I joined HealthMarkets in April 2013—just three months before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) came into play within the health insurance marketplace.
I wasn’t new to the insurance industry per se, as I had worked at both St. Paul Companies and Kemper prior to making the move to HealthMarkets. However, much of my experience up until then revolved around property and casualty insurance, not health insurance, so I jumped on board to learn quickly and act even faster.
The implementation of the ACA was both exciting and confusing for insurers and consumers. I understood and felt both of those emotions when I joined the HealthMarkets team. More than anything, I was inspired because I saw the opportunity for growth and improvement for the company, our employees, the agents who represented the brand and, most importantly, the millions of consumers looking for help with their health and life insurance needs.
Rebranding for today, tomorrow, and beyond
It was a learning experience. Here are the three main takeaways and lessons I gained from it, and how you can use this information for yourself and your company.
1. Reassess who the customer is or can be
When it came time to strategize and determine all that needed to be done to have our people and systems ready for the introduction of ACA, we had to do a detailed assessment of where we have been, where we were, and where we wanted to go—all in less than six months.
HealthMarkets and its subsidiaries had been serving consumers for 35 years, with agents throughout the United States helping customers identify healthcare plans to fit their needs and budgets. Fundamentally, that wasn’t changing—but the way we provided these services was.
Like many insurance companies, HealthMarkets had a few thousand agents throughout the country who held face-to-face meetings with the same clients year after year and relied on word-of-mouth referrals. As a result, the company was in business but not necessarily growing. Agents were the company’s only sales channel, and they had limited marketing support.
I was tasked with building the marketing department. This involved working with sales leadership to further expand the company’s sales channels and essentially change the way HealthMarkets had done business for years. Piece of cake, right? Not so much. But exciting? Inspiring? Exhausting, yet fun? Yes, to all of those.
In order to meet the ever-changing needs of consumers and keep up with insurance trends, we needed to transform the way our company did business. Our agents were still a critical part of the sales equation, but they weren’t the only factor anymore.
We needed to provide service and information to those who wanted to do their research and purchasing on their own without the assistance of a licensed agent. We also needed to provide service for individuals who wanted to do their homework before speaking with an agent.
Supporting these new sales approaches required a change of mindset throughout the organization and a major overhaul of how our business transacted. Since we were fundamentally changing the way consumers could interact with us, it was also important for us to rebrand.
Developing the direct-to-consumer stream of business was critical to meeting the needs of customers who wanted to do their own research and purchasing. But there were still many who wanted the assistance of a licensed agent. In order to further promote the knowledge and skill set of that portion of our sales force, my team and I developed the first true consumer marketing campaign for HealthMarkets.
We developed a cohesive, integrated marketing campaign that included:
Radio, TV, direct mail, and online advertising
Telesales that allowed consumers to reach out with questions or buy
TIP: Need a way to gauge customer satisfaction? Try using survey software to get the answers you seek.
2. Reassure customers that change is good
Change doesn’t happen without trepidation, questioning, and uncertainty—but change can also be good. Part of my role at HealthMarkets was, and still is, to help reassure different stakeholders that change is a good thing. The changes we made at HealthMarkets were the right thing to do for our business, our agents, and our customers.
For starters, many of our agents and employees had been with the organization for a long time—some from the very beginning, more than 30 years—and were worried our new direction was an effort to replace them. It was important to reassure our employees, especially our agents, that while customers would be able to purchase products through other channels, the goal was to help make them even more successful, not to eliminate their roles. While they may not have been open to change at first, their minds were put at ease once the wheels were in motion.
By marketing directly to consumers, we invited them to call us, freeing up more time for our agents so they could spend it helping customers instead of finding their own leads.
Within months, employee and agent morale, as well as productivity, was higher than it ever had been. People were taking notice and asking about HealthMarkets. That not only helped grow our business, but it made our people proud. Within five years, our company went from selling $500 million in new business premium to $1.8 billion, helping enroll Americans in more than 4 million insurance policies. In the past few years, we have helped enroll 100,000 individuals in Medicare. Our rebranding has been successful, to say the least.
3. Revel in the rebrand
There is nothing more important than your health. At HealthMarkets, our 600-plus employees and 3,000 agents throughout the United States take our role in providing the protection and services consumers need very seriously.
In addition to the consumer-facing rebranding work, we reinforced our rebrand internally, too. We revised the purpose of our company, our people, and our brand promise to give consumers Convenience, Choice, and Counsel (the “Three C’s”) with the best products at the best prices.
We continue to market our products and services via various channels, and our agents remain knowledgeable and committed local experts who can provide guidance. We launched #OurCare, a first-of-its-kind online advocacy tool that crowdsources legislation, allowing anyone to build their own bill. The tool allows you to choose what healthcare subjects are most important to you and propose legislation that you can share with your friend, family, members of Congress, or even the president. Since its inception in 2017, more than 6,000 consumers have shared proposed legislation using our tool.
The feedback and momentum we’ve received from our employees, agents, and consumers have helped us continue our efforts to innovate, improve, and inspire. Just last year we expanded our marketing efforts to include a celebrity spokesperson, Bill Engvall. This year we launched an innovative new online shopping site and FitScore to help consumers identify plans that best meet their needs and allow them to compare their current plan to other options.
We continue to adapt, improve, change, enhance, and learn. The marketplace—and more importantly, the consumer—deserves that. It has been a very enriching, often grueling, yet exhilarating ride bringing our brand and company to where it is today. We look forward to the opportunities to come as we continue to protect the lives and health of millions of Americans each year.
Michael Z. Stahl serves as executive vice president and chief marketing officer of HealthMarkets—one of the nation’s largest independent insurance agencies in the Medicare, individual and supplemental health, life, and small group insurance markets. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and holds the chartered property casualty underwriter (CPCU), associate in insurance accounting and finance (AIAF) and associate in reinsurance (ARe). An avid Kansas City Royals fan, he lives in Dallas with his wife and children.