Masters of Marketing Interview: Craig Riner – Senior Vice President of Strategic Marketing at Highmark Health

Clock Tower Insight’s exclusive interview series, Masters of Marketing, continues with Craig Riner, the Senior Vice President of Strategic Marketing at Highmark Health based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Highmark Health is a national health and wellness organization. Riner oversees all strategic marketing insights, planning, development, and marketing analytics for Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, serving the health insurance needs of consumers, businesses and government entities, as well as Allegheny Health Network (AHN), an integrated health care delivery network providing health care delivery, medical education, and wellness services in Western Pennsylvania.  

A Better Customer Experience

The healthcare industry was built around the doctors and nurses. Patients went to offices when the doctors had appointment times available. Providers would refer you to hospitals where they wanted to do the procedures. But today’s consumer has different expectations. “Now we’re moving towards making the member the center of everything.” Highmark has been making a shift towards delivering healthcare for real life.

“For example, we took customer insights from the insurance side of our business and partnered with the provider side to solve a pain point.” Riner and his team started looking at the situation from a different angle and asking questions. “How can we let people see doctors faster? How can we let people see the doctor where they want to go? We live in an on-demand world. How do we honor that?” So they spent a lot of energy on research and modeling. It helped that they had willing partners on the health system side of things who wanted to solve the situation as well.

Leveraging AHN’s centralized scheduling platform, they launched their new Same Day Appointment campaign in 2016 and it’s blown away their expectations on the impact to business. They have a large percentage of new patients coming in as a result. The program offers same-day primary and specialty care appointments, and it’s been a game-changer, according to Riner. Now people who may not have considered coming to AHN are taking advantage of the same-day care for the convenience. “They’re getting their needs met right at that point in time, and then they’re continuing to come back.

They’re now in year three of that program and each year has proven to show high single- and low double-digit improvements in new patient appointments. “It’s just been a huge game-changer.”

Unconventional Healthcare Industry Competition

The difference is in how they’re approaching their marketing now. There’s a shift in healthcare towards really embracing a retail mindset. “It’s really driving us in a way that we’re trying to be more consumer-centric, and not just ‘suck less’ in an industry that traditionally under-performs in customer experience, NPS and simplicity indexes,” he shared. “We’re not competing with other healthcare companies,”. “We’re in competition with the likes of Amazon, Apple and Google. They’re world-class disruptors.”

Highmark wants to be a best-in-class retail healthcare company that leverages data to give people what they want, taking the friction out of the healthcare experience. Riner doesn’t consider his competition as other healthcare companies. He looks at competition coming from giants like Google and Amazon. “Those companies are coming at our industry.” They look at industries that aren’t meeting customer needs, and they try to figure out how they can come in and provide what consumers are missing. Amazon has a drive to create a better customer experience, and they’re all about leveraging that experience. Everything they do is about creating a remarkable customer experience.

Google has cornered the market on data, and now they’re pushing for a better way to share patient record data across hospitals and systems. “The current healthcare system has tremendous waste because healthcare systems are on different record-keeping systems. There’s little portability of information and data, like test results. There’s no good way to share medical records real-time.” Google is trying to revolutionize that.

They’re trying to take the friction out of the healthcare system. “People don’t embrace health out of fear, frustration, and financial barriers. We’re looking to try to remove those barriers and create less stress.” Riner understands that in order to do that, they need to look towards their unconventional competition. “We don’t want to be the best in the healthcare industry. We want to rank up there with Google and Amazon and Apple for customer experience.”

Looking Towards the Inside

Under his direction, Highmark is truly becoming a performance and brand marketing group. Historically, marketers side towards either strong brand and creative or ROI-driven performance. Typically, a marketer was either classified as one or the other. We embrace that you need both to be successful: the art and the science; the outcome-oriented and the emotionally engaging creative.”

They’re well on their way towards building a world-class in-house agency. “We used to outsource all our big, heavy lifting, but now we say that much of our best high end work should be done in-house.” They’re still in the beginning of that journey, making a shift towards doing about 80% of their marketing work in-house. That doesn’t mean they’re phasing outside agencies out completely, though. “There’s always going to be a world where you want to have one or two marketing agency partners that can help you work through difficult challenges, that can help to unlock your thinking.”

Riner recognizes that corporate marketers don’t always get a chance to pay attention to other industries, but acknowledges that marketers could stand to learn from all different angles. “They can challenge our thinking or encourage us to apply learning from other industries in order to ‘challenge the sacred cows.’”

In a world where healthcare has seemed to almost blend together into one forgettable hodgepodge, Highmark has learned they need to not think like a healthcare company. It’s that ability to think outside the box and adapt to the changing data that is setting Highmark apart as a true industry beacon for change.