Highmark prides itself on being an insurer of last resort. As Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, serving the 29 counties of Western Pennsylvania, and Highmark Blue Shield, serving the 21 counties of Central Pennsylvania and Lehigh Valley, this provider also prides itself on getting health insurance products into the hands of individuals. 

“We are here not only to serve those that qualify for insurance but also to distribute products to those who do not,” said Steven Nelson, senior vice president of corporate marketing and consumerism. 

A focus on opening channels of distribution to residents in Pennsylvania has led Highmark down a retail-focused path, resulting in the opening of two retail locations. Since opening the stores in March, more than 7,000 visitors have come to Highmark’s two locations, which doesn’t surprise Matt Fidler, Highmark’s director of retail marketing. 

“The stores are designed to be sources of information and education to consumers who have questions about healthcare in the marketplace,” said Fidler. “Once people understand we have answers for their questions, they want to get all the answers they possibly can.”

Consumer engagement

Whether you work in healthcare or not, the confusion in the insurance market about where and what kinds of products to buy, especially if you’re not employed, is evident. By opening two retail locations, Highmark found a way to fulfill its broad mission of improving insurance access while also better engaging consumers. 

“We looked at consumer engagement, where touch points exist, and how traditional brands and markets continue to reach their target audiences,” said Nelson. “We then did a gap assessment of what is and isn’t relevant in the health insurance space and found what consumers wanted was more information.”

The retail locations are only one part of Highmark’s overall strategy to better reach its consumers. The company has invested in mobile marketing devices that drive to where consumers are rather than waiting for them to come to a Highmark location. The company is also looking at mobile phone devices, text messaging technology, smartphone capabilities, social networking, and telemarketing—a variety of areas focused on engagement. 

“When thinking about healthcare members, we needed to dive into the right pools of communication,” said Nelson. “Those pools don’t exist in healthcare, so we are finding ways to develop them for a new market.” 

Perfect retail experience

Another of Highmark’s goals was to transform the company from being primarily in the B-to-B and wholesale markets to being an active participant in the B-to-C market. When working with the retail store concept, success in this regard depends on presentation. 

As a former VP of marketing for GNC, Nelson understood that bringing people into a Highmark store necessitated partners that did more than manage the locations; they needed to fully grasp the concept of customer focus. Fidler’s education and marketing background partnered well with Nelson’s expertise and helped the company develop a sustainable strategy. 

“We brought in expertise regarding design techniques and build out, elements healthcare companies don’t do well and that building a staff around wouldn’t make sense,” said Nelson. “Having more of a consumer or brand mindset is a much better fit for converting a B-to-B model into a consumer-engagement strategy.”

On the design side, Big Red Rooster gave Highmark the ability to incorporate retail-relevant design elements, presenting an atmosphere of comfort rather than the intimidating presence of a high-stakes insurance company. “We didn’t want to make it look like a Mercedes Benz,” said Nelson. “We wanted to make it look like a nice Camry.”

The Hatch Group, led by President Jim Krentz, brought those design elements to life by putting them together to develop a concept based on strategy and insight from the insurance industry. But even with these two experts at hand, the success of Highmark’s two retail stores comes down to location, location, location. 

“Because we have a strong presence in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania as well as in Harrisburg and Central Pennsylvania, it was important for us to have a presence in each core location,” said Fidler. To find those perfect locations, Highmark did what any typical retailer would: took a look at the population, foot traffic, and information about where members were located and where prospective members could be found. 

The company found space in the north hills of Pittsburgh, a highly trafficked area that is easy to spot from the street. The store in Central Pennsylvania was approached from a different angle. “It’s in a strip mall with a couple of strong anchor stores to bring street traffic,” said Fidler. “We want consumers to see us and check us out while they’re heading to their destination.”

By equating Highmark with a positive retail experience, the insurance provider is sure to not only change the face of its industry but also how its own members perceive it. “We’re not just there to sell product; we’re there for accessibility to product,” said Nelson. 

“We still service people out of the store when they don’t qualify for certain products, but we also give them options on other products that are available,” he continued. “All elements combined provide the perfect retail experience.”

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