Amid all of the buzz around the tremendous digitization that’s taken place over the last two years in the healthcare insurance space, here’s one trend that stands out: Direct mail is surging back as a critical demand gen channel for making tactile connections with consumers. In fact, research shows one in three consumers is actually engaging more with direct mail ads now than before the pandemic.
Perhaps nowhere is this direct mail surge more pronounced and promising than with marketing communications around Medicare Advantage Plans. We’re seeing leading healthcare insurance organizations leveraging a new breed of hyper-personalized direct mail to both stand out from and complement digital channels — to drive member growth, engagement and retention around Medicare Advantage Plans.
What are the keys to capturing the potential of this new wave of direct mail? And what are leading health insurers looking for as they seek out print vendors to help them bring this potential to life?
Direct mail cuts through digital noise
There’s no question that the last two decades saw a decline in direct mail among healthcare insurance organizations. Consumers increasingly opt for digital channels and opt into e-delivery of documents and our clients have followed their preferences — also enjoying the cost efficiencies of digital delivery. Many believed the pandemic would finally spell the “death of direct mail” that had been predicted for years. And indeed, we saw print volumes decline by half from 2019 to 2020.
But something interesting happened immediately: Print came back — in a big way. Consumers’ preference for digital communications overwhelmed their email inboxes, driving open rates, engagement and effectiveness down. But their physical mailboxes are often empty. So, we’re seeing more and more innovative companies using direct mail as a core channel for demand generation and member engagement — beyond meeting regulatory requirements.
Personalized direct mail as part of an omnichannel strategy
We’re seeing healthcare insurers using direct mail to drive omnichannel campaigns for their Medicare Advantage Plans, alerting recipients that an email is coming soon or directing targets to a microsite for a more interactive digital experience. We’re also seeing our healthcare insurance clients using more premium-quality printing capabilities (color printing is up 40% over 2021) to stand out in the mailbox — and pull attention to that all-important call-to-action.
AdAge research from 2021 backs up this omnichannel approach: Consumers that see a direct mail message complementing a digital message are more likely to notice and remember the message. More to the point, nearly half say the direct mail message effectively convinced them to go online to seek more information — the exact flow of action that insurers want to see from Medicare Advantage audiences.
3 keys to maximize direct mail to drive member engagement & growth
1. Use technology to streamline and simplify ANOC, EOC and regulated communications
A huge volume of direct mail communications (often the majority) for health insurers centers on regulated and required member communications. Insurers face the annual burden of updating and distributing the Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) and Evidence of Coverage (EOC) documentation, as well as the constant volume of formularies, pharmacy and provider directories and Summary of Benefits and Coverage documentation.
Beyond the annual “heavy lift” of the ANOC and EOC, healthcare insurers also are facing increasing complexity around their ongoing compliance correspondence: claim responses, denial letters, grievances, etc. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has strict requirements around time-to-respond that directly link to CMS scoring and reimbursement — so there’s a lot on the line here.
Leading print vendors are using technology to simplify the complexity of regulated communications for Medicare Advantage Plans, while also streamlining processes to optimize costs and ensure compliance. For example, here at Toppan Merrill, our end-to-end services leverage the purpose-built Toppan Merrill Connect platform to centralize, manage and validate all data and documentation for ANOC and EOC. And we take on the work of managing and updating the CMS model documents and making last-minute CMS updates.
We’re also using our Connect platform to automate and accelerate the generation of ongoing member correspondence communications, getting them out the door quickly while providing tech-driven validation so our clients can prove that regulatory requirements were met, letters went out on time and to the correct recipients.
Here’s something that’s harder to measure: The value we provide to clients in the form of ad hoc problem-solving. Take the global paper shortage that experts say may well become the new standard. We’re able to leverage our broad network of connections to source consistent, high-quality paper, as well as the envelopes that many clients prefer.
2. Use technology to guarantee the accuracy for hyper-personalization
One way that digitization has reshaped direct mail: Consumers now expect a much higher level of personalization. Digital channels make it incredibly easy to pull in dynamic information to make messages and materials more personalized, customized and relevant to the specific recipient.
Consumers recognize a generic form letter in an instant (a dynamically printed name at the top of the letter isn’t enough); they don’t want to waste their time reading something that doesn’t feel like it’s been curated specifically for their needs.
The key to unlocking the potential in this new wave of direct mail, then, is to bring the hyper-personalization of the digital world to direct mail communications. At Toppan Merrill, we’re helping our clients create fully customized materials and offers. For example, we’re weaving personalization throughout Medicare Advantage member kits — providing constant reminders to recipients that these are communications custom-tailored for them.
But the big challenge of hyper-personalization solving for growing complexity to gain complete assurance in the accuracy of mailings. As every message and mailing becomes more personalized, insurers need to know that the right mailing is going to the right person — every time. This means the kinds of direct mail error rates that were tolerated a few years ago are now simply unacceptable. Again, mailing errors would not just represent potential compliance risks, but do direct damage to member loyalty and brand reputation.
At Toppan Merrill, we’ve earned our reputation for simplifying complex communications by continually investing in leading-edge digital technologies — and supporting that technology with deep experience and expertise to solve problems and get results. We could go on about the leading-edge print technology that enables us to create hyper-personalized direct mailings. But the real differentiator is in how we leverage technology to manage the entire end-to-end process and ensure complete accuracy throughout.
Our Dynamic Publishing solution delivers complete visibility, trackability and validation through the creation, production and distribution of Medicare Advantage communications. At the core of that solution is the Connect platform, which gives our clients — and their dedicated team of Toppan Merrill experts — a single source of truth to work from. In our state-of-the-art production facility, we use 2D barcodes and real-time production dashboards to gain comprehensive visibility and tracking throughout production. This allows our clients to confirm on-time delivery and get the robust, audit-ready reporting they need for internal validation and regulatory compliance purposes.
We’re particularly proud of our voice-directed warehousing system. Pulling in proven technologies and processes from logistics leaders in the retail and e-commerce world, our tech-driven order “picking” ensures the right materials are packaged for the right person — on time, every time.
And the Connect reporting platform goes well beyond compliance: Marketers can directly track performance results, so they see the ROI of their direct mail spend.
3. Combine people, processes and technology to protect data security and information privacy
There’s no question that the kind of next-generation personalization we’re doing for our clients in direct mail presents heightened privacy concerns. Healthcare insurance organizations are dealing with a tremendous amount of highly sensitive, regulated and protected personal information.
In fact, regulatory requirements on print vendors have significantly increased in the past several years, as regulators recognize the potential for this PII[AS1] to fall into the wrong hands as it moves to a print vendor and then out into the world.
As healthcare organizations lean into the potential of direct mail, they need to be careful to ensure that their print vendor partners have appropriate security in place from both a technology and process standpoint. This data security isn’t just a compliance box to check; it’s essential to protecting your members’ personal information — and protecting your relationships and reputation.
For example, at Toppan Merrill’s dedicated print production facilities, we’ve invested in state-of-the-art cybersecurity to protect all our systems and technologies. We’ve built a risk-based security program specifically tuned to the requirements of HIPAA [AS2] and other regulatory requirements governing healthcare insurers — so our clients have full confidence that our facilities can pass the most stringent audits.
This security program goes beyond technology, including in-depth background checks of all employees. And we take the same approach to vetting all our suppliers and partners, holding everyone we work with to the same rigorous requirements and expectations.
Tech gets all the buzz, but people make the difference
Print vendors need to be making continued investments in technologies in order to deliver on modern direct mail demands. And we’re incredibly proud of the technologies we’ve implemented to keep Toppan Merrill’s print production facilities at the absolute leading edge. But the truth is technology can only go so far; people still make all the difference.
For example, the root of our Dynamic Publishing solution is the core team of Toppan Merrill’s Member Communications Consultants. These industry veterans have an average of 15 years of experience in Medicare and Medicaid compliance, CMS and state-regulated communications and benefits data.
Our clients continually tell us that our Member Communications Consultants go further, functioning as true partners and an extension of their teams: They take the time to understand everything about our clients’ plans, their goals and their unique requirements. And then they relentlessly work to solve challenges, meet those goals — and simplify our clients’ lives along the way.
That same pride and integrity mark the team that drives the Toppan Merrill print production facilities. We were early adopters of the principles of integrity manufacturing and delivery — and these core principles remain foundational to our business and our company culture. Every team member in our production facility takes responsibility and pride in their role to deliver the highest quality and assurance for our clients — from monitoring to ensuring 100% validation that the right mailing is going to the right person, every time, to strictly following stringent security protocols to keep PII private and protect our clients’ relationships and reputations.
What’s your strategy for success in this “new normal”?
As we continue to assess the permanent impacts of the pandemic, it’s clear that direct mail has only gained value as an essential tool for making meaningful connections with audiences. It’s also clear that capturing that potential requires a completely new level of personalization — which itself presents new demands around security, privacy and accuracy.
How is your organization leveraging that potential? What are your goals around member engagement and new member acquisition?
Whether it’s streamlining your ANOC, EOC and other regulated member communications or driving print-powered demand gen strategies, we’d love to talk about how Toppan Merrill can help you achieve your goals to drive success in this “new normal.” We’re confident we have the technologies and processes in place to support your needs and meet modern demands. But more importantly, we have the people-powered expertise and ideas to help you optimize, simplify and do more with your marketing communications.
Mike Zimny – V.P. of Global Production
With over 25 years of experience in the manufacturing industry. Mike graduated from St. Cloud State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting and completed his MBA at St. Cloud State University. Mike is a CPA and started with the organization as the Controller for the St. Cloud/Sartell facility in June of 1994. Mike moved into a manufacturing leadership role in 1998. Mike has helped design and build Toppan Merrill’s print and fulfillment platform. Mike oversees all U.S. production facilities and has extensive experience in project leadership, system installations, financial management, and process improvements. Cost management is a focus for Mike, utilizing his financial/CPA background. Mike has also held financial and project leadership roles at Medtronic and Rollerblade prior to working at Toppan Merrill.