From new political ideals to technological advances, the healthcare industry is undergoing a massive shift. And as consumers’ views on healthcare evolve, so must health insurance providers’ communications and sales tactics.

Blue Cross Blue Shield Rhode Island (BCBSRI) experienced this firsthand when it brought the 75-year-old company’s marketing strategy to the modern age and began experimenting with email and segmented campaigns.


When Kristen Kim and Bill Maxwell joined BCBSRI in 2014 as the company’s digital marketing specialist and digital marketing manager, respectively, they faced their fair share of challenges. Not only was BCBSRI’s digital presence minimal, but the organization’s marketing department also relied on outdated technology and processes. Plus, its marketing activities had little historical attribution to ROI—making the department seem more like a cost center than a money maker.

“We had to overcome that and wanted to become a revenue center,” Kim said during a session at Marketo’s Marketing Nation Summit in Las Vegas. “We knew it was going to be a challenge, but that was our goal ultimately.”

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But the challenges didn’t end there. Even though Kim and Maxwell were hired to revitalize the department and bring in a new generation of customers, they faced pushback from their colleagues, including the dreaded “We tried that before; it didn’t work” arguments and misconceptions that seniors, a prominent segment for the company, didn’t use digital or mobile.

“Before we could get going…we had to really look at change management,” Maxwell said.

So, the digital duo sought out leadership support and dug deep into the data to identify opportunities for lead generation and revenue.


The first opportunity presented itself within BCBSRI’s newly eligible medicare population: Those 64 and older who are aging in to the medicare and retirement population. In the past, BCBSRI’s marketers would engage these prospects primarily through direct mail a few times per year. But Kim and Maxwell wanted to supplement the channel by bringing email marketing into the fold. They aimed to engage these prospects earlier and more frequently, bring their buying cycles online, and decrease costs associated with print and direct mail. They also wanted to increase the number of medicare leads with email addresses, convert a higher number of these leads, and prove digital’s worth as a sales and marketing channel.

To achieve these goals, they rolled out a year-long nurture campaign in April 2015 in which they used Marketo’s engagement platform to provide prospects 64 and older with different content depending on where they were in their lifecycle. For instance, Kim and Maxwell know that people aren’t exactly excited to learn about medicare. So, they decided to provide those who were 64 and three months old with a book on how to prepare for retirement. Once they turned 64 and six months old, BCBSRI’s marketers would send them a guidebook to medicare. They also sent these prospects a message at 64 and nine months reminding them that enrollment was approaching and that they could browse plans or RSVP for an informational meeting. A birthday email encouraging them to enroll was sent once they turned 65, as well as two follow-up emails two and three months later reminding them to enroll and explaining the risks of not doing so.

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In addition to the lifecycle marketing, BCBSRI also used Marketo’s Ad Bridge solution to run targeted ads on Facebook.

The campaign proved to be a success. During its run, BCBSRI experienced a five-time increase in customer touchpoints, as well as a 500% increase in sales qualified lead growth. They also saw a 10% increase in pre-sales goal conversion.


Based on these results, Kim and Maxwell decided to run another campaign targeting a different segment: its annual open enrollment prospects.

Like with its previous campaign, Kim and Maxwell were tasked with building up its digital presence and overcoming the perception that medicare members and prospects didn’t interact online. So, from October 2015 to January 2016 it used a combination of email, direct mail, and social content to retain members, drive new and existing customers to its retail store or events, and promote its new online shopping experience.

“In healthcare, all we can do is make it simpler to purchase, simpler to understand, and simpler to navigate,” Maxwell said.

After running the campaign, the digital team saw a 38% increase in online medicare revenue, as well as a 50% application conversion rate—up from 27% the year before. They also saw a 30% attachment rate of ancillary products, and they increased their medicare revenue goal and individual application goal by 124% and 670%, respectively.


With two wins under their belt, Kim and Maxwell opted to run a third campaign for one of its more challenging segments: the care management group. This segment consisted of members with chronic conditions who frequently used BCBSRI’s services, Kim notes; however, they were also difficult to reach.

“They need to be spoken to at exactly the right time with exactly the right message,” she said.

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In the past, BCBSRI’s marketers would rely on manual outreach to try and engage these members—a method that drained its time and its resources. Kim and Maxwell wanted to introduce a series of inbound communications to increase its lead generation and enrollment. So, in February 2016 the two relied on a multi-touch email program and online content to remind people that they didn’t have to go through their condition alone and that they could reach out to BCBSRI when they were ready.

Not only was Kim and Maxwell able to reach 25% of the population that had been deemed untouched, but they were also able to generate a 1% conversion rate from this group, which resulted in about $6,000 in savings for every $1 spent.


In addition to generating monetary and metrics-based wins for their company, Kim and Maxwell have been able to produce cultural and structural gains. For instance, Maxwell says that marketing is now collaborating with sales and the department has disproved the notion that seniors don’t use digital or mobile. In fact, he says that 50% of its medicare traffic now comes through mobile.

As for future initiatives, Maxwell says that he’d like to expand the newly eligible campaign, especially now that BCBSRI has awarded marketing more budget. However, it looks like this is just the beginning.

“It’s been a really exciting year and a half,” Maxwell said. “As a marketer, if you ever start to think about the challenges getting a bit mundane or boring, go into healthcare.”

This story originally appeared in Direct Marketing News.