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Case Study

Using Consumer Engagement to Encourage Wellness Behavior

Many companies have developed employee health management programs to control their healthcare costs and maintain a healthier, more productive workforce. They are encouraging employees to identify their health risks (by offering health risk assessments) and, when appropriate, to take actions to address those risks (by providing incentives to those who sign up for wellness classes, weight management programs, chronic disease management programs, etc.). The benefits of participating in employee health programs are well documented and improve not only the health of the employee but also the company’s bottom line.
Despite their known benefits, these programs have been challenging for employers to implement. First, employees often resist completing health risk assessments. Employers cannot mandate participation, so they offer incentives to do so—but even then, presentation rates for assessments are low. This resistance creates a problem because an assessment is typically required for placement in a wellness program. Second, and more significant, if health risks have been identified, many employees fail to commit to a wellness program. In the same way that incentives have little influence on participation in health risk assessments, incentives have a limited effect on the initiation and continued use of fitness, chronic disease management, and other health and wellness programs.
Many observers contend that an organization’s inability to generate the desired level of employee participation in internal health programs is a marketing problem. Many, if not most people, they argue, would be willing to undergo a health risk assessment if approached in an effective manner. Similarly, most people who realize they are at risk for a health problem would be willing to change their behavior under the right circumstances. Ultimately, the question is how to engage employees in a way that elicits the desired results.
Heeding these facts, one company asked its marketing department to develop an approach to target groups of employees with messages that would resonate with them. The company believed that conveying the right message at the right time would go a long way toward engaging its workforce in its health improvement initiative.
To this end, the marketing department developed a questionnaire to be administered to all employees. Unlike the health risk assessment, the survey did not delve into the employees’ health conditions but asked only a few questions about their knowledge of health risks, their attitudes toward improving their health status, and the actions they were taking or were willing to take to improve their health. From the survey results, the marketers were able to group the employees into four categories: (1) those who had limited knowledge of health issues and their own health status, (2) those who knew their own health risks but were reluctant to take appropriate action, (3) those who were willing to take appropriate action but were not sure how to do so, and (4) those who were already involved in some type of wellness program.
Armed with this information, the marketing department developed a consumer engagement initiative that targeted the needs of each group of employees but emphasized for all groups the core theme of living well. For the first group, the initiative focused on disseminating information to raise these employees’ level of knowledge of health issues. The material created for the second group focused on changing these employees’ attitudes and encouraging them to develop an appreciation of proactive measures. For the third group, the marketers cultivated these employees’ awareness of available options and facilitated participation in those options. The marketing message for the fourth group was designed to reinforce desirable behavior. The overall intent was to progressively move employees in the first three categories to the fourth-category level using well-timed and stage-appropriate marketing messages.
After the consumer engagement initiative had operated for a year, a follow-up survey indicated these achievements: (1) the level of awareness of health risks among all employees had increased, (2) an increased number of health risk assessments had been performed, (3) a higher proportion of employees had signed up for company-sponsored wellness programs, and (4) the dropout rate for existing programs had decreased. The employer is still refining its employee health program, but management concluded that a targeted consumer engagement approach influenced positive changes in knowledge, attitudes, and behavior among the employee groups. Although minor changes were made to make the program more attractive, the primary factor in its success was the implementation of an effective marketing initiative.

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1. Why do employers think it is beneficial to assess their employees’ health status and offer them health and wellness programs?

2. What factors prevent employees from reducing their health risks and taking steps to improve their health status?

3. What factors led the company to conclude that the ineffectiveness of the employee health program was a marketing issue?

4. Along what dimension(s) did the company marketers segment the employee population?

5. In what ways is this consumer engagement initiative an example of target marketing?

6. How was the effectiveness of this consumer engagement initiative evaluated?

 
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