What Healthcare’s 'Go-to-Brands' Have in Common


Go-to brands address society's challenges and pull us into a company's inner world. For these brands, value dictates progress.

Allen Gove, David Pianin, and Howard Lapsley

12 min read

The act of choosing health insurance is complicated. For example, the average consumer has many options to choose from. And, many of these options look the same, with little differentiation present among ­­­available product offerings. Often, the differences between one plan and the next are hard to understand. As a result, consumers and benefit decision-makers may often tend to default to a brand name, choosing a company they’ve heard of and are familiar with.

For the average insurer, there are many opportunities regarding this kind of scenario to increase consumer engagement. The open enrollment period is one where key factors like widespread job losses, a deadly health crisis, and an ongoing economic recession will all shape the kind of health insurance plans that benefit decision makers, employees, and consumers (both commercial and Medicare) will be choosing from. And the market is increasingly competitive. For example, in 2021, 30 insurers across 20 US states will enter the individual market, with 61 others increasing their service areas. In 2021, the average US state will have five insurers – up from 3.5 in 2018 but down from five in 2015.

So, what can health insurance companies do to win in an evolving market? A key part of the answer is to focus on brand building. We believe branding will become one of the most important drivers regarding how consumers decide which health plan to be covered under.

Measuring Health Insurance Brand Power

There aren’t many brands that meaningfully impact people’s lives long-term. Brands that people widely love tend to be ones that relate to society’s greater challenges. These brands pull us into a company’s inner world, like a pair of magnets that effortlessly lock together through a strong attraction.

We call these “go-to” brands. Go-to brands stand apart from others by creating memorable meaning in people’s lives. One way this is done is through connection. Here, a brand relates to a customers’ sense of identity and values, moving the relationship beyond individual transactions. This is more than just preference or relevance. It’s about building an emotional bond that sustains over the course of someone’s lifetime.

Another way go-to brands generate value is through progress. These kinds of companies ultimately help customers achieve more, whether by functional, emotional, or social enhancement. 

It’s this combination of connection and progress that sets go-to brands apart regarding financial performance – both in the form of accelerated revenue growth during good times and greater resilience during bad times. 

Go-to Brands Perform Better Financially Versus Their Competition

Assessing your Performance 

Consider which of these four you fall into:

When analyzing the differences between these connections more closely, one key takeaway is that Transactional brands have room to grow across the board and at risk of becoming a commodity.

In contrast, Comfort brands win users’ hearts but aren’t seen as boundary pushers. They are also not seen at risk of being disrupted. Examples of brands in this classification include loved food brands, such as popular chocolate, ice cream, or candy companies.

Enabling brands are valued for what they do (but are not loved for how they do it). Many who fall into this category are celebrated innovators. But without winning users’ hearts, they’re at risk of losing loyalty. Examples of brands in this classification include bold technology disruptors such as popular ride-share services.

Lastly, go-to brands earn users’ love while also helping people do things they could never do before. These are the bar setters and operate where other brands should aspire to be. Examples of brands in this classification include brands deeply embedded in our lives like phone companies, popular shopping apps, and the like.

Payers are the Enablers

In contrast to these four examples above, payer brands are largely seen as “Enabling” brands with few that stand out through greater integration, for example, care delivery, or local focus:

A Case Study on How to Move the Needle

To win, payers should invest in brand experience. This strategy can help to deliver meaningful financial gains. Consider, for example, a case study from a national payer brand. From 2019 to 2020, investment in brand experience led to higher levels of connection and progress:

Several focused brand investments likely contributed to the observed improvement, include: making enhancements to the brand voice, updating member communication to use a more human, straight forward, and authentic tone, and making improvements to the digital experience through a partnership with a leading digital platform provider that created a more intuitive and value-adding series of member tools.

Questions Health Insurance Companies Must Ask to Become a Go-To-Brand

The future is about transformation. Consumers want companies who are true to them, who can show them they care, who work like magic, and who advance their world. The average consumer continues to play a more active role in healthcare decisions – especially as the average consumer also continues to bear more healthcare costs from their own pockets. Let’s leverage tomorrow’s greatest opportunities to give consumers the ideal experiences they crave. We invite you to make the following topics and corresponding questions part of your next business agenda:

Are you demonstrating that you are true to your members? How can you better understand member needs? How can you better reflect who members want to be? How can you articulate your shared values? Consider, for example, identifying distinct segments of members defined holistically across attitudes, needs, and motivations. Then engage target segments in a way that reflects an understanding of who you are.

Are you showing that you care? How can you ensure member interests are always at heart? How can you create moments of delight for your members? How can you be a joy to interact with? Consider, for example, identifying moments of delight and frustration across the member experience. Prioritize touchpoints to optimize that can create the greatest impact.

Do your experiences work like magic? How can you raise the standard for how things should work in healthcare? How can you put members effortlessly in control? How can you ensure you perform better and make things more seamless than our competitors do? Consider, for example, identifying moments of delight and frustration across the member experience. Prioritize touchpoints that may prove especially long-lasting and engaging.

Are you advancing your members’ world? How can you push the boundaries of your offerings to help members do things they never imagined? How can you help members feel a part of something bigger? How can you ensure members understand that you do more good than bad for society? For example, use the jobs-to-be-done methodology to uncover both the progress members are seeking to make in their lives and opportunities to intervene in a way that helps them achieve their goals.

For a few of many examples of how brands deliver against these drivers of connection and progress, look no further than meaningful initiatives rolled out during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the following:

  • HYATT: Be true to me. Anticipating heightened anxiety and the need to disconnect among consumers, Hyatt partnered with Headspace to provide their guests with digital opportunities for guided meditation and relaxation exercises while staying true to their benefit and brand purpose. World of Hyatt members receive complimentary curated mindfulness and sleep exercises in the World of Hyatt app. 
  • COSTCO: Work like magic. They were one of the first retailers to ensure its locations restricted the number of people in-store at one time. The retailer also made it easier for customers to line up outside and attached protective shields on registers to limit cashier-to-customer interaction. These quickly implemented operational measures turned a possible painful experience into one that made customers feel safe and eased access to essential products.
  • HOUSEPARTY: Advance my world. Enabling face-to-face fun even when loved ones are apart has fueled nearly 3,000 percent growth in downloads during the pandemic. From opportunity to innovation.

Examples like these hopefully spark ideas within your own organization in terms of how to shift away from a standard business-to-business healthcare industry and into an evolving consumer landscape. The time is now. Get going today to become go-to tomorrow.

  • Allen Gove,
  • David Pianin, and
  • Howard Lapsley