If It’s Good Enough for the Clintons. . .

Les Masterson, for Health Plan Insider, June 4, 2008

Let's kick off this column with a simple exercise.

I want you to think of your typical female 40-year-old member or patient. Is she married with two children? Does she drive a mini-van and take her children to Little League practice? Does she make all of the family's healthcare decisions?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, your company may have a problem.

That's because there simply is no such person as a "typical" 40-year-old, 60-year-old, or any age actually, and if your company is separating members into silos by age, economics, or socio-economics, you could be wasting money and effort.

The 40-year-old woman I mention could be a mother of two, she might be single, or she may be divorced. She could be a career woman, she might be a stay-at-home mom, she might work two jobs.

If your company were to create the same generic healthcare communications message for every middle-aged woman, you could alienate a segment of your member population and lose the opportunity to spark that member to action.

Rather than separating members by more general megatrends, there is a growing movement that says drilling down and specializing communications is the way to go.

The theory is called microtrends, which has already caught on in politics and consumer industries. The idea is to look beyond the usual stereotypes and reach down to find smaller groupings rather than more general commonalities. Most microtrends don't exceed 1% of the population.

This kind of microsegmentation was evident in the 1996 election when the so-called "Soccer Moms" helped carry President Bill Clinton to a second term. Pollster Mark J. Penn was the mastermind behind the "Soccer Moms" microtrend, as the Clinton campaign targeted that group of people as swing voters.

Penn recently wrote a book about microtrends with E. Kinney Zalesne, who was the keynote speaker at Healthcare Communications: Think Different, the first of a six-stop executive education seminar series hosted by Silverlink, a healthcare communications company based in Burlington, MA.

Zalesne says analyzing member lifestyle choices and personal passions allows health plans to properly target each microsegment with the right message. In their book, Penn and Kalesne offer 70 microtrends, including ones that involve healthcare: DIY Doctors (the millions of do-it-yourself Americans who use health-related Web sites and who see their doctors as consultants rather than supervisors of their care); Dutiful Sons (the men who are taking care of ill parents, spouses, and children); and Hard-of-Hearers (the 30 million Americans with hearing loss, which is more than double than in the 1970s).

Zalesne offers these tips:

  • The key to microtrends is not to simply divide your members and give them cute segment names. Once you have your microtrend groups, you must create messages that are targeted to each group.
  • Realize that life is an evolution. Though a member may be in one microtrend group today, he or she will move to other groups throughout a lifetime because priorities and health status change over time. For instance, the "Soccer Moms" of the 1990s have left their carpooling mini-van days behind.
  • Stay current by continually analyzing your members and customizing your outreach.
  • Even baby steps can impact many dollars and health outcomes.

Improving communication with members is not just a feel-good policy, but can improve the bottom line and health outcomes. A recent J.D. Power and Associates survey found that 20% of those surveyed said their health plans are where they receive their healthcare information. If health plans do not effectively reach those members, they are missing out on potentially changing behavior and lowering healthcare costs.

Les Masterson is senior editor of Health Plan Insider. He can be reached at lmasterson@healthleadersmedia.com .
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