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Editor’s Note: This post is authored by DMW’s EVP of Client Engagement, and has appeared in the Insights & Articles section of the RISE website.

68 days. As Medicare Marketers, we all know the timeframe challenge that comes with every Annual Election Period (AEP). And we all play by the same rules imposed by CMS. So, how can you gain a competitive edge given all the marketing restrictions? Simple: Preheat the Market.

Preheat marketing activity can help boost enrollment and conversion starting October 15.

Yes, CMS guidelines restrict your ability to solicit prior to the AEP. But, preheating your AEP Medicare marketing campaign can help stimulate a return on investment (ROI).

While you cannot promote the upcoming new year’s plan benefits, there are acceptable ways to gather response and initiate steps to invite Medicare plan shoppers into your sales funnel. All of which can generate a quantitative positive effect on enrollment and conversion when AEP officially begins on October 15.

Preheating can provide a necessary competitive edge.

Before we explore what you can do, let’s quantify the challenge at hand. Consider that acquisition AEP direct mail volume rose 26% from Q4 2017 to Q4 2018, reaching 200 million in October 2018.* Additionally, plan shoppers are surrounded by advertising in all media. For example:

  • Brand and DRTV spots flood traditional and cable TV, and online video (OTT).
  • Digital ads fill the screens on smartphones, tablets, and computers.
  • Sunday newspapers are chock full of free-standing inserts and print ads.

In short, the ability to gain the attention of 65+ consumers and caregivers during the AEP sales timeframe is tough. The battle to gain share of voice is fiercely competitive. By not waiting to start off cold in October you’ll be happy to see how this strategy heats up your final numbers in December.

CMS regulations limit marketing activity before AEP. But you still have effective options.

It is true that regulations restrict Medicare providers from directly selling their products before AEP. The operative word being “directly.” You can still communicate — just not about the upcoming plan year benefits, or with a direct sales call to action.

Okay: Preheating is a worthy endeavor … now what can you actually do?

The fact is, you have a fair amount of leeway getting your name into the public eye early on. Encourage prospects to get out and shop. Urge them to get informed. Set them up to look around and see what’s available (like your plan) so that they’re ready to enroll when the time comes.

Looked at optimistically, you’ll find the messaging opportunities are endless and can be segmented to the market — such as targeting likely Med Supp, MA or Original Medicare households as appropriate.

And, you can certainly reinforce the value you offer current plan members and reassure them that they made the right choice. That’s an easy way to help you defend against attrition and bolster retention.

Better news: Preheating doesn’t have to break your budget.

A common hurdle to undertaking a preheat campaign is a question of budget. Cost-efficient self-mailers and postcards can get the job done. And mail is not the only viable channel.

Like all AEP campaign tactics, Medicare preheat messages can be sent through various media — digital ads and Facebook, print, and video/DRTV, as well as mail.

A “Nice to Have” … or a “Must Do”?

For many health plans, preheat marketing has proven itself to be an excellent idea that has earned a standing place in the fall marketing campaign: paying for itself, year in and year out. There are also circumstances when preheat is especially critical. Consider these scenarios:

  • Are you expanding your marketing geography? Create awareness in new regions with preheat marketing.

  • Do you have a large Original Medicare-only population? A preheat is a great way to address the concerns of those who currently rely on Original Medicare alone.

  • Do you have a Medicare education guide or other informational asset to send Medicare-eligible enrollees? When tailored with a callout to your region, this is generally a very compliance-friendly tactic to help keep your plan top of mind as prospects gear up for the upcoming AEP shopping season.

For more insights on how to make your messaging and targeting that much sharper, see our previous post on Preheat Marketing for Medicare.

Or if you’re ready to talk with the experts, contact DMW for a no-obligation consultation.

*Source: Mintel Comperemedia, includes Medicare Advantage, PDP, Supplement and general Medicare offers.