The Most Forgotten Word in Healthcare Marketing

Hi, We’re Oscar.

That simple statement dominates the Web home page for insurance upstart Oscar. Hi is not a word you see on very many Web home pages and certainly not on insurance home pages (insurers are notoriously shy, conservative types!), despite that fact that it is among the most common ways for two strangers to start a conversation.

The remarkably simplified website for Oscar is part of the company’s total commitment to using technology to differentiate its offerings in the marketplace. However, as with many things ‘technology’, it is not just the fact that Oscar drives its customers to make purchase decisions online that is noteworthy, it is the attention to detail in the implementation that really is the story.

Oscar works hard to make its website approachable, understandable, unfrustrating…and, in a word, human. Starting out with a standard human greeting, “Hello”, makes the company unique in the use of a word that may well be the most forgotten word in healthcare marketing.

Why Is It So Hard to Talk to the Ones We Care About?

In countless communications daily, we have a chance to show members that we know them, care about them, and perhaps even have the resources to truly help them. So, it is disconcerting that we still address welcome kits, letters and emails to them with mistakes like the ones below (actual scenarios, but with the names changed to protect our HIPAA compliance status!):

Really Common:  FULL NAME
Dear John Smith:

Really Common:  Truncated
Dear Thomas Livingsto   (should be Livingstone)

Pretty Common:  INITIAL
Dear J:

Really Creative:  DESCRIPTOR
Dear Newborn Smith:

We particularly find the concept of addressing someone as “Newborn” endearing as unreadable by the newborn, who, barring a miracle, can’t yet read, is clearly being sent to a parent!

What does it say about a company if we cannot get the thing that should be the simplest thing right in our communications….the person’s name? We don’t walk up to people and address them by their full name, so why do we think it is OK to default to it in the salutation of a letter or email?

Why is this important? Psychology!

Building out a great member experience requires creating an open dialogue with a member—a dialogue that is continuously informed by data. Getting a member to willingly participate in the dialogue requires the building of trust, something we do by demonstrating an ability to logically sequence the gathering of data, then effectively use the data we collect.

Yes, our example of the member name is a trivial data element in comparison to other data points we need to collect and utilize. But, the psychology of effective communications dictates building an impression in the reader’s mind….and if we can’t even get their name right, how can we be trusted with more complex data!

So, Now What?

The point of this brief article is not to dwell exclusively on name, but rather on the discipline of effective data collection and use, and more importantly, the commitment to building out communications, from marketing touches through to the boring transactional communications, which are the foundation of an insurance relationship, that demonstrate our personal connection to the member. Doing that takes discipline and commitment, and not a whole lot more money than we already spend on producing touches that could undermine our relationships. Here are some quick answers to common objections to fixing this situation, and enhancing the quality of the communications you send to your members.

Scenario 1:  Using Full Name
This is often a reflection of field restrictions in legacy applications and adding fields in older databases is not always as easy as it should be. Beyond the trite statement that data should always be saved as First Name and Last Name in separate fields, if you are stuck with use of full name, there are efficient algorithms to split the data that can be executed on the fly in composition, but if that is too complex, then think about adjusting the salutation to make lemonade from your lemons!  Instead of Dear John Smith, here are two good options:

Customer Name:  <Name Here>
To Our Valued Member:  <Name Here>
To:  <Name Here>        Member Since:  <Date>

Quick Note!  The last example picks up on a trick that American Express has exploited for years…listing enrollment date on communications and their credit card. Longevity becomes a self-reinforcing element on communications!

Scenario 2:  Truncated Name
If you are working in legacy systems, expanding field length is yet another IT project, but in the face of a growing multicultural enrollment, this is a critical change, as many international names are truncated in commonly short last name fields. We do not have a great workaround if this fix is not fast, but we do have a response to the common answer, “Fixing the field length will not fix all the names that have been truncated.”

Our response, fixing the root cause at least starts you on a path to improving communication quality to NEW members and that is better than doing nothing!

Scenario 3:  Initials
Using first name in communications can be challenging since people can do things like give you the name J. Walter Thompson as their name…leading to the unfortunate, Dear J.

This is so easily solved in common software composition systems that it is really unbelievable how frequently it still occurs. Detection of initials and substitution of ‘J. Walter’ or complete modification of Dear <Name> to a generic introduction like ‘To Our Valued Member’ means you should never have to address someone by an initial.

Scenario 4:  Descriptor
This type of use case (yes, we really have seen it!), is purely in the design phase and can really only be solved by a commitment to producing logical communications. Under pressure of deadlines, compromises must often be defined to handle all use cases, but it is an enterprise judgment call to allow constructs that do not reflect good logic. We believe that doing the right thing always leads to a better long-term experience for members and, in return, for the insurer.


Member experience is a journey, not a destination. Making the journey one that builds a positive experience and great long-term loyalty starts with the simple, small things, and builds into the complex relationship that is healthcare insurance. We encourage all business owners and communications professionals to remember that tripping on the small, simple details, can undermine years of work and millions of dollars of effort on the large items if we are not careful!

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