What Health Insurance Marketers Can Learn From Starbucks

The annual enrollment period is a key time for health insurers, but consumers don’t typically show great interest. Despite its being a life-saving benefit, consumers spend very little time making coverage decisions. Most put more thought into their coffee orders.

Perhaps the industry needs to try a new approach to customer engagement.  One need look no further than the ubiquitous Starbucks for inspiration.

Think of how many times you order your coffee from Starbucks with your iPhone and grab it the minute you arrive.  While there, you easily pick up a last-second latte for your co-worker with your preloaded card.  Even better, you redeem a free drink based on your loyalty status, which you use on your co-worker’s drink.  

I know: how can you compare health insurance and coffee when they are vastly different?

While that's true, consumer expectations for ALL brand interactions are remarkably similar: We all want simple, streamlined experiences customized to anticipate specific needs. We want to be at the center of the consuming experience. That’s something Starbucks owns, while the health insurance industry has yet to attempt.



By perfecting its customer loyalty program for years, Starbucks has gleaned reams of customer insights, which feed emailed targeted offers encouraging retention, cross-selling and more frequent transactions.

Starbucks has mastered the art of true omnichannel customer experience: direct mail, email, online, in-store and app. The key lesson here is that consumers drove these innovations (even the option to personalize cups with whatever names they fancied).

By comparison, health insurers have been historically viewed as having a complicated product menu; being highly selective in who they insure; being very expensive; difficult with claims; and essentially operating like a government bureaucracy. Their websites are a hodgepodge of information where members/prospects cannot quickly navigate to the content they seek.

Most payers have barely utilized multichannel marketing (forget about omnichannel), leaning heavily on direct mail. Payers should be able to communicate via omnichannel messaging to 100% of its customer base and at least 60% of prospects.  Healthcare marketers’ ability to catalog and message based on personally identifiable information is critical for true consumer-centric, marketing success.  

We must recognize how consumer-shopping habits have changed health care. Ever-expanding self-health resources like WebMD empower consumers as their own gatekeepers for diagnosis and treatment. Not exactly choosing between a latte and espresso, but it shows how consumers prefer to own their choices.   

In years to come, fewer members will seek professional health advice in person or even from a physician. More will depend on health-modeling algorithms linked to their personal identities through a relationship with Amazon and larger anonymized health databases. They may be able to transfer basic health information into an online portal for professional analysis.

If patients are unwell, a simple and inexpensive teledoctor video appointment could be available, perhaps with same-day prescriptions filled through Amazon’s online pharmacy PillPack.  

Continuous monitoring and data collection will also be possible. Imagine using your wireless scale or wireless blood pressure monitor, each syncing to your watch or phone and communicating data to your doctor, who can identify through algorithms that you need to see a specialist ASAP.  

Consumers perceive that health insurers have too much power.  Payers would be better served if we flip the script and empower patients to control their own health insurance.  

By identifying the ideal customer journey(s) with current content and channels, we can fill any gaps with new content and additional delivery systems.  We can pursue an omnichannel approach that synthesizes every prospect/member interaction through data.  Finally, we can create loyalty plans that reward healthier lifestyles.

We can transform the image of health insurance among consumers. We can reach them where they are and get them more involved, to both their benefit and ours.  

The ball is in our court. Do we want to be the Starbucks of tomorrow  — or the Sanka of yesterday?

2 comments about "What Health Insurance Marketers Can Learn From Starbucks".
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  1. Eric Brody from Trajectory LLC, December 5, 2018 at 1:15 p.m.

    You make a lot of good points Jay. 

    Always great inspiration and insight from looking outside the categories we're immersed in every day.

    I similiarly just posted "What Healthcare Marketers Can learn from Charles Schwab and Charlotte Tilsbury — two businesses far apart from healthcare and from one another.

    Not sure how "loyal" customers are to Starbuck's vs. being trained and into the savings, but that's another story. 

    Thanks for the good thinking here. 

    Eric Brody
    President, Trajectory

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 5, 2018 at 2:51 p.m.

    People put off decisions because they don't WANT to think about it and then cramp up when they see the prices which is not a $5 choice. So they use the Scarlett O'Hara method until it is too late.

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