Medicare Marketing: What’s Your Tolerance for Testing During AEP?


Each Autumn, starting on October 15th and ending on December 7th, a sprint to the finish line of AEP (Medicare Annual Election Period) is run by every Medicare insurance marketing team.   During this very compressed period of time of 54 days, those who are enrolled in Medicare can choose to switch their coverage during the Annual Election Period.

Even though various reports have identified the percentage of Medicare enrollees who are likely to switch at 10% or less, the year-long planning which leads to a frenzy of marketing activity packed into 7 weeks and 5 days is traversed by every single Medicare insurer since the “land-grab” of AEP is seen as the greatest single opportunity to add net new members.

As modern marketers, we know that testing is essential to optimization, yet, with the constraint of having Medicare marketing tactics perform at the highest possible level during this finite time period, causes many smart marketers to abandon testing due to the high pressure that’s put on marketing to make the AEP numbers.

And those who attempt to stay true to the best practice of testing, often do so, with testing budgets that aren’t nearly adequate for proper statistical validity in test results which prevents optimization of programs.

What is your organization’s tolerance for testing during AEP?   What are you testing?  We all need to be testing channels, the media selection placed within the channels, the messaging used to move people to the call to action, the format of the communications, and challengers to our direct mail pieces, the reality is, that we aren’t testing what we should be testing.

Why?  Excuses abound.

“We only have “$X budget” to bring in “Y” net new members and we can’t take a chance on using a portion of that budget for testing which may, or may not work.”

“We’ve tested similar things before and they’ve never worked.”

“I can’t hire another agency to create a direct mail challenger and then send it to such a small test quantity- it isn’t efficient enough.”

“Every year we hear about the digitally savvy new faces of Medicare coming into market, and each time we’ve tested digital, it doesn’t provide the same ROI as direct mail or TV.”

“We go to conferences, attend seminars, learn about new digital tactics, and we can never find the budget to properly test them.”

“We’re under pressure to perform, and our jobs could be in jeopardy if we don’t perform.”

The consistent lack of testing during AEP is preventing many Medicare marketers from optimizing their efforts and from achieving future success.

Can organizations break away from this vicious cycle so that they can resume what all marketers really must be doing, which is testing?

How can we possibly know if the “control” direct mail package we are sending year after year really is worthy of being a control if we can’t hire another agency to test against it?   How will we ever know if moving budget from traditional to digital channels is going to result in greater MROI?  Is the event strategy and tactics that we are putting into market really the best use of our budget?   If we flight DRTV in concert with direct mail and digital, what effect will it have on our overall results?  What if we changed it up?  How can we change it up?

What can marketers do to insure that testing is part of their plans for every year’s AEP?

As I am privileged and fortunate to be in a position to speak with many marketers whose sole focus is Medicare marketing, I have found that having and enabling a robust testing program in, and for that matter, outside of AEP, is directly attributable to the initial strategic planning stages of the programs.

Marketing leaders are responsible to include testing as part of their overarching plan from the outset.  The leadership of the organization must be made aware that a comprehensive marketing strategy, must include testing and optimization from the get-go.

If you find yourself in the heat of the battle of AEP without budget and planning for testing, it is because the strategy hasn’t been planned well.  Optimization through testing and learning are basic fundamentals of marketing, and often, fundamentals are foolishly overlooked.

There is an old saying that people can be divided into 3 categories: Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wondered what happened.

If your organization plans for and conducts testing during AEP, good for you, you are making things happen!

If your organization doesn’t plan for testing during AEP, don’t sit there and just watch things happen.  Be that change agent who stands up to challenge leadership to include testing as a fundamental part of every AEP and Age-In marketing plan.

Without testing, there is no progress, and with no progress, there is no optimization and without optimization, results are eventually going to diminish and falter to the point where everyone will wonder what happened.

Test. It’s not an option. It’s a marketing fundamental. Do it.


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