Here is a six-point checklist for 2020 election planning throughout the year.

As I sit here thinking about our clients’ 2020 Medicare AEP, there is one main concern on my mind: the 2020 elections. This is a conundrum that the industry will face as it goes into the October 1–December 7 time frame with the initial weeks of AEP marketing overlapping with 2020 election campaign marketing, and the weeks following election night being overshadowed with analysis from the pundits and anguish from half of the voters. However, since the dates of the AEP and the election won’t move, DMW has already implemented its election planning mode and started mapping out the strategy for the year.

During the 2016 elections, the industry saw unprecedented media spending by the various political parties, candidate and PAC organizations—especially in swing states! In fact, in 2016, $6.5 billion was spent on the presidential and congressional elections alone and share of advertiser ad time dropped from 77 percent to 51 percent in the final three weeks of the election.1 In 2019, $74.2 million was spent just on state, local, and ballot question elections2 and for the U.S. presidential race, media spend was $39.8 million through May 24—that’s not even halfway through the year before the 2020 elections.3 In addition to a crowded media space, the industry saw digital properties used more than ever, a confusing social media environment, and consumers distracted either by all of the “noise” or just choosing to tune it out.

What does all this mean for the Medicare marketing industry?
The AEP only provides a short time frame for plans to generate the majority of its Medicare plan members for the year. However, plans also have other marketing opportunities at their disposal that may have added significance this year, including OEP, IEP, and SEP, as well as AEP Pre-heat. Since there will be an impact during the AEP, it’s more important than ever to have strong strategies in place and make sure to think outside of the box while following the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ rules. The more you can do up front, the less you will have to worry when AEP overlaps with the 2020 elections.

The key question is: How do you plan for what is most likely going to be the craziest election cycle of the country’s time (so far)? But before you get into planning, let’s review some direct marketing best practices …

Direct marketing best practices
During the 2016 elections, DMW followed several best practices, including:

  • Clear strategy: Outline the objective of every tactic used and define the KPIs up front. This will allow you to make better data-driven choices and set expectations across your organization.
  • Early planning: The more you can book ahead of time, the better chance of securing inventory.
  • Contingency planning: Set aside approximately 5 percent of your budget for ad hoc efforts that you didn’t see coming.
  • Tracking: Have extra 800s and URLs in reserve in case the need arises to adjust your media plan.
  • Direct response TV: Plan and schedule early and in critical times overbuy media in order to avoid any clearance issues.
  • Direct mail: Pay close attention to when you mail and think about investing in First Class Mail®. Political mail is treated like First-Class mail and is processed before Standard Mail.
  • Paid search: Maximize your brand terms and Medicare terms. Even if there is competitive bidding, your quality score will be higher and cost per click lower than competitors.
  • Facebook: Do specific targeting and increased monitoring for a larger competitive pool and higher CPCs and CPLs.

A checklist for 2020 election planning
But best practices alone aren’t enough. Election years are anomalies, and 2020 is shaping up to be more challenging than ever. So here is a six-point checklist to keep top of mind as you plan out the year:

  1. Timing: Is your budget flighted out for the “typical” year that overlaps with the height of election spending? Can you front load or back load the spending and interest to gain traction at more cost-effective time frames?
  2. Creative: Go bigger and louder than normal—do the unexpected yet stay relevant. While there will be the need to capture the consumers’ attention, ensure that you’re doing it in a thoughtful way that’s appropriate for the audience. Are you able to facilitate any research or segmentation early in the year to better understand what’s important to consumers and what they may react to in a positive manner?
  3. Testing: This is the time to use as many complimentary marketing channels as possible and test early in the year to gain key learnings for next year’s AEP. Test now to gain early wins and make adjustments based on your key learnings.
  4. Hyper-targeting: The majority of DMW’s clients are regionally based and require an additional layer of expertise with their media buying and creative executions. DMW recognizes the importance of personalizing as much as possible through addressable media across multiple channels (direct mail, digital, TV, email, etc.) as well as then layering on a hyper-local aspect. The company has seen that leveraging multiple media channels results in higher response rates. However, this can be an expensive proposition if not executed on a personal and localized level.
  5. Distraction-free zone: How can you create an environment that provides your members and prospects a positive environment to think and make decisions? Health care is so important because it impacts people both physically and financially—how can you enable your consumers to make the right and easy choices?
  6. Be flexible: What has worked in past “normal” years, may not work or be the right approach for 2020. As I’ve started and finished writing this article, flexibility seems to be becoming more of a theme. The industry has just survived the impact of the impeachment hearings in the House and will now go into the televised Senate trial, which will be followed by an increase in election advertising.

Cheers to a successful new year!
2020 will be a year to remember with a lot of room for innovation, successes, and key learnings. DMW, is very excited to start the year off with a number of new direct response campaigns, including OEP and New to Medicare, and continuing to drive awareness, leads, and sales for all our clients.

1 Source: Kantar, “Political Advertising Trends: What To Expect In 2020.”

2 Source: Advertising Analytics

3 Source: Pathmatics and Kantar

About the author
Rachel Silva serves as the vice president of strategy & innovation at DMW Direct, which specializes in direct response health care marketing. She leverages her 20 years of in-house, publisher, and agency experience to better understand the holistic picture in order to develop impactful and meaningful consumer experiences.