Today we are highlighting Kimberly A. Whitler, a contributor to Forbes  and other magazines regarding marketing.

Few industries are as challenging as healthcare. Between the very high level of regulation, the complicated nature of the buying/selling process, the rapid changes required to keep up with legislation, and the shifting — and demanding — needs of consumers, it can challenge even the most successful marketer. To better understand how the changes in healthcare are impacting marketers, I turned to Jody Bilney, Chief Consumer Officer of Humana, a leading health and well-being company with more than 13 million health plan members nationwide. Below are Bilney’s thoughts.

Kimberly Whitler: How is healthcare insurance marketing changing?

Jody Bilney: As somebody who has a broad marketing background, I’ve found that healthcare is a fantastic challenge for marketers. Healthcare is a terrific industry in that it is one of the few where the motives of the company, in this case Humana, are perfectly aligned with the interests of our members. If we can help our members be healthier, they will be happier, and the healthier our members are, the less it will cost us, and the more we can invest in growth. What’s interesting, however, is that consumers believe we make money when we say “no” or when we deny things. And so consumers believe something that isn’t true. This is the core of the challenge — to help members understand that we genuinely want them to be healthier for their sake.

Another part of the challenge is we are heavily regulated. So, for example, we send 400,000,000 pieces of mail a year to members —much of which is required by law. When I joined Humana, we started looking at how we communicate with our members and looking at the communication through their eyes (and not just ours). As we examined the messaging we realized we were using words that consumers couldn’t understand. For example, we would use the term “drug formulary” instead of something like “list of drugs”. Another example, we would say we would “investigate that claim” versus just explaining that we had to “look into the claim.” As an industry, we had grown numb to the language we use.

We needed to shift from a transactional mentality where the language is either industry lingo or adversarial to one of a partnership. Since the mission of our company is to help people live healthier lives, then we realized we needed to rethink our marketing. When looking at the business through the consumer’s lens, the entire management team embraced the notion we needed to change how we interacted with members. And while the intensity of the regulatory environment, even relative to financial services, makes marketing extremely challenging, it’s not an excuse for using “inside baseball” terminology that isn’t clear for the consumer.

Whitler: How can healthcare marketers make a difference in changing consumers’ lives?

Bilney: Your health circumstance is a consequence of decisions that you make every day (how much you move, what you eat, etc.). There is a way that we can help to create a culture that is centered on reminding the consumer about the hundreds of decisions they can make every day. For example, at Humana, there is a sign on the elevators to inspire employees to take the stairs. On the stairs, there are motivational sayings to encourage employees who walk. We also have a program called HumanaVitality. It provides enrollees with rewards for the steps they’ve taken and even for going to the dentist. These are the types of proactive programs that we develop with corporate partners to help motivate and reward their employees to live healthier lives.

In the B2B environment, when you can inspire an employer to create a culture around health, it has multiple benefits for everyone throughout the chain. And there are incentives we can put in place to motivate employers to help motivate improvement in their employees’ health. The business benefits, the employee benefits.

Over 75% of our business is with people 65 and older and it is B2C. Plus when the target is people who are older, it’s a much different marketing challenge to influence their behavior. The definition of health is different among the 65+ cohort. For a Millennial, being “healthy” might mean looking good. For somebody 65+ their definition is “to not be unhealthy”. But what does this mean? It means “can I go to the mailbox on my own?” “Can I take care of my daily routines independently?” They want to live life on their terms. For a marketer, it’s critical that we not impose only our definition of health (which typically centers around measures such as blood pressure, etc.). Instead, it’s important we understand what it means to the consumer to not address their A1C levels and then talk about how important it is to be able to go to a grandchild’s play…or to do their errands. We are focusing on the benefits of good health and helping inspire people to live healthier lives, on their terms.

How has the health and wellness program worked in your practice or facility?  Has it made a difference?  Has it been well-received?

Please share your experiences in the comment box below.