Aetna is urging gay customers to "be proud" - and consider buying its coverage - as part of a new, narrow focus to selling health insurance in a business where the individual's buying decision matters more than it used to.
The nation's third-largest health insurer is using mobile phone apps, print ads and a recently launched website to appeal to the estimated 9 million members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the United States. Its website features a video of a gay woman and man talking about love and relationships. It also helps visitors find LGBT-friendly doctors and promises coverage "with features that fit you, your partner and your family."
Experts say changes in technology and how insurance is sold, plus a more fickle customer who wants to know where companies stand on certain issues, all create fertile ground for such a targeted approach. But this push comes with the risk of turning off customers who don't agree with a company's stance.
"You have to differentiate on who you are and what you stand for, and that's trickier," said Allen Adamson, chairman of North American business for the branding firm Landor Associates. "Not everyone's going to like you."
Aetna has offered help finding LGBT-friendly providers for years, and it has long backed issues like domestic partner coverage, all of which it details on its new website. The insurer decided to package this into a marketing push after talking to its employees, who pointed out that the LGBT community shows loyalty to companies that favor its inclusion. The company decided to test market to that community as a way to learn more about selling to specific demographic groups, President Karen Rohan said.
"This is a pilot for us to really understand how people are making choices and how people are thinking about purchasing health care," she said.
Health insurers have become more focused on what individuals think over the past few years because more people are making decisions about which insurance to buy, instead of just having their employer do it for them. The health care overhaul has launched public insurance exchanges across the country where millions of customers sort through several options before settling on a plan.
Those are very competitive markets that require insurers to sell themselves to individuals, because it is relatively easy to compare plans and services, said Vishnu Lekraj, a Morningstar analyst who covers the insurance industry.
In addition to that, more individuals are sifting every fall among options for privately run Medicare Advantage plans, which provide coverage for people who are over 65 or disabled.
Medicare Advantage plans and those exchanges are two key sources of future growth for insurers, Lekraj said.
Technology also makes such targeted marketing easier. The Internet offers Aetna a way to reach LGBT customers who may be searching for companies friendly to their community. It's a segmented marketing approach Adamson is starting to see more.
"The days of one message and one story for everybody are dwindling," he said.
Another insurer, Kaiser Permanente, has operated a website similar to Aetna's for several years, and a number of companies have run marketing campaigns specifically targeting the LGBT community.
Companies are trying to keep pace with evolving views as the public becomes more supportive and accepting of gay rights, said Laura Ries, president of the marketing strategy firm Ries & Ries.
"I think companies are realizing this, and they're following the dollars," she said. "This is a community that also has a lot of disposable income."
Aetna's Rohan doesn't expect customer backlash from this particular focus.
"I think people generally are supportive of diversity and inclusion," she said.