8 Steps to a Successful AEP 2021

I’ve had the pleasure of working with clients, large and small, East Coast and West Coast and everywhere in between, through more than 15 Medicare Annual Election Periods (AEPs) during my time at GKV. And I am very happy to report that I am still alive and well and ready to pass on what I’ve learned!

There’s no doubt that managing a successful AEP campaign takes a lot of hard work. Whether you’ve already experienced AEP or AEP 2021 is your first, I hope the following eight lessons to survive and thrive during this most stressful yet rewarding marketing challenge can serve you well. These are the critical steps we all should follow for success:

I. Conduct an AEP campaign assessment on your prior campaign

As Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” This was true when it was first spoken and it’s true to this day. If you don’t look critically at your last AEP, how can you expect to do better in the future?

Conducting a prior campaign assessment is a must if you want to improve performance. This analysis should not only tell you what worked, but just as important, what did not work. And it’s a good opportunity to evaluate what metrics are in place and what potential improvements are necessary. Some of the most important metrics include:

  • Cost Per Response (CPR) — the marketing costs divided by the number of responses
  • Cost Per Lead (CPL) — the marketing costs divided by the number of leads
  • Cost Per Sale (CPS) — the marketing costs divided by the number of sales (enrollments)

You’ll want to drill down each of these by advertising channel level and at a county or market level.

II. Conduct strategic planning sessions

Here’s a tip: Get all the key players from Finance, Sales, Marketing, Product and Compliance in one room. You’ll want to review upcoming AEP sales goals and budgets. And the group should work together to discuss markets and priorities. While your plan bids may not be final at this point, you should have a good handle on what plan improvements will be made. Strive to gain as much competitive intelligence as possible at this time and information early and often. Schedule follow-up meetings in advance and make sure everyone understands their participation is critical.

III. Develop an effective media plan

This is where all that hard work from the prior campaign assessment pays off. Which channels drove the most leads? Where did you have the most success closing those leads? If you need to support seminars/events, how much support is necessary? And most importantly, how do your new campaign objectives align with prior campaign results? This will influence your level of investment.

According to Deft Research, seniors tended to delay shopping during AEP 2020. Think about how that may impact your in-market timing and buy levels for AEP 2021. And be cognizant of the political campaigns and elections next fall which will impact people and media.

A recommendation for all: Fully integrated campaigns (a campaign that includes TV, digital display, paid search, newspaper [print and FSI] and direct mail) typically perform better, as they provide lift to each individual advertising channel. Speaking of direct mail …

IV. Lean on direct mail

Deft Research reported that receiving direct mail from another insurer was ranked the #1 shopping prompt once again. Direct mail should be your strongest lead generation channel. If that’s not the case, you may want to rethink your strategy.

Make sure you are using predictive database models to select your most responsive prospects. Using a spray and pray approach is wasteful and will drive up costs. Given the level of investment you are making on direct mail, it’s crucial to conduct testing to optimize future efforts. Build a plan that allows you to test your database models, contact cadence, creative formats, messaging and calls to action. And here is another tip — be sure to include a business reply card.

V. Use “brand response” thinking when developing creative

Traditional brand advertising is focused on generating awareness of the brand. If done correctly, it will create an emotional connection with the audience and, subsequently, move that brand into the consideration set. Direct marketing is aimed at generating an inquiry and ultimately a purchase. However, direct marketing typically lacks an emotional connection with the prospect.

Brand response advertising combines the emotional connection in good brand advertising with the discipline and inquiry-driving attributes of direct response advertising. It gets people to “raise their hands” but also builds an ongoing memorable image of the brand. It’s very powerful, and unlike pure direct response advertising, it really leverages the marketing spend year over year.

VI. Implement a process to produce materials on time and within budget

You can have the best advertising campaign in the market, but if you don’t produce the materials on time and within budget, you’re in big trouble. Adhering to a timeline within AEP is essential. You only have 68 days to market your plan before the deadline (October 1 – December 7). Every day that you are not in the market is a lost opportunity for a lead and ultimately a sale.

Be sure you are working with proven production vendors with successful track records of delivering during AEP. Keep the lines of communication open. Things happen, but by working together, there is a chance to mitigate a real disaster! And if you produce materials in-house, collaboration between departments and project timelines is essential. Here’s a tip — hire an experienced project leader to manage those efforts.

VII. Conduct mid-campaign optimizations

For AEP, it’s certainly not “set it and forget it.” The short AEP advertising window (68 days) and certain CMS guidelines/restrictions make it challenging to optimize at a level we might prefer, but with advanced planning and a commitment to tactic-level tracking, mid-campaign optimizations are possible. The goal here is to shift budgets to the better-performing channels. And in order to do that you need to review your campaign results daily.

The paid search and digital channel are easiest to optimize. But you can also make enhancements such as adding click-to-call to your ads or call extensions to your paid search campaign. If you are conducting a DRTV buy, you will want to focus on optimizing performances at a station-level and a daypart-level.

Print and radio buys can be executed rather quickly to help with awareness and/or seminar promotion. And while direct mail is typically the most challenging channel to make mid-campaign optimizations, it is still possible. Consider shifting your mail quantities to the higher-performing counties. And consider creating and filing a “back-up” lead generation mailer that can be produced quickly if needed.

VIII. Conduct a post-campaign assessment

Yes, I said this twice. Please go back and read step I.

Creating a successful AEP campaign takes a lot of work.

But all of the hard work is worth it when you hit your enrollment goals. If you are looking for a new health care marketing agency, get started today. I can tell you from my experience that the selection process and creative ramp-up will take longer than expected. It always does. Don’t wait!

Andrew Robinson

SVP, Account Director

Start the conversation today and find out what GKV can do for your brand.

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