It's Personal: Marketing and the Reluctant Healthcare Consumer

Kimball Wilkins, VP, brand research and creative studios, Blue Shield of California

Healthcare in the U.S. is a trillion-dollar industry, rapidly evolving. Multiple players, incumbents, payers, providers. Upstarts, Amazons of healthcare coming in. Outside sector players. Huge mergers, CVS/Aetna. Dynamic environment.

There’s such a powerful human element, start there as we are trying to do. HuffPost illustrative story about family benefiting from ACA. Another family had been hurt by it.

Stories of the uninsured, consumers who are struggling and buying in, get coverage but struggle with how to use it. We had to change some ways of doing business. Go deeper with consumers. Business journey itself was wrenching, complex. When reform went through, we were excited about expanding our market. We are a leading player on public exchanges in terms of membership volume. 

We weren’t equipped to manage that population fully. Sheer volume, in midst of massive tech upgrade, systems issues when influx came on board. Difficult internally and far more importantly we were serving members. Growing pains. Remained committed to growth agenda. Mission is about achieving tighter partnerships with providers. 

In 2016, we had been silent in the market, focused internally, stabilize, we were coming out of that, needed to be back in the market. Quantitative, qualitative work. Found we had customer abrasion, segments where our favorability had declines. New members excited to have coverage, good experience, prospects still interested. Blue equity. Striking to compare kinds of things we heard consumers describing in focus groups from five years earlier. A shift. Greater sophistication about healthcare. More grey and less black and white. 

Questioning about roles constituents played in their healthcare. We were hearing half of consumers saying treatments create as many problems as they solve. 80% said cost getting in way of care. Higher willingness to switch doctors to save money or have different benefits.

Health is mind, body, spirit, not drugs, doctors. Stigmatism around mental health consumers feel acutely. Appetite for much more integrated view and willingness to engage at that level, opportunity for marketing. Upper to mid funnel piece is scratching surface. Opportunity to go much deeper in marketing.

We needed a storm foundation. Blue equity was strong. Start with brand to consider employees and executives as key to what we were trying to do. Establish emotional connections with consumers. Brand positioning, we tried to translate form focus groups. When you are feeling at your best, more potential in your life. So much uncertainty, building that confidence was going to be important. Created brand line, ”never stop.” 

Wanted an inclusive vision to mirror the California market. Hispanic segment just became the dominant segment this year. Multitude of languages, cultural considerations come into play. Captures that in imagery. Sea of sameness in stock photography, lifestyle imagery. Focused on photography, paid attention to heroic views of people. Bring in more couples, families. 

In market for 18 months, kept look and feel constant. Have evolved messaging and positioning around that. In 2017, “We Care About Here” and in 2018, came up with “Choice.”  (Shows three reels.) Ran spots, story telling that went along with clips you saw here. Through all that, we made extra effort in thinking about media placements. 


  • 20% membership growth, 
  • 30% revenue growth
  • Generated 3 billion impressions
  • Increased ad awareness, harder to get unaided awareness up. Ticking up.

Video from this session will be available here tomorrow.

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