If you’re reading this article in an American place of business, chances are high that your office provides some kind of health care coverage for you. After all, it’s the law. But six years ago, the dynamic between employers and insurance providers was anything but simple.
In March of 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law.
For the most part, Americans knew this was a big deal. From political controversy to health care shudders to nearly 24/7 media coverage, it was impossible for business owners to escape the feeling that something large was happening. Some said it should be exciting. Others said it should be frightening. What no one could say was what this would specifically mean for everyday people and businesses.
In this space of ambiguity, insurance providers were largely silent. No solid and centralized source of educational content existed, and the little actionable material that did exist was buried in search engines beneath mountains of speculation. And with the primary documentation surrounding the ACA totaling hundreds of thousands of words in complex legalese, it wasn’t likely that simple, direct content was forthcoming. Complicate this further with a complex system of brokers, providers, and health care institutions, and consumers were left with a befuddling law affecting a massive system of competing interests that they were somehow supposed to navigate.
It was in this vacuum that Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield saw an opportunity to cement itself in a uniquely visible position within its industry, while also helping millions of Americans in the process. The brand’s content marketing ambitions all centered on a goal, simply stated but difficult to execute: match complex ideas with straightforward explanations, and make everything as easy for customers as possible.
“The whole idea of why we should do content marketing was born out of the Affordable Care Act,” explained Andrew Reinbold, content marketing director at Anthem. “There was no one talking about what it meant for small businesses.”
Anthem’s content marketing effort was conceptualized from the start by Michelle Magan, staff vice president of marketing at Anthem, as a way to establish thought leadership in the massive space left by the ACA. Where much of insurance marketing is often geared toward the consumer, Anthem sought to carve out a niche for B2B conversations that could then scale as the ACA pushed more and more businesses to insure their workers. From this established position, Anthem would then gauge what material they were most interested in and which media were most convenient for them.
Simple enough, right?
Anthem was up against some heavy competition, however. Brokerage sites also looking to grab consumer interest were likewise creating some material around the ACA, but much of it was actually geared in the opposite direction. Instead of explaining how people could understand the ACA, businesses were either overpoliticizing the law or touting its complexity in hopes people would pay them to help figure it out, rather than first trying to understand it themselves. Meanwhile, any existing and useful information about the ACA resided on a number of .gov websites, meaning that if Anthem was going to rise above the noise, it would have to be more visible than the naysayers and more authoritative than the government.
To accomplish this, Anthem aimed to provide informational, accessible, and trustworthy content that struck an actionable balance between being more specific than the majority of ACA content available to date, while retaining enough simplicity to remain enjoyable to read and devoid of cumbersome legal jargon. The ultimate goal was to capture the “middle of the funnel,” as Magan explained, moving readers beyond awareness of the Anthem brand and giving them a regular space to visit, while final conversions were left to spaces most accessible to the reader. For some, this meant a “get a quote” call to action on the site, but for most this meant speaking to their insurance brokers about Anthem. To be successful in the latter case, it was essential that Anthem content would both win over reader trust, and then stick with them into later conversations about their insurance needs.
Anthem launched its blog, now named The Benefits Guide, as the first step toward building out a fully fledged content hub. While there wasn’t much informational content about the ACA available in the industry, there was a lot of political noise and naysaying blogs that it would need to break through by publishing a large quantity of high-quality content.
To accomplish this, the Anthem team looked to do two things with its content strategy: establish and maintain a wide variety of content types that would always be of use to any visitor, and partner with an external vendor that could help maintain a steady stream of fresh material without putting undue strain on in-house resources. For both these purposes, Anthem partnered with Skyword to find subject matter experts, manage the creation process, amplify their content, and adjust their strategy based on a variety of content analytics. “If something like Skyword didn’t exist, it would be impossible,” said Reinbold. “I couldn’t source out all this stuff, I couldn’t write it by myself, I couldn’t manage the website. That’s why working with a good vendor is so key.”
It may seem a simple enough step to work with a vendor, but brands overlook it surprisingly often. With the wide variety of tasks and media that marketing teams have to uphold today, it is exceedingly rare to find a cost-effective, in-house team that can both meet all the needs of the brand and sustain them at scale. Taking the time to candidly examine where support might be most welcome can be a powerful way to relieve a team’s workload, allowing them to focus on what they already do best.
As for the content itself, Anthem sought to keep its site engaging and fresh by employing a wide variety of content types, from blog articles and video to interactive timelines, quizzes, and surveys. It might seem like an obvious content marketing strategy, but creating such a variety of content is time-intensive, as is creative ideation and gathering the resources necessary to actually create each piece. Keeping this manageable wasn’t just about having the right team, but rather having a plan to make sure that every piece of content, regardless of format, accomplished two things: it conveyed information in an engaging way, and it utilized a format that aligned with the brand story. Videos, quizzes, and the like each individually accomplished what Anthem had set out to do—make the complexities of health insurance simple and engaging.
As interest in the space picked up, the Anthem–Skyword team began to note trends in its audiences’ interests and started expanding into LinkedIn and Twitter with B2B-specific material that broadened its conversations into more general topics like health care spending and employee wellness. This marked an important step for any content platform, both for improving visibility and future-proofing the space. The expansion into social media gave Anthem additional spaces to learn from and communicate with its audiences, while the broadening of topics laid the foundation for purposes beyond informing on the ACA, ensuring that the site can remain relevant even after the ACA no longer is. Taking advantage of opportunities afforded to a brand is excellent. Allowing content to rest on opportunity until it becomes obsolete is not.
The last step to cutting through the noise was a modest paid promotional budget at the site’s launch that helped build an initial audience. While in some ways an unfortunate necessity of content marketing today, small paid campaigns can be a great way to help gauge whether the content on the page is matching up against the audience’s needs and expectations. Establishing a benchmark for site metrics—new visitors, returning visitors, time on site, etc.—and then monitoring them while tapering off spend will help establish whether the growing audience is due to money pumped into advertising or the value of the content. While a low, maintenance level presence on paid advertising might always be necessary, the brunt of the traffic and interaction should hopefully come organically.
Because the nature of the health insurance industry makes it difficult for providers to drive and/or track direct conversions (since most purchasing actions are made through third-party brokers), Anthem’s primary KPIs were focused around measuring value and authority of its content for its audience: high traffic, high retention, and high visibility.
To date, The Benefits Guide has generated more than two million page views and has a healthy returning audience of over 14 percent. While ads continue to drive high traffic, the page’s organic audience is proving to be highly engaged. Over the course of 2016, the site has maintained an organic bounce rate of between 32 and 37 percent, with average users visiting two pages and staying on the website for an average of 1 minute and 49 seconds. In terms of visibility, the page has driven nearly one million page views through organic search, ranks on Google’s first results page with 71 keywords, and in some instances even outranks the US government’s own Healthcare.gov page.
So where does this leave Anthem? Once a successful content hub is established, there’s never really a point where you get to kick back and enjoy the show. Looking to the future, Anthem is exploring a number of ways to expand its content marketing program, from the conceptual to the practical.
Abstractly, the blog will continue expanding topic areas, understanding that the ACA won’t always be a topic of interest. This is where its exploratory social content begins to pay off, since its team already has feedback on what sort of information is important to the small business audience; the future appears to be filled with more content geared toward general workplace health and well-being. How will Anthem make this content accessible? The brand plans to build on the successes it’s had through quizzes by creating more interactive content that will serve the vision and needs of employees at small businesses everywhere. It’s planning on producing more content like its Benefits Quiz, which seeks to help employers understand their health plans while making sure they are effectively servicing their employees.
But lastly, and perhaps the most fundamental change for the brand, is a recently launched update to its website. While the update addresses a number of technical concerns that should help improve site experience and visibility, the more important change is that it takes everything Anthem understands about how people have interacted with its page in the past and couples it with how it’s looking to diversify into the future. Simple organizational steps like spreading interactive content around the site rather than keeping it in one place, or moving pop-up forms to more natural spaces on the site for readers to opt into, meld nicely with a new conceptual direction and cleaner site experience, preparing Anthem for a strong next step into the future.
Between a simple approach and exhaustive execution in a space where readers were desperately seeking guidance, Anthem’s content program has been a huge success—not through brute spending force, but through meaningful material produced from listening to an audience’s needs. Focusing on accessibility, creating touch points for conversation with its audience, and most importantly listening when they provide feedback—Anthem’s content hub provides a great example of how B2B brands can combine professional execution with human understanding to create a brand story that keeps people coming back, time and time again.