. Every year, baby boomers get more mobile and digitally savvy. In fact, more prospects are using mobile to do Medicare research than ever before. And as younger prospects who are fully functional with social media and mobile become Medicare eligible, the more they will gravitate toward familiar digital marketing like Facebook ads, SEM and display ads. If digital media is not yet part of your marketing arsenal, then you are missing an important tactic for reaching your audience.

No Cookie-Cutter Strategies

What’s successful in one region of the country may not replicate somewhere else. A rural audience can react very differently from an urban audience. And Medicarians are as diverse as any other target. As you test and learn, keep an open mind to opportunities and, although there are some benchmarks to follow, consider these questions when developing your plan:

    • Are you new to the market—is your brand an “unknown”?
    • Are you entering into a mature marketplace with heavy competition, or are you the only game in town?
    • What are the geography considerations? A California plan will not perform the same as a New York plan.
    • Is it an election year? Elections consume available media, so there is a lot of “noise” in the marketplace.
    • How do your benefits stack up against the competition? Do you have $0 premiums, etc.? Do you offer dental, vision and Rx coverage?

Health club memberships, chiropractic, etc.?

  • Are you a 4- or 5-Star plan?
  • Do you have a strong physician network?

Preferred Physicians & Extra Benefits

How do your benefits stack up against your competition? Does your physician network include preferred physicians? These are important considerations in the Medicarian decision-making process. Because they are high utilizers, Medicarians look for specific benefits and doctors and compare them across plans. They are willing to make trade-offs, however, so it’s important to highlight extra benefits like Rx, vision, dental, hearing and fitness. The hierarchy of how you structure your content relative to these benefits will depend on how rich each is, so keep that in mind as you begin your development process.

Test & Learn

With all the variables that you have to consider, it’s important to test and learn and establish your own baseline metrics against which to measure. Then and only then will you have a strong handle on what kind of ROI you can expect. Tracking and monitoring results, setting baseline metrics and modifying strategies as you advance your learning agenda will allow you to improve your ROI year over year.

Tip 3—Closing the Sale

Your campaign is up and running and generating qualified leads. Yay! This is both an exciting and a critical time. Now you need to convert those leads into members. In Tip 3 of our 5-part series for improving your Medicare ROI, KERN Health will explore key sales channels and provide insights into how you can convert more successfully, because there’s nothing sadder than a wasted lead.

Capturing Sales Online

As the younger stretch of baby boomers age in to Medicare, they are bringing their Internet savviness with them. Marketers are seeing more engagement with their websites than ever before, with more enrollments occurring online. This is why it’s important that your site be as highly functioning as possible. Consider incorporating these kinds of features:

  • Click to call or click to chat—As prospective members surf your site, questions often occur to them. It’s productive if you connect with them immediately and provide answers.
  • Online enrollment applications—When a prospect is online and ready to commit, facilitate their enrollment online so they don’t have to leave the environment.
  • Educational videos—When posted on your site, educational videos keep your prospective member engaged and informed. The longer prospects stay on your site, and the more expertise they think you have, the better. Topics such as “Medicare Basics,” “How to Choose the Right Medicare Plan for You” and “Countdown to Medicare” are very popular with the Medicare audience. These videos can also be uploaded to YouTube, which expands your presence online.

Mastering Telesales

You cannot underestimate the value of a good telesales operation. When a lead calls in, they are motivated. They want information and a personal connection. This is another critical step, because how telesales handles the call can make or break your goals. Are your agents knowledgeable, friendly and helpful? Or confused about your plan benefits and distracted? Are calls handled quickly? Or are your prospects and waiting, until they give up and hang up? Here are some important aspects to consider:

  • Multi-tiered staff models are best practice. One tier will screen for eligibility (Is the caller in the right ZIP code? Do they have their Medicare card? etc.). This saves your real salespeople tons of time and energy. The next tiers include licensed agents who can sell leads once they’ve been qualified.
  • It’s ideal to staff 24/7 during AEP. If budgets do not support this, ensure that you can increase staff during the last two weeks of AEP, as applications increase during this time.
  • Training is a MUST to prepare telesales agents for the onslaught of calls and questions they will receive. Call-in scripts are also valuable at guiding agents through FAQs and sales closure.

Boosting Field Sales

Successful plans take advantage of up close and personal interactions to increase their enrollments. They use a combination of the following tactics:

  • Brokers have become a very important sales channel, especially in light of the Affordable Care Act. They can drive as much as 70% of sales in some markets. But it’s important that you establish your commission structure and payment processes up front for this channel, so they are competitively incentivized and there’s no confusion down the road.
  • In-home appointments are perfect for those prospects who need more hand-holding, AND, they have an insanely high close rate of 90+%. But you must balance this with the fact that they take A LOT MORE TIME. You can schedule only a handful of appointments in a day versus talking to double-digit seminar attendees 2 or 3 times a day.
  • Seminars and Community Events help to facilitate the application process for multiple people at the same time. For this reason, they are a very successful alternative sales channel for those prospects who require face-to-face interaction. Be sure to have the proper sales support tools in place like signage, sign-in sheets, PowerPoint and/or video presentations, the right amount of enrollment kits, etc. The last thing you want is for seminar attendees to show up and not have the right materials to close the sale. These leads are “hot, hot, hot” and you don’t want them to swim off the hook.

No Skimping on Preparation

There is a lot of prelaunch work that goes into ensuring your sales channels are active and ready to maximize enrollments and report out. If this foundation is not well established, you can upset potential members and quickly see marketing budget efficiencies go out the window. Don’t make that mistake—be prepared!!!

Tip 4—Retaining Your Medicare Members

Acquiring new members is only part of your AEP mission. They are valuable assets that you don’t want to squander. So it’s important that you have a retention plan in place. This will help onboard these new members into your plan experience and stimulate their loyalty.

In Tip 4 of our 5-part series for improving your Medicare ROI, KERN Health will share some ideas on how best to keep these assets you worked so hard for as members long-term.

Low-Hanging Fruit

The best retention strategies focus on retaining commercial members as they transition into Medicare coverage. This audience is prime for conversion into your Medicare plan. They know your brand, they’re already connected to doctors in your network and their loyalty has been established. This segment should be a priority in your lead nurturing.

Onboarding Builds Loyalty

An onboarding program is essential to successfully introduce new members to your organization and the many benefits and health services that you offer. It’s also helpful in transitioning commercial members into some of the changes and advantages that will occur with Medicare.

Ideally, you would reach out within the first week of their membership (by letter, email or phone) to extend a personal welcome and explain the plan philosophy. This is also the perfect opportunity to detail local facilities by including maps, discussing transportation options and, most importantly, helping them get established with a network doctor. Finding the right doctor is the #1 driver in member satisfaction and retention.

Keep Communication Flowing

New members, especially Medicare members, have a higher propensity to be disenchanted. You want to demonstrate that your organization cares about them and that they are part of something beneficial, healthy and positive. If you only communicate with them once a year, they’re likely to feel neglected—and when the next AEP rolls around, they could jump to another plan. Here are some insights around what age-related content you could be sharing with them on a regular basis. This can be done via letters, updates to a blog on your website or even a monthly newsletter:

  • Ages 65–69: This segment’s priority is health maintenance. It’s a good idea to highlight the importance of preserving their health as they age. So focus on prevention topics.
  • Ages 70–75: Many in this segment are living with chronic diseases (being prediabetic is often the case), so emphasize your disease management program or new disease findings that you can share.
  • Ages 76 and older: At this later stage, it’s helpful to emphasize the importance of benefits, coverage and potential savings–Medicarians at this age visit a doctor an average of 9 times per year, if not more.

Cultivate a Strong Connection

Remember, your organization depends on your members’ satisfaction and loyalty. It’s much more economical to retain a current member than it is to acquire a brand-new one. What’s more, their positive word of mouth to friends and family can help set the stage for more new members down the road.

Tip 5—Ensuring Your Success

In the last 4 tips, we’ve shared some good insights on acquiring and retaining new Medicare members. In Tip 5, we’re going to look at some key elements that can help your day-to-day operations. It’s important to remember that being efficient, accurate and compliant helps to keep costs down and build trust with your audience. It’s equally important to ensure that your vendor and agency partners support these goals. In the eyes of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), you are ultimately accountable for the performance of not only your organization, but the outside organizations you hire and work with as well.

CRM Pledges to Put Patients First

CMS’s goal is to make sure that Medicare consumers have meaningful information about plan quality and costs so they can make well-informed decisions. As a result, every July, CMS publishes an update to the comprehensive Medicare Marketing Guidelines (MMGs). This document is designed to help marketers communicate effectively to their audiences and stay in compliance. Plans include:

  • Medicare Advantage Plans
  • Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug Plans
  • Prescription Drug Plans
  • Union Sponsored Group Health Plans
  • Medicare-Medicaid Plans
  • Section 1876 Cost Plans

The Risk of Noncompliance

CMS works alongside the states to enforce Title XXVII of the Public Health Service Act (PHS Act), to ensure that consumers in all states have protections. If your marketing materials are found to be out of compliance, it can be costly. Your organization could be audited, fined and, in egregious cases, even restricted from marketing for a period of time. What’s more, when materials are out of compliance they often have to be revised, resubmitted and reprinted. That’s a terrible cost in terms of both time and budget—not to mention a big blow to your client’s confidence in your abilities.

Best Practices for Staying Compliant

At KERN Health, we advise you to familiarize yourself with the Medicare Marketing Guidelines and follow them to a T. Here are some different suggestions for building a process to help you achieve your compliance goals:

  • Create a special department whose sole mission is to understand, interpret and review marketing materials to assure compliance
  • If your plan can’t afford to start its own department, you can enlist proofreaders to take on the responsibility of learning and applying the guidelines
  • Hire MMG specialists who work on a contract basis—but note that they are often quite busy during the run-up to AEP, so it can be challenging to get advice promptly
  • Have everyone on the Account and Creative teams go over the guidelines every year. CMS.gov also offers The Medicare Learning Network, which offers free, 24/7 access to web-based training courses, including Medicare Parts C and D General Compliance Training.
  • Develop checklists. They are invaluable for the Creative and Proofreading staff to help ensure that the materials developed are compliant.

There is good news: The more you work with the MMGs, the easier they are to implement. But you must be prepared—there are no shortcuts. You have to commit and invest to ensure that your organization has representatives who are steeped in this important knowledge.

The Importance of Style Guides

To say that Medicare work is complex would be an understatement. Not only are there CMS rules that have to be honored, but there are also visual issues for the Medicare audience that have to be addressed, along with cognitive issues that make it extra important to keep content clear and simple. If you don’t have a dedicated team that creates all your Medicare marketing, chances are you’ll be sharing the work inside and outside of your organization with teams that need to get up to speed quickly. It’s worth the time and effort to create a style guide that gives everyone who develops and reviews your Medicare marketing materials a clear road map with regard to the appropriate typefaces, color palette, style of photography and tone of voice. While style guides do take time to create, the time it will save you on the back end—maintaining quality and consistency, and helping you to create more effective materials—is immeasurable.

Finding the Right Agency Partner

Like any other team experience, you want a partner that is not going to make more work for you—or worst of all, put you in compliance jeopardy. Here are some factors we recommend looking for in an agency partner:

  • It’s better to find an organization that already has proven experience marketing Medicare plans. The learning curve will then revolve around your brand and your products. Otherwise, the agency will have to get up to speed on EVERYTHING, and that can be challenging—especially under tight schedules.
  • We believe it takes a certain temperament to create Medicare materials. The agency has to be willing to do the due diligence it takes to get things right. If the agencies you’re reviewing don’t have the account experience that proves they’re detail-oriented (accounts like Medicare, healthcare, pharma, financial, etc.), keep looking.
  • While direct marketing is still the workhorse, Medicare marketing is becoming more and more of a multichannel experience. Your agency should be proficient in DM, digital/mobile, SEM, OOH, social, traditional media and collateral.
  • You’re going to be working very closely with your agency partner, so compatibility is crucial.
  • Ask yourself these questions:
    • How responsive do they seem?
    • Is the prospective agency aware of what’s going on in the marketplace? Are they familiar with your competition’s strengths and weaknesses and how your plan can capitalize on all that?
    • Are they savvy in the ways of new media, bringing you valuable ideas and insights? Or are they simply doing what you tell them to do?
    • Is their staff big enough to handle the workload? And if they bring in freelancers, how will you know they’re being trained properly to create compliant Medicare materials?
    • How accountable are they? This is important to know. Because if an error does get out, how will they fix it? Will they step up and resolve it? Or will they sidestep?
    • How clear are their processes? You need to make sure their approval processes are simple to follow, so there are no version-control issues.
    • And finally, do they have a sense of humor? Because here at KERN, we guarantee that humor really helps to keep everything in perspective and get this work done well.

Want to learn more about the best practices for successful Medicare marketing? Email Denise Graham, Account Director at KERN Health, at dgraham@kernagency.com. Or call her direct line at 818-449-4468. We’ll be happy to arrange a meeting to answer any questions you may have.

Denise Graham

About Denise Graham

In addition to her agency Account Management background, Denise has worked for multiple health plans, including Kaiser Permanente and PacifiCare. She has spent much of her career promoting Individual and Families and Medicare healthcare products. She was a key player in the development of Kaiser’s “Total Health” brand strategy and implementation in addition to the acclaimed “Thrive” marketing and ad campaign.

Boni Peluso

About Boni Peluso

Boni is a Medicare specialist with over 9 years of experience marketing to Medicarians. As an Associate Creative Director, she leads the Medicare creative development team at KERN Health.

5 Tips for Revving Up Your Medicare Enrollments

Denise Graham and Boni Peluso

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Tip 1—Know Your Audience

As a Medicare marketer, you know how critical it is to meet your membership goals every year. Medicarians are not the easiest group to market to. They are wary of marketing, and their vision issues can render your materials unreadable. In this first of a 5-part series, KERN Health will help you develop a greater understanding of this audience. We’ll show you how you can communicate on a more personal level and create materials that are more compelling and effective. Understanding how this audience thinks, how they feel and some of the challenges they face will give you a leg up in your marketing efforts.

Readability

If your audience can’t see your materials, they won’t bother trying to read them—and there goes your sales opportunity. When you develop materials, consider how vision changes affect the color palette you choose, the fonts you select and the layout designs you develop.

As we age, our vision goes through some drastic changes. Our pupils get smaller and let in less light. What’s more, older eyes see all colors as more muted. Here’s how you can make your communications easier and more inviting to read:

    • High contrast helps to separate layout elements and aids readability. For instance, don’t use light blue type on a medium blue background, or light yellow type on a white background.
    • Forget about thin, lightweight fonts—medium weight is better. Legible, continuous text requires fonts that function well under low-vision conditions. Highly readable fonts include:
      • Arial
      • Avenir Next Medium
      • Century Schoolbook
      • Frutiger
      • Glypha Roman
      • Helvetica

And make sure your font is equivalent to 12-point Times New Roman.

  • Build as much white space into your layouts as you can, as it helps to prevent eye fatigue. This also makes materials less daunting to read.
  • Too much white type reversed out and long headlines in all caps are also difficult for this audience to read. Boomers prefer sentence case for their headlines. It’s okay to have a word or two in all caps, if you’re into that.
  • Pale pastels should not be the main focus of your color palette. To the older eye, most pastels look gray and lifeless. Save pastels for content box backgrounds with black or dark type. To attract and engage Medicarians, use vivid, bolder colors, especially in the warm end of the spectrum. Warm hues project health, vitality and caring.

Visual Memory

How you depict your audience reveals how well you understand them.

  • Always present a visual image that is both relevant and realistic. A good balance combines active shots with those showing people relaxing and chilling.
  • People aging into Medicare can hardly believe they’re Medicare age. So they don’t identify with photos of people in their 70s and 80s. This audience still thinks of themselves as being in their 50s. So choose photography that depicts a younger look.
  • The younger spectrum of boomers prefers candid, “in the moment” photography. The older spectrum prefers portraiture. If you’re casting a wide net, we suggest blending the two.
  • Whatever you do, make sure the shots look as natural as possible. Photos that appear staged or depict an unrealistic interaction (e.g., physicians and patients always smiling) will inhibit the effectiveness of your communication.
  • Make sure your photography doesn’t involve complex images or cluttered backgrounds. Keep the scenes as simple as possible. Also, do not crop photos too tightly. Disconnected imagery does not connect with this audience. And although blurred edges and soft focus can convey warmth in a photo, these visual techniques are challenging for this audience to see.

Style & Substance

To ensure your marketing communications are persuasive and resonate with the audience, it’s good to understand this target’s backstory.

  • Baby boomers came of age during turbulent times—the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution and drug experimentation. They are rebellious, skeptical of authority and still interested in shaking up the status quo.
  • Those aging into Medicare are the “Rock and Roll Generation.” They grew up listening to the Beatles, Elvis and the Rolling Stones. They are hip and cool and want to be respected and spoken to in a way that acknowledges their youth—not their age.
  • They are financially conservative, and even the more affluent among them want good value for their money. They also want straightforward information before making any important or large financial decisions, and choosing health care is a critical financial decision. They believe that credible information comes from established institutions.
  • Medicarians are more stressed than prior generations and are particularly stressed and confused about what to do for their Medicare coverage. They want security and reassurances as they search for the coverage that’s right for them.
  • There are more women than men in this audience, and about 50% of them are great-grandparents. They may be burdened not only with taking care of elderly parents, but also with having their own children come back home to live. So, we refer to them as the “Sandwich Generation.”
  • Baby boomers are resentful of manipulation and marketing fluff. The minute they feel snowed, condescended to or stereotyped, you’ve insulted and lost them. And whatever you do, don’t refer to them as Seniors. It’s a term they hate, because they think of themselves as vital and active.
  • Boomers at heart are still optimistic. They changed the world in ways not many other generations have. So your content should appeal to their aspirations. Write in a friendly, conversational tone. Don’t presume you’re buds yet, though. You have to earn that privilege and respect. Write in a clear and simple manner and shoot for an 8th-grade reading level.

It’s important to keep all these things in mind when you develop your creative concepts and messaging. Establishing an emotional connection in a concise way is key to the success of any campaign targeting Medicare eligibles. Strategies that have the best chance of success are those that reinforce the strong sense of self that this target holds dear.

Tip 2—Put Your Money Where Your Audience Is

In Tip 2 of our 5-part series for improving your Medicare ROI, KERN Health will provide insights into how to get a bigger return on your marketing dollars. When money is allocated correctly, you’ll have a much better chance of meeting or exceeding your goals for new members. There’s no one strict formula because there are variables at play. But this you can count on: The more you understand your audience, the more successful you’ll be.

Medicare marketers have long debated where the best opportunity is to get more bang for their bucks—during AEP or Age-In? With 10,000 baby boomers aging into Medicare eligibility every day, it makes sense to allocate more money there, right? Yet 65% of a marketing budget is typically targeted during AEP, and here’s why: Prospects age into Medicare only once. After they make their initial Medicare health plan selection, the best chance to get them to reconsider and switch to your plan is during AEP.

Customer Journey

Prospects have the potential to be exposed to your plan throughout the customer journey and through all available media, including:

  • Broadcast (TV & Radio)
  • OOH (out-of-home)
  • Direct Mail
  • Shared Mail
  • Newspaper Ads
  • Digital Display Ads
  • Search Engine Results
  • Physician Referral Letter (a high-performing tactic)

When thinking about your marketing mix, keep in mind that the Medicare Shopping Journey is not linear. Your target might first see your TV spot and then go online to research, or vice versa. Because of this, it can be difficult to pinpoint lead attribution. Successful marketers understand this and account for this fact when evaluating campaign performance. And typically, there’s an accumulative effect. It can take 5–6 interactions with your communications before they take action.

Digital Marketing

The idea that Medicarians aren’t surfing the Internet or interacting on social media is pure mythology. Every year, baby boomers get more mobile and digitally savvy. In fact, more prospects are using mobile to do Medicare research than ever before. And as younger prospects who are fully functional with social media and mobile become Medicare eligible, the more they will gravitate toward familiar digital marketing like Facebook ads, SEM and display ads. If digital media is not yet part of your marketing arsenal, then you are missing an important tactic for reaching your audience.

No Cookie-Cutter Strategies

What’s successful in one region of the country may not replicate somewhere else. A rural audience can react very differently from an urban audience. And Medicarians are as diverse as any other target. As you test and learn, keep an open mind to opportunities and, although there are some benchmarks to follow, consider these questions when developing your plan:

    • Are you new to the market—is your brand an “unknown”?
    • Are you entering into a mature marketplace with heavy competition, or are you the only game in town?
    • What are the geography considerations? A California plan will not perform the same as a New York plan.
    • Is it an election year? Elections consume available media, so there is a lot of “noise” in the marketplace.
    • How do your benefits stack up against the competition? Do you have $0 premiums, etc.? Do you offer dental, vision and Rx coverage?

Health club memberships, chiropractic, etc.?

  • Are you a 4- or 5-Star plan?
  • Do you have a strong physician network?

Preferred Physicians & Extra Benefits

How do your benefits stack up against your competition? Does your physician network include preferred physicians? These are important considerations in the Medicarian decision-making process. Because they are high utilizers, Medicarians look for specific benefits and doctors and compare them across plans. They are willing to make trade-offs, however, so it’s important to highlight extra benefits like Rx, vision, dental, hearing and fitness. The hierarchy of how you structure your content relative to these benefits will depend on how rich each is, so keep that in mind as you begin your development process.

Test & Learn

With all the variables that you have to consider, it’s important to test and learn and establish your own baseline metrics against which to measure. Then and only then will you have a strong handle on what kind of ROI you can expect. Tracking and monitoring results, setting baseline metrics and modifying strategies as you advance your learning agenda will allow you to improve your ROI year over year.

Tip 3—Closing the Sale

Your campaign is up and running and generating qualified leads. Yay! This is both an exciting and a critical time. Now you need to convert those leads into members. In Tip 3 of our 5-part series for improving your Medicare ROI, KERN Health will explore key sales channels and provide insights into how you can convert more successfully, because there’s nothing sadder than a wasted lead.

Capturing Sales Online

As the younger stretch of baby boomers age in to Medicare, they are bringing their Internet savviness with them. Marketers are seeing more engagement with their websites than ever before, with more enrollments occurring online. This is why it’s important that your site be as highly functioning as possible. Consider incorporating these kinds of features:

  • Click to call or click to chat—As prospective members surf your site, questions often occur to them. It’s productive if you connect with them immediately and provide answers.
  • Online enrollment applications—When a prospect is online and ready to commit, facilitate their enrollment online so they don’t have to leave the environment.
  • Educational videos—When posted on your site, educational videos keep your prospective member engaged and informed. The longer prospects stay on your site, and the more expertise they think you have, the better. Topics such as “Medicare Basics,” “How to Choose the Right Medicare Plan for You” and “Countdown to Medicare” are very popular with the Medicare audience. These videos can also be uploaded to YouTube, which expands your presence online.

Mastering Telesales

You cannot underestimate the value of a good telesales operation. When a lead calls in, they are motivated. They want information and a personal connection. This is another critical step, because how telesales handles the call can make or break your goals. Are your agents knowledgeable, friendly and helpful? Or confused about your plan benefits and distracted? Are calls handled quickly? Or are your prospects and waiting, until they give up and hang up? Here are some important aspects to consider:

  • Multi-tiered staff models are best practice. One tier will screen for eligibility (Is the caller in the right ZIP code? Do they have their Medicare card? etc.). This saves your real salespeople tons of time and energy. The next tiers include licensed agents who can sell leads once they’ve been qualified.
  • It’s ideal to staff 24/7 during AEP. If budgets do not support this, ensure that you can increase staff during the last two weeks of AEP, as applications increase during this time.
  • Training is a MUST to prepare telesales agents for the onslaught of calls and questions they will receive. Call-in scripts are also valuable at guiding agents through FAQs and sales closure.

Boosting Field Sales

Successful plans take advantage of up close and personal interactions to increase their enrollments. They use a combination of the following tactics:

  • Brokers have become a very important sales channel, especially in light of the Affordable Care Act. They can drive as much as 70% of sales in some markets. But it’s important that you establish your commission structure and payment processes up front for this channel, so they are competitively incentivized and there’s no confusion down the road.
  • In-home appointments are perfect for those prospects who need more hand-holding, AND, they have an insanely high close rate of 90+%. But you must balance this with the fact that they take A LOT MORE TIME. You can schedule only a handful of appointments in a day versus talking to double-digit seminar attendees 2 or 3 times a day.
  • Seminars and Community Events help to facilitate the application process for multiple people at the same time. For this reason, they are a very successful alternative sales channel for those prospects who require face-to-face interaction. Be sure to have the proper sales support tools in place like signage, sign-in sheets, PowerPoint and/or video presentations, the right amount of enrollment kits, etc. The last thing you want is for seminar attendees to show up and not have the right materials to close the sale. These leads are “hot, hot, hot” and you don’t want them to swim off the hook.

No Skimping on Preparation

There is a lot of prelaunch work that goes into ensuring your sales channels are active and ready to maximize enrollments and report out. If this foundation is not well established, you can upset potential members and quickly see marketing budget efficiencies go out the window. Don’t make that mistake—be prepared!!!

Tip 4—Retaining Your Medicare Members

Acquiring new members is only part of your AEP mission. They are valuable assets that you don’t want to squander. So it’s important that you have a retention plan in place. This will help onboard these new members into your plan experience and stimulate their loyalty.

In Tip 4 of our 5-part series for improving your Medicare ROI, KERN Health will share some ideas on how best to keep these assets you worked so hard for as members long-term.

Low-Hanging Fruit

The best retention strategies focus on retaining commercial members as they transition into Medicare coverage. This audience is prime for conversion into your Medicare plan. They know your brand, they’re already connected to doctors in your network and their loyalty has been established. This segment should be a priority in your lead nurturing.

Onboarding Builds Loyalty

An onboarding program is essential to successfully introduce new members to your organization and the many benefits and health services that you offer. It’s also helpful in transitioning commercial members into some of the changes and advantages that will occur with Medicare.

Ideally, you would reach out within the first week of their membership (by letter, email or phone) to extend a personal welcome and explain the plan philosophy. This is also the perfect opportunity to detail local facilities by including maps, discussing transportation options and, most importantly, helping them get established with a network doctor. Finding the right doctor is the #1 driver in member satisfaction and retention.

Keep Communication Flowing

New members, especially Medicare members, have a higher propensity to be disenchanted. You want to demonstrate that your organization cares about them and that they are part of something beneficial, healthy and positive. If you only communicate with them once a year, they’re likely to feel neglected—and when the next AEP rolls around, they could jump to another plan. Here are some insights around what age-related content you could be sharing with them on a regular basis. This can be done via letters, updates to a blog on your website or even a monthly newsletter:

  • Ages 65–69: This segment’s priority is health maintenance. It’s a good idea to highlight the importance of preserving their health as they age. So focus on prevention topics.
  • Ages 70–75: Many in this segment are living with chronic diseases (being prediabetic is often the case), so emphasize your disease management program or new disease findings that you can share.
  • Ages 76 and older: At this later stage, it’s helpful to emphasize the importance of benefits, coverage and potential savings–Medicarians at this age visit a doctor an average of 9 times per year, if not more.

Cultivate a Strong Connection

Remember, your organization depends on your members’ satisfaction and loyalty. It’s much more economical to retain a current member than it is to acquire a brand-new one. What’s more, their positive word of mouth to friends and family can help set the stage for more new members down the road.

Tip 5—Ensuring Your Success

In the last 4 tips, we’ve shared some good insights on acquiring and retaining new Medicare members. In Tip 5, we’re going to look at some key elements that can help your day-to-day operations. It’s important to remember that being efficient, accurate and compliant helps to keep costs down and build trust with your audience. It’s equally important to ensure that your vendor and agency partners support these goals. In the eyes of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), you are ultimately accountable for the performance of not only your organization, but the outside organizations you hire and work with as well.

CRM Pledges to Put Patients First

CMS’s goal is to make sure that Medicare consumers have meaningful information about plan quality and costs so they can make well-informed decisions. As a result, every July, CMS publishes an update to the comprehensive Medicare Marketing Guidelines (MMGs). This document is designed to help marketers communicate effectively to their audiences and stay in compliance. Plans include:

  • Medicare Advantage Plans
  • Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug Plans
  • Prescription Drug Plans
  • Union Sponsored Group Health Plans
  • Medicare-Medicaid Plans
  • Section 1876 Cost Plans

The Risk of Noncompliance

CMS works alongside the states to enforce Title XXVII of the Public Health Service Act (PHS Act), to ensure that consumers in all states have protections. If your marketing materials are found to be out of compliance, it can be costly. Your organization could be audited, fined and, in egregious cases, even restricted from marketing for a period of time. What’s more, when materials are out of compliance they often have to be revised, resubmitted and reprinted. That’s a terrible cost in terms of both time and budget—not to mention a big blow to your client’s confidence in your abilities.

Best Practices for Staying Compliant

At KERN Health, we advise you to familiarize yourself with the Medicare Marketing Guidelines and follow them to a T. Here are some different suggestions for building a process to help you achieve your compliance goals:

  • Create a special department whose sole mission is to understand, interpret and review marketing materials to assure compliance
  • If your plan can’t afford to start its own department, you can enlist proofreaders to take on the responsibility of learning and applying the guidelines
  • Hire MMG specialists who work on a contract basis—but note that they are often quite busy during the run-up to AEP, so it can be challenging to get advice promptly
  • Have everyone on the Account and Creative teams go over the guidelines every year. CMS.gov also offers The Medicare Learning Network, which offers free, 24/7 access to web-based training courses, including Medicare Parts C and D General Compliance Training.
  • Develop checklists. They are invaluable for the Creative and Proofreading staff to help ensure that the materials developed are compliant.

There is good news: The more you work with the MMGs, the easier they are to implement. But you must be prepared—there are no shortcuts. You have to commit and invest to ensure that your organization has representatives who are steeped in this important knowledge.

The Importance of Style Guides

To say that Medicare work is complex would be an understatement. Not only are there CMS rules that have to be honored, but there are also visual issues for the Medicare audience that have to be addressed, along with cognitive issues that make it extra important to keep content clear and simple. If you don’t have a dedicated team that creates all your Medicare marketing, chances are you’ll be sharing the work inside and outside of your organization with teams that need to get up to speed quickly. It’s worth the time and effort to create a style guide that gives everyone who develops and reviews your Medicare marketing materials a clear road map with regard to the appropriate typefaces, color palette, style of photography and tone of voice. While style guides do take time to create, the time it will save you on the back end—maintaining quality and consistency, and helping you to create more effective materials—is immeasurable.

Finding the Right Agency Partner

Like any other team experience, you want a partner that is not going to make more work for you—or worst of all, put you in compliance jeopardy. Here are some factors we recommend looking for in an agency partner:

  • It’s better to find an organization that already has proven experience marketing Medicare plans. The learning curve will then revolve around your brand and your products. Otherwise, the agency will have to get up to speed on EVERYTHING, and that can be challenging—especially under tight schedules.
  • We believe it takes a certain temperament to create Medicare materials. The agency has to be willing to do the due diligence it takes to get things right. If the agencies you’re reviewing don’t have the account experience that proves they’re detail-oriented (accounts like Medicare, healthcare, pharma, financial, etc.), keep looking.
  • While direct marketing is still the workhorse, Medicare marketing is becoming more and more of a multichannel experience. Your agency should be proficient in DM, digital/mobile, SEM, OOH, social, traditional media and collateral.
  • You’re going to be working very closely with your agency partner, so compatibility is crucial.
  • Ask yourself these questions:
    • How responsive do they seem?
    • Is the prospective agency aware of what’s going on in the marketplace? Are they familiar with your competition’s strengths and weaknesses and how your plan can capitalize on all that?
    • Are they savvy in the ways of new media, bringing you valuable ideas and insights? Or are they simply doing what you tell them to do?
    • Is their staff big enough to handle the workload? And if they bring in freelancers, how will you know they’re being trained properly to create compliant Medicare materials?
    • How accountable are they? This is important to know. Because if an error does get out, how will they fix it? Will they step up and resolve it? Or will they sidestep?
    • How clear are their processes? You need to make sure their approval processes are simple to follow, so there are no version-control issues.
    • And finally, do they have a sense of humor? Because here at KERN, we guarantee that humor really helps to keep everything in perspective and get this work done well.

Want to learn more about the best practices for successful Medicare marketing? Email Denise Graham, Account Director at KERN Health, at dgraham@kernagency.com. Or call her direct line at 818-449-4468. We’ll be happy to arrange a meeting to answer any questions you may have.

Denise Graham

About Denise Graham

In addition to her agency Account Management background, Denise has worked for multiple health plans, including Kaiser Permanente and PacifiCare. She has spent much of her career promoting Individual and Families and Medicare healthcare products. She was a key player in the development of Kaiser’s “Total Health” brand strategy and implementation in addition to the acclaimed “Thrive” marketing and ad campaign.

Boni Peluso

About Boni Peluso

Boni is a Medicare specialist with over 9 years of experience marketing to Medicarians. As an Associate Creative Director, she leads the Medicare creative development team at KERN Health.