Blog : Health care Reform

Sponsor Customer Teams Not Sports Teams

Sponsor Customer Teams Not Sports Teams

The Current Marketing Model

Today I happened to notice the TV at the restaurant while eating brunch at with my family. The pre-game football fact was sponsored by Aetna and one of the football teams was sponsored by Florida Blue. It piqued my interest because at first it seemed novel, but as I thought more on it I wondered if it was a high-value use of marketing spend.

Recently, I have noticed the proliferation of health insurance companies sponsoring major sports franchises. As a marketer and capitalist, I get it – exposure to large audiences – but as a healthcare executive on the consumer side of the business, I hesitate. I pose this simple question, would it not be more sensible to invest advertising dollars in actual consumer sports leagues rather than professional sports? I believe that health insurance companies should sponsor sports, not sports teams.

Let me make clear, this is not a commentary on insurance companies – I recognize that as businesses they need to attract consumers and I feel they are a necessary part of the healthcare equation in America, and for the most part really do try to bring value to their customers. But with the affordable care act now in place, these traditional B2B companies are rushing headlong towards consumer markets. It is unfortunate that the advertising agencies they use have convinced them that their dollars are best spent associating their brands with Lebron James and Tiger Woods, as opposed to their actual constituents.

We did some research and found this interesting website that shows which companies sponsor what businesses. The graphic below from is very telling – assuming it is accurate. Even without offering a total spend number, you can assume it is large as both professional sports and healthcare are big business.

Plan Sponsorship



Here are some examples of major insurance plans and their sports franchise sponsorships:

It even extends past the majors into college sports: Aetna sponsors the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida and Florida Blue sponsors the Florida Classic. Florida Blue also sponsors the Florida Sports Foundation which promotes Florida’s sports industry.

I am sure I missed more than a few, as this was just a basic search.

So, I asked myself, what is the motivation for an insurance plan to use professional sports as a brand booster? It must be two-fold, 1) the linkage with the sports as a model for healthy behavior and 2) brand differentiation via the association.

So, this is where the model breaks down for me. I can see Nike sponsoring pro sporting events as their constituents want to emulate the pro athletes that wear Nike gear. Seeing their favorite quarterback wearing branded wristbands results in a purchase decision for a young athlete. It also plays well for non-athlete fans that want to wear their favorite player’s jersey. A purchase decision ensures and the brand association works either way.

Now consider seeing a major insurer’s logo on a teams jersey, or up on the jumbotron. What effect does this have on influencing a consumer’s purchase decision? I would argue that the answer is resounding NONE. To be clear, I am arguing that a health insurer associating with a professional or college sports team has little or no bearing on a purchase decision by a consumer to buy or forgo an insurance product. Unlike the Nike example above, there is likely no transference of that brand association on a point of sale decision of one insurance product over another. One might argue that it actually has a negative effect in that with the perception of insurance premiums being so high – is that money better spent making insurance more affordable?

If this is actually not true – please someone show me, as I am very curious as to the true return on investment for this type of marketing spend.

A Better Way

There are some insurers that are actually focusing on sponsorship of sporting events that will likely result in healthy behaviors for their customers. This is a better model as it promotes the outcomes they most desire – healthy members. Remember, healthy people use health insurance products less than unhealthy ones do.  The result is a more profitable customer for the insurance plan.

  • Cigna has been involved heavily in the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend.
  • Humana sponsors the National Senior Games Association, the governing organization for the largest multi-sport event in the world for adults over age 50; They also sponsor, thru their subsidiary HumanaVitality, many endurance sporting events (like the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon and miniMarathon) to promote their wellness loyalty program.
  • Florida Blue sponsors a series of running events throughout its state. In fact, almost all health insurers sponsor local 5 and 10K in their hometowns.


This model makes great sense and should be continued. They might even consider getting some of the paid athletes to meet the insurance plan’s customers at the finish line as a reward. Something like “run a 5K and get a picture with your favorite sports hero” – this would be motivation for consumers indeed.

A Much Better Way

But I believe there is even a better way. Here is my idea. Health insurance companies should 100% subsidize both youth and adult sports leagues for the communities they serve.

This is good for the plan and consumer for a host of reasons:

  • First, Insurer X would actually be contributing to ensuring their customers are living healthy lives by investing in a healthy activity. They could then reward participants in the free league that are also their members – creating an incentive for those who are not to consider. Coupled with a well-designed channel-threading strategy plans could “gently” direct non-members to online, telephone, and in store sales reps to learn more.
  • Second, the publicity it will create for Insurer X. This would in effect be a perpetual positive PR generation machine.
  • Third, the experience it will create with mothers, who in fact are the key healthcare decision makers. Knowing they can afford to have their child participate in youth sports because of the investment of Insurer X would go a long way and yield fantastic word of mouth advertising.


Why not extend this sponsorship to adult sports leagues as well? All those twenty-somethings’ being influenced by the brand that cares which may translate to who they choose on the exchange.

What do you think?

To your health,

The Team at imagine.GO

Health Care is Still Going Retail

Health Care is Still Going Retail

The American Healthcare System Is Broken

Let’s first agree on that. Search Google and you will find plenty of experts who state that the answer to the health care dilemma lies in a shift towards a more retail type model. You will find just as many experts that prescribe a consumer-centric approach as the answer to our health system dilemmas. Few are talking about both of these in a synchronous manner.

As I mentioned in a previous POST, retail and consumerism are not the same thing. I want to speak more in-depth about both of these and then show how they must work in harmony to produce the desired effect. Even though the consumerism part should really come first, for arguments sake, let’s start with retail health.

Booz Health Care’s Retail SolutionMy favorite definition of retail health comes from whitepaper, by Booz entitled Health Care’s Retail Solution published in 2008.

“Retail health is where consumers find quality care in a variety of convenient forms and at competitive prices … Consumers are able to plan for the health care needs they anticipate and make informed decisions based on readily available information…  They can then “shop” competitively for products and services using a variety of channels, formats, and business models …  And for those that need help, they can turn to “navigators” who work with them to design the most suitable health care solutions for themselves and their families.”

Based on this definition, in my opinion, the retail health model should be those people, processes, and technology that help educate, navigate, plan, motivate and choose from suitable solutions for health care needs, anticipated and otherwise.
Much of health care today is delivered as fixed products available and marketed in a non-personalized, one-size-fits-all manner. This model, designed to gain operational efficiencies, in many ways has proven to be inefficient and costly.
Retail health, on the other hand, requires a clear value at the right price. Consumers vote with their “watches” and their “wallets.”  If they are not willing to give you their time, you have not demonstrated to them your value. If they are not willing to give you their money, you do not have the right price for the value they understand.

Retail is going to be a big part of saving health care in America. We are a consumer driven society. When consumers make the choice, they are in charge. And to compete for their business, insurers, doctors, hospitals and vendors of health related goods and services will need to:

  1. Personalize their products and messaging for each individual,
  2. Drive down their costs and price points, and
  3. Drive up their quality and feature set.

Retail is going to be a big part of saving health care in America. We are a consumer driven society. When consumers make the choice, they are in charge. And to compete for their business, insurers, doctors, hospitals and vendors of health related goods and services will need to:

  1. Personalize their products and messaging for each individual,
  2. Drive down their costs and price points, and
  3. Drive up their quality and feature set.


Final Words

My philosophy on health care (which I plan on writing about soon) is that consumers are increasingly confused about our their own health and desperately need help making sense of it all. Moreover, the market (our current American health care system) has made it too difficult a task to weed through the unlimited amount of information available and then effectively apply it in context to a current problem (or health-related job-to-be-done). Moreover, of this seemingly unlimited amount of information some is credible and some is not.

Ultimately, the winners in the retail health game will not focus on helping consumers navigate through the maze of options available, but instead focus on removing the maze altogether. As the maze is different for every individual, winners also must know who their customers are ahead of time. More on this topic for another day.

To your health,

The Team at imagine.GO

Healthcare Must Care About Customers

Healthcare Must Care About Customers

Customer Intimacy in Healthcare

Health care companies need to care more about just their consumers. As such, the time for health plans to make a commitment to the market discipline of Customer Intimacy is here.

Managing the commitment to consumerism remains the greatest challenge for insurance plans and providers as reform era health care changes the landscape from a wholesale orientation to a retail one.The Discipline of Market Leaders: Choose Your Customers, Narrow Your Focus, Dominate Your Market

Keep in mind, that retail is NOT equivalent to consumerism. This point seems to get lost in the rush to the individual/exchange market.  Let me explain. Wikipedia defines retail as” the sale of goods and services from individuals or businesses to the end-user.” Therefore, insurance has been “sold” to the employer on behalf of the consumer, through an extended and inefficient value chain involving many “resellers” (read brokers and 3rd party agents).

On the other hand, customer intimacy (or consumerism) is defined best by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema in their seminal business book “The Discipline of Market Leaders.”  In it, they explain the need to have an ever-refining understanding of the consumer in order to place products and services within their value model.  So simply put, retail is positioning products in front of consumers; consumerism is understanding what is perceived as valuable before placing it in front of the consumer.

See the difference? Being retail without knowing your customer and understanding what they perceive as valuable is not a recipe for success. Just ask K-mart.

Do Health Insures Want to Be Intel or Dell?

Intel or DellSo how do health care companies, insurance plans and hospitals build health-related relationships with individual consumers? If other industries that have undergone a similar retail transition provide any insight, the competitive landscape of America’s health system will be reshaped dramatically over the next five years. There is one problem that stands out in my mind. In the health care consumer’s purview, when it comes to the insurer and the doctor, who gets to be Dell and who is Intel?

In my question, I use Dell as the consumer brand that creates the actual consumer-facing product. I use Intel as the tool that powers that consumer product and actually provides lift to the Dell brand.

So back to my question, does an insurance plan want to be Dell or Intel – meaning, do they want to be the reason for the “purchase” or do they want to power the purchase and boost the satisfaction with it? If insurers see themselves as the ones that consumers should turn to in order to solve their health care knowledge gap – we may see troubled times ahead as the care practitioner tries to do the same.

Plans likely face significant branding hurdles in their attempts to win the hearts and (premium) dollars of individual consumers. I say this based on consumers’ negative perceptions of insurance.

Instead, should the insurer focus on powering the provider conversations? This may better serve the consumer value model and fit within the competency of the plan.

However, will providers even take this mantle on? Something to think about for another day.

To your health,

The Team at imagine.GO

Customers Want What They Want – MVP Helps Get it to Them

Customers Want What They Want – MVP Helps Get it to Them

Minimum Viable Product

Customers want what they want not what you want for them. As such, the discipline of Minimum Viable Product is one I hope you learn more about soon.  I think Eric Ries says it best, but I wanted to sum up my perspective for you.

MVP as a methodology enables designers to determine whether people want what they are building – in a manner that gauges acceptance and demand – yet preserves capital and time. This is accomplished by allowing designers to validate assumptions about their “product” in two important aspects: its value and the demand for it.


By definition, MVP is the version of a product that gets built through one cycle of a build, measure, learn loop – as fast as possible. Once the MVP is confirmed (keep in mind, it may take a few iterations), other lean methodologies can be employed to build upon it.

MVP = 3 things: value, use, & speed

Valuable – understand if your product is valued

Make an assumption about the value-exchange created by your product and test it thru iteration until it validated or dropped. Value is defined through the lens of the customer – not what you want for the customer. If no value is confirmed, no product should be created.

Usable – make your product usable and it will get used

MVP asks that you focus on delivering product experience – not on documentation or large feature sets. Usable is more broad a term than just usability. The real test is the usage of the product in the manner you anticipated, not necessarily its first pass at usability. Although you can’t get usage without usability, so be careful not to forsake usability for speed and minimum moving parts. Form and function must appear simultaneously – with minimum function allowing for a simpler form.

Speed – take your product to market quickly

By only building what is deemed most valuable in order of priority to the customer, and progressing through iterative builds, you ensure speed to market and successful releases. When you are wrong, you fail fast (and cheap). MVP assumes iterate until you find the ideal solution. Start small and add on based on customer need.

modelH - Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

So how can you best focus on your (MVP)?

Getting to MVP is actually fairly simple. I suggest this path.

  • Start with the features that allow the “app” to be deployed, and no more. Be disciplined here. Do not let your shovel makers and hole diggers get the better of you. Get to the orange juice quickly. You can work on other recipes soon enough.
  • Launch to your defined early adopters (they are forgiving) and get feedback. Oh yeah, it stands to reason to work with people who want to work with you. If you know people do not like the taste of orange, avoid them. Finds the ones that do and test your MVP with them first. If you cannot “sell” the vision to your early adopters how will you do it with anyone else?
  • Add what is relevant to extend value incrementally. OK, do not let the shovel makers and the hole diggers add a little bit at a time and test it. Make sure you are keeping true to the original “value” part of the app!
  • Now just keeping doing that!

This BLOG by Alexander Osterwalder is very useful for helping you get started.

By the way, you should not use MVP as a start if you are not committed to proceeding with other lean methodologies afterwards that allow for a continued iterative process – lest you lose the “value” in your product. More on this at another time.


To your health,

The Team at imagine.GO