Brand Image Membership Motherlode Strategic Brand

An Open Letter to Health Insurers

November 8th, 2010

We appreciate that you operate in a complicated cultural reality – economic uncertainty, political divide, scarcity mentalities, and fear have collided in the health-care sector. The insured, underinsured, and uninsured are feeling anxious, concerned, entitled, angry, and threatened. We find it frustrating and shortsighted that the health-care “hysteria” is largely avoided by the very industry that is positioned to address the uncertainties and acknowledge the prevailing social vulnerability that we all sense when sea change is required.

We suspect that the majority of advertising campaigns designed and launched by health insurers are well-intentioned. But the reality is that the messages communicated have less to do with the higher order needs, desires, sensitivities, and fears of people than they do with promoting what any one insurer has to offer as a “program” or a “perk” in the same-old, same-old approach. It seems to us that the messages conveyed and brand promises made seem to rely on consumption axioms that actually provoke cultural contradictions and rouse social anxieties. Meaningless programs and messaging dominate the awareness strategies of insurers distracted by their own positioning. Even the most thoughtful participants in the industry are minimizing their role and limiting their potential by skirting the blazing issues.

Not long ago McKinsey reported that people are less concerned with having to change than they are that no one is defining how in relation to health-care. People want to know that health insurers understand that more and more decision-making power and financial responsibility fall to people, not companies. People want to know that health insurers intuit the seriousness with which they fear illness- given that more than half of the working population reports being ‘unprepared’ for an injury or illness. People want to know that health insurers realize health-care is costly to them, regardless of the “value” offered.

Until health insurers recognize the relevant, deeply personal influences and the range of emotions that control decision making it is impossible to speak the same language, elevate cultural understanding, evolve behavior – or – attract, woo, and secure ideal subscribers.

The times and reality cry out  for a thought leader, a compassionate visionary that is willing to address head on what must be done. A thought leader driven by deep convictions, that appreciates that it is moral to be realistic and realistic to be moral. A thought leader that acknowledges the uncertainty with a perspective that communicates solutions in an open declaration of confidence to an insecure people, at such a time as this. Rather than advertising quips that gloss and avoid the cultural tensions and political divide – a thought leader that speaks directly to the collective psyche of society, one ad, one sponsorship, one promotion at a time. A thought leader that will keep it real; interacting authentically and sincerely. No visionary should ignore the well-being of people in conflict, especially in the wellness industry. An energized industry insider ready to make a promise that can be kept, and communicated, through a perspective that holistically and strategically connects with the needs of people. What is needed is “a utopian moment of healing built around” 1 solutions and concepts that address the way forward.

If the programs, products, and partnerships of health-care providers are in-sync with an honorable philosophy, a robust purpose and a motivating vision then the organization should NOT be dumbed-down with trite messaging and out-of-touch promotions. Health insurers have a responsibility to make explicitly plain how the industry and providers intend to participate and interact in the colliding worlds of health, wellness, and fear.

When the needs are great, the issues sensitive, and the future uncertain, it is necessary for organizations in competitive and personal arenas to reveal more of ‘who they are’ rather than what programs they sell. The insured and uninsured want to know the motives of health insurers; key to understanding and deciding who can and should be trusted in the new and uncertain world order. The contrast between health insurer’s campaigns and their organizational way of being were less important once upon a time then they are now. In the new health insurance world order who you are, what you stand for, and why anyone wants your version of health-care genuinely matters. Your purpose and philosophy, as it relates to health, disease, trust, and people are intensely relevant.

The debate on health-care seems to hover and stall at cost. To not integrate or speak to the emotional aspect of health insurance is to ignore a fundamental aspect of the very real human experience. What people are concerned about is security, which is related to freedom. Freedom certainly has a cost but it’s far more complex than premium rates. Freedom, and control, are foundational to our national health and wellness mindsets. It will take a confident thought leader with a genuine interest in the wellness of people to motivate a nation to healthier behavioral choices, key to securing their freedom and health in the new world order. To sincerely address the real issues, thoughtfully, in a relevant voice is to alleviate the fears that will ultimately distract people’s ability to make sound decisions. Once a sense of direction hits tipping point a sense of acceptance, responsibility, certainty, and progress will infuse the human spirit and collective willpower transcending powerlessness, confusion, fear, anger, resentment, entitlement…

We challenge the health insurance industry to reconsider and re-imagine their influence, relevance, and role moving forward. Visionary, purpose-driven, people-centric providers are in a position to offer more than benefits within a category. What is needed now is a compassionate visionary who has the potential to innovate, negotiate, and champion change within the industry and society. Competitive forces and the anxiety of the masses demand that insurers develop wider brand strategies that develop and broadcast differences that truly make a difference. To our way of thinking, an authentic brand is driven by a humanizing philosophy and a captivating purpose, fueled by relentless conviction intent on guiding people-centric, spot-on decision making that doesn’t disappoint. Anything less is just malarkey. Relevance, credibility, and awareness are not an accidental consequence of advertising campaigns nor are they fringe activities unrelated to the greater purposes and objectives that providers sincerely intend to achieve, short and long term.

In times of trouble we listen for the confident; we are willing to follow the confident. Are you confident? Are you different? Are you relevant? Credible? Compelling? Do you care?

There will be plenty of those that simply wait and watch to see what the future holds. Insurers that ignore the realities that keep us up at night and chewing our nails during the day, do so at our collective peril. We implore relevant providers to rise to the occasion as champions of the health-care revolution, provoking conversations, deepening their relevance and proving that the exceptional is possible. Genuine leadership finds the courage to address the conflicts of society, culture, and people…not merely customers, consumers, and programming.

The best prospects for a meaningful future demand that we all do our part, giving the best of what we have, generously.

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