"Three years ago we were doing business the old fashioned way," says Jerry Mallicoat, RVP Central Region Group Marketing at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
"Our image was very bureaucratic and 'everything's done on paper.'"
Mallicoat wanted to bring the email revolution to communications across five states -- Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. Only problem, most of his intended recipients weren't all that interested in getting frequent news via email from Blue Cross's marketing department.
o Employers were busy running a business, and insurance was only one of a multitude of administrative issues.
o End-users didn't pay much attention to insurance until they used it.
o Healthcare providers were busy running a practice and improving medical skills.
o Insurance brokers were, at their heart, sales reps. And sales reps are famous for being too busy to read much.
o Anthem's team of account managers were also at their heart sales reps. Plus, aside from being too busy to read, they also had a slight distrust of the marketing department that tends to spring up in almost every organization.
How do you turn email no one's very excited about getting into the stuff of every marketing department's must-open/must-click dreams?CAMPAIGN
Instead of deciding what to communicate solely based on what news Blue Cross had to talk about, Mallicoat's team did something that's unfortunately overlooked in many marketing departments: they invented all content from the viewpoint of the recipient.
This lead to four ground rules that drove the program:
#1. Ask them what they want
No, we're not talking about a standard email preferences center (although Anthem offers this as well), but rather a systemic and ongoing series of surveys and feedback requests.
"We ask them broadly what additional things they need information on or what service they'd like from us," Mallicoat says, describing an annual survey program directed to insurance brokers. Surveys for each audience were delivered by the media that that audience was most likely to respond to. For example, some brokers preferred a postal-mailed survey to an email one.
The team also watched email response rates, especially which particular article or offer hotlinks were clicked on and which were not, to discover how to make content even more compelling.
#2. No generic newsletters
Anthem never sent a single email broadcast to the entire house list. Each audience, from employers to account managers, was treated as an entirely different marketplace deserving of their own unique messaging content, creative templates and frequency. (See below for samples.) Two examples:
o End-users -- Consumers would be bored to tears by receiving nothing but Blue Cross administration notes. So, instead the relationship building email program was built with fun in mind.
The team negotiated policy-holder-only discount deals with entertainment brands such as Barnes & Noble and designed a silly holiday ecard for the list.
o Insurance brokers -- To charm these "no time to read" folks, Mallicoat's team named the weekly broker newsletter 'Broker Rapid Update.' And rapid it was.
Each issue featured just three to four brief articles and listed their clearly-descriptive headlines (no guessing about content) as clickable links high up above the fold.
Plus, the template featured hotlinks (also above the fold) to useful Web site features brokers most often visited. That meant no "about us" or generic "home" links. Instead links included "Download Forms," "Update Your Information," and "Healthcare Cost Toolkit."
Last but not least, the broker list was segmented by state, so the articles always pertained to their unique situation including special statewide bonus offers and local regulatory updates.
#3. Segment your best list for special personalized attention
Mallicoat wanted to test more personalization and segmentation, but his resources were already stretched. So he decided to start by focusing on the most profitable part of the house list -- the top two dozen performing brokers in each state.
Roughly once a quarter, each of these top performers was sent a personalized "At Your Service" email offer. To distinguish the message from the weekly newsletter, the team created a completely different template.
The most obvious creative element -- a big photograph of the Anthem account rep who worked most closely with that particular broker. The message was also "from" that rep and included his or her email address and direct dial phone number.
Also, the note's typeface was extra-large for easy skimming, and each note focused on only one specific offer deemed to be most interesting to that individual broker. "We keep close tabs on issues important to them so if a particular broker wants to know about, for example, consumer-directed health savings accounts, we capture that and add it to the profile we have in marketing so we can push unique content to them."
Often that offer was for a white paper or educational toolkit based on research Anthem had done in the field. Sometimes these white papers were designed as pass-alongs for the broker to then use as marcom when talking to employers. "The newsletter is meant to be more generic, it's quick things you need to know this week to sell our products," explains Mallicoat. "We wanted that true high-level added-value information to be handeled in more of a high-level email communication."
To keep the value high, aside from account manager contact info and the personalized offer-du-jour, the 'At Your Service' template only featured one other response device: a reply box complete with submit button asking "What information would you like to see in an upcoming 'At Your Service' email?"
#4. Warn your sales team well before email goes out
Like sales reps everywhere, Anthem's account mangers initially were understandably leery about having emailed offers sent to their contacts by marketing. "They tend to want to have ownership of the program," explains Mallicoat. The team used four tactics to help inside-sales feel more comfortable.
A. Quarterly in-house webinars to give a heads up on all upcoming marketing campaigns and Web site changes.
B. A weekly in-house email newsletter 'The Anthem Sales Call' to quickly detail every marketing initiative scheduled for that week to all constituents as well as results of past initiatives.
C. A 48-hour emailed notice, including a creative copy and the power to make changes, of every email to be sent to that individual account manager's contacts.
D. Occasional phone calls to check in with account managers who had not reviewed the creative being sent on their behalf. (Let's face it, many sales reps prefer phone to email, and Mallicoat's team respected that.)
"In a recent survey, 88% of brokers rated Anthem's email as the best among health insurance companies. We found that pretty gratifying," says Mallicoat. "It's hard to get 88% of any population to agree on any one thing, especially insurance agents!"
In addition, 95% of surveyed healthcare providers said Anthem's email made it easier for them to do their jobs.
Anthem sent more than 2 million emails in 2005, and overall response rates (measured opens at 47% and clicks at 12.7%) beat typical B-to-B and insurance industry standards handily. Two stand-out campaigns:
-> Consumer holiday ecard got a measured 53.2% open rate and 30.9% click rate.
-> Top broker's 'At Your Service' notes get an average measured open rate of 64% and a click rate of 22%.
Plus, Mallicoat shared these lessons learned:
Two things that do NOT work: Graphics heavy emails where the reader has to page down for content don't get read. Email opt-ins collected via paper applications have lower deliverability and higher opt-outs
Four things that DO work: Links to rich media such as flash demos generate higher clicks. Updates or specials that are designed to appear simpler than your newsletter template. Identifying the goal of each communication and removing anything that doesn't help achieve it. Continuously surveying and modifying based on results.Useful links related to this article:
Creative samples from Anthem's email programs: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/cs/acbs/study.html
ExactTarget - the email service provider Anthem uses http://www.exacttarget.com
Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield http://www.anthem.com