Print or digital? That debate isn’t only outdated—it’s dumb. Well-designed bridges and a holistic content strategy can help nudge print-only members into digital realms—and unlock serious wins for members and health plans alike.
By: Linkwell Health Editorial Team
Rumors of print’s death have been greatly exaggerated. In an always-on world awash in digital tech, print can cut through the content clutter. Smartphones, tablets, and other devices may be rapidly multiplying, but printed marketing materials still win out when it comes to trust and engagement.
Yet any savvy marketer knows that an either-or strategy is a nonstarter. These days, omnichannel marketing strategies dominate the healthcare landscape, and for good reason. The vast majority of consumers aren’t “print” or “digital” people. They’re just looking to navigate a crowded information landscape with as little friction as possible.
The reality is that members are best served by a comprehensive, integrated ecosystem of content that meets them where they are. By building trust and strengthening member relationships, healthcare organizations also benefit from this communications strategy: Key messages land better.
It’s a mistake, though, to think that meeting members where they are means reaching them in only one channel, over and over. As much as healthcare orgs must cater to the preferences of their members, there are also valuable reasons to pull print lovers beyond the page and into digital channels and content.
To be clear, the goal isn’t to have print-centric readers adopt digital-first content habits—cannibalizing your own audience is never a good idea. Rather, the idea is to build on the value of existing content by nudging print-only members to be more than, well, print-only.
Why is the shift to digital so urgent? And how do you do it? Glad you asked.
Reason #1: Your Members Aren’t One-Dimensional Anymore
People want to be able to engage with content when, where, and how it best suits them. Organizations need to be right there, with the right content in the right channel. Remember that different channels are better for different things. Print is a great way to deliver resource guides. Digital works better for seasonal or timely information. SMS is great for reminders. Google suits the searcher. And so on.
The reality is that very few people live in a single lane. But even if they don’t channel-hop each day and are happy with their current content consumption habits, members appreciate options. And those options can deliver value even if people don’t always take advantage of them.
Not convinced? Consider this: The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently did a field test with Medicare Advantage (MA) enrollees, to see how pending survey changes might play out in real life. Half of the MA enrollees got outreach the old way (two print mailings and as many as half a dozen phone calls); the other half got a “multimode approach” that included printed mailer, website, and telephone options, giving enrollees more ways to respond.
In the field test, the multimode approach boosted response rates by 4 percentage points—even though most respondents with the web option still chose to respond by mail or phone. Simply having more options and avenues of engagement seemed to be a boosting factor.
Reason #2: Digital Fluency Is a Muscle That Must Be Built
When you find ways to bring print members online—whether by visiting your site or using your app or portal—you’re not only engaging with them in the here and now. You’re also helping to build their digital comfort and familiarity with your online brand, so they feel more empowered to make use of those digital tools in the future (say, to schedule an appointment or seek out clarity on a particular concern).
That’s a win for health plans looking to provide a frictionless, digitally enabled, always-on experience for members—which, as the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions concludes, should be pretty much all of us. Weaving digital technologies into existing interactions, analysts found, can help health systems “improve the health and well-being of their consumers and establish successful, enduring relationships with them.”
Reason #3: People Want to Share What They Love
Printed content works for a slew of reasons, but it falls short when it comes to easily sharing articles or information with friends and loved ones. That’s a drag, because research from the New York Times Customer Insight Group has shown that most people (73%) process information more deeply, thoroughly, and thoughtfully when they share it.
Your great content deserves to reach more eyeballs—and when consumers are empowered to spread the word for you, it may actually improve their engagement with the content as well.
Reason #4: Habits Aren’t Static (at Least Not Forever)
People’s preferences and behaviors around content and consuming health information are always evolving. Whether the shift stems from a member’s newfound digital fluency or delight in an emerging or new-to-them platform, staying in lockstep with a member’s habits is essential to both engagement and retention
The pandemic offered organizations an object lesson in this, supercharging omnichannel growth as people’s digital habits rapidly evolved. Things aren’t snapping back to an old normal anytime soon. One survey found that 75% of the health and fitness companies who launched new channels during the pandemic plan to keep them.
The bigger picture is that digital fluency continues to accelerate as digital natives make up more and more of the population. Organizations discount digital channels—including those just beginning to emerge—at their own peril.
Put Your Digital Plan Into Action
Did someone say “metaverse”? Four in five healthcare executives think the metaverse will have a positive impact on their organizations, according to Accenture, and that includes immersive environments centered on educational content that “can ultimately improve outcomes.” If you assume a print-loving member will always be a print-only member, you risk missing out on a potential goldmine of engagement and improved health opportunities.
Now that we’ve nailed down the why of building bridges from print to digital channels, let’s turn our attention to the hard part: how to actually do it. Don’t worry—we’ve got hard-won strategies and proven insights to offer.
Strategy #1: Find a way to broaden the convo
An anemic email list is a common roadblock to reaching members through multiple channels. But you can blast through that barricade with a targeted campaign that captures email addresses using the info you do have: namely, member mailing addresses.
One client, for example, sent members a printed mailer with a QR code and clear, concise instructions on how to use the code. It pointed to a content-rich website with a prominent e-newsletter signup form and request for contact information.
Depending on your member population, you could take the experience even farther, asking readers to detail their topic interests with a promise of tailored content (perhaps both print and digital!) in the future, while also soliciting their mobile numbers and opt-ins for text campaigns.
Strategy #2: Roll out the digital buffet
To pull people beyond the printed page, serve up a potpourri of options that bridge the divide: QR codes, personalized links, a website URL, a social media group they could join. The idea is to sprinkle digital promotions across printed materials, with an assumption that many readers won’t take digital action without plenty of prompts.
Imagine, for instance, a print newsletter with a QR code at the bottom of an article on vaccines: Scanning the code takes readers to a video with a provider diving deeper into the topic, or to a member portal where they can schedule a vaccine appointment, or to a content hub with vaccine insights tailored to that member.
In the same print newsletter, an article on nutrition might end with a question about favorite nutrition tips and a site address where they can join a member discussion about this topic on your site or social channels. Another article might include a promotion for an upcoming online webinar, with details on how to register. Another still might ask readers to download an app to take a quiz or test their knowledge on the topic, perhaps in exchange for a reward.
Just as you can call on readers to take a wide variety of actions (learn more! sign up! spread the word!), there are many ways to bridge print to digital, from QR codes and social channels to pointing to a particular URL or app. You should be deploying as many of them as possible, and mixing up which calls to action are paired with a particular bridge type. Did you end the last print newsletter with a printed URL where members could share feedback? Great — now, this time use a QR code.
Strategy #3: Tease exclusivity
Consumer magazines have been doing this basically since the dawn of time. Now they promote digital-only content in print to pull readers into digital channels. Maybe it’s a Q&A with a story subject, a longer version of an article, or a reader poll keyed to a hot topic.
Try going a step further with a more sophisticated niche content approach that leverages the flexibility of digital platforms. Print communications are limited in their ability to create discrete journeys built around specific, targeted customer segments. (Any experienced marketer knows how cost-prohibitive it can be to serve up frequent, segment-specific content to different audiences.)
So instead of a broad call to action like “Check out our Facebook page!” consider teasing specific content related to a print piece’s subject that’s only available online.
Strategy #4: Maintain the momentum
Print materials may be the initial springboard that moves members online, but that shouldn’t mean they only reach digital realms through the printed page. To make digital engagement an ingrained habit, think through strategies to entice members to return (no print-bridge required).
That might mean securing their opt-in for a digital newsletter, or sending an email drip campaign that points them (repeatedly) to personalized content on your site, or even following up a portal visit with a content guide on how to make the most of the patient portal.
Clear meticulous and continuous analytics can help you discern which tactics are most likely to fuel ongoing digital engagement, so the brand can reap the ongoing benefits of offering an expansive content ecosystem.