2020 was truly a year for the ages. The COVID-19 pandemic caused tragic illness, lockdowns, and untold economic consequences. Simultaneously, it also spurred technology adoption like telemedicine, and life-changing realizations, such as work-from-home works. And Medicare plans were affected too—with marketing experiencing a shift to digital strategies, data insights, and more that are likely to continue into 2021, and beyond.

Insights from AEP and for the 2021 Open Enrollment Period (OEP)

This past AEP, consumers were slow to make enrollment decisions, switching decreased, and digital marketing was key because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Working with our Medicare plan clients, DMW identified several trends for AEP and adjusted Medicare campaigns accordingly.

  • Closely monitoring response and optimizing across channels was critical
  • Being nimble and moving quickly ensured plans could maximize budget impact
  • Consumers were more comfortable interacting online—early preparation paid off with more online seminar signups and online enrollment

We believe these trends will continue for OEP and Special Enrollment Period (SEP) throughout 2021

SEPs are essential to a successful year because they account for up to 40–50 percent of plan goal. Some recommended targeted strategies that Medicare plans can implement to make the most of the coming months include:

  • Wider acquisition appeal
  • Affiliation letters
  • Customer service, field reps. and agents
  • Medicare information
  • Member retention
  • Ongoing COVID-19 pandemic planning, e.g., vaccine communications

More details are available in the reprinted RADAR on Medicare Advantage article on the DMW Blog.

COVID-19 has spurred and accelerated marketing trends

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all walks of life, across all lines of business, including marketing and advertising.

Apropos to all channels and tactics, Medicare plans experiencing success have stayed nimble with operations and marketing. How are they doing that? Some timely strategies that are proving successful in reaching customers and prospects include:

  • Clearly communicating efforts with clear, up-to-date information
  • Placing even greater emphasis on the online experience
  • Shifting short-term ad spend to meet immediate market dynamics
  • Scrutinizing marketing results became even more essential

Those are just a few of the ways plans stayed effective early in the crisis—and continue to do so today as vaccination information evolves. The long-term consequences came soon after the pandemic began, and included millions becoming unemployed.

Newly unemployed 65+ turned into a unique enrollment opportunity

As the pandemic unfolded, countless working people age 65+ lost their jobs, and their health insurance. Many of them qualified for a Medicare SEP. However, many people didn’t know about their SEP or understand the options.

The situation created a unique enrollment opportunity for Medicare plans to support this group of consumers in need. But it required specific marketing strategies to reach the newly unemployed target audience, such as:

  • Digital advertising, e.g., Facebook, display, plan website
  • Provider office communications
  • Plan member communications
  • TV and radio advertising—modifications to existing spots, adding OTT to the media mix

Effective digital recommendations continue to evolve to effectively reach consumers

Over the last year, a conundrum we heard a lot was “should we focus on business as usual” or “do we address the global pandemic and shift our current strategy.” The answer that performed: Do a little bit of both.

When it comes to Medicare, people age 65+ always need health insurance. Our Medicare plan clients offered two immediate short-turnaround tactics for current and prospective customers:

  • Communicate with current customers quickly! Email campaigns were ideal to reassure members and provide helpful information to stay safe and healthy.
  • Adjust current strategy to be beneficial to consumers. For example, our clients used Facebook ads to promote online webinars versus in-person seminars.

In addition, we made digital recommendations on creative ways that brands could stay connected, including expanding campaign targeting to include newly relevant audiences, posting display ads to job sites, and launching campaigns targeting HR directors.

DMW also published a marketing white paper to help Medicare plans succeed in this challenging new COVID-19 world.

Health care analytics and marketing kept evolving, too

COVID-19 has shown us that the need for logical and strategic decision-making is paramount when responding to a crisis, predicting the future, and telling a factual story of the what’s and why’s. This decision-making is tethered deeply to data and analytics, and the insight you can pull therein.

Health plans can improve their use and advancement of modern data and analytic tools and strategy. As more people continue to spend time at home, the process of interacting has shifted to online and mobile, offering unique opportunities to capture actionable data that a health plan or health provider can use in a variety of ways.

This new reality opens doors to both the variety and amount of data we might capture, which can then be used to acquire other data to create a true audience profile. Furthermore, modern solutions in business intelligence and data analytic tools make it possible to add some real firepower to a marketing campaign while remaining inexpensive and easy to implement.

Whether it’s OEP/SEP, New-to-Medicare, or Medicare’s AEP, it’s more important than ever to communicate the right message to the right individual— and fast. Data is here to help you do that. Additionally, the rise in data gives us markedly enhanced capabilities in personalization, which is especially important and comforting during a global pandemic.

Medicare plans kept launching—4 key insights to soar

Fueled by the Medicare category’s attractiveness, the number of Medicare Advantage (MA) plans nationwide is growing by leaps and bounds! For the 2021 benefit year, in fact, MA plans increased by 13 percent compared to 2020—making for the most MA plans ever available. On average, Medicare beneficiaries today will have access to  That’s a lot of choices for target audiences.

A plan launching in market this year needs even more of an edge to compete against entrenched incumbents, plus other new plans. True differentiation is a must to create your own unique space in the consumer mindset. So, how do you assure success when launching a new Medicare plan? Start by planning for and implementing these four key insights:

  • Differentiation that makes your new Medicare plan stand out
  • Segmentation to speak—and sell—to the right target audiences
  • Integration for 360˚ communications—“Surround Sound” that drives leads
  • Retention: because a member saved is a member earned

For a deep dive and more action items, get DMW’s Medicare Plan Launch White Paper.

Looking ahead: Getting back to “normal”

We believe 2020 trends caused by the pandemic will continue to play an important role in Medicare plan marketing. As new vaccines are rolled out and administered, we’re hopeful that we can start to return to life as we knew it.

About the author

Renée Mezzanotte is executive vice president, client services at DMW, where she brings more than 30 years of experience in direct response marketing. She has been responsible for driving the strategy for DMW’s leading health insurance clients including many new-to-market plan launches.  She also oversees the planning and implementation of DMW’s year-round multi-media campaigns from program design and creative development to fulfillment. Health plans appreciate not only her decade-plus involvement in health insurance, but perspectives from Renée’s experiences consulting in various industries, including financial services, telecom, and B2B. A member of the DMA and the Philadelphia Direct Marketing Association, Mezzanotte was named one of the top Women in Advertising by the Philadelphia in 2017.