Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling over the Affordable Care Act last week, the future of healthcare in America remains uncertain in this election year when a Romney victory could mean the act’s repeal.

Healthcare insurers aren’t waiting to see which way the wind blows, though. Some major players having already begun consumer-focused campaigns that signal a sea change for insurers who traditionally targeted their marketing to wholesale business accounts, not individuals. 

The insurance industry overall is having to revamp its marketing efforts to thrive in a digital, networked world. What, then, must the insurance marketer consider in order to be successful in such a landscape?

1. The Tech-Savvy Consumer

With approximately 85 percent of Americans regularly able to access the Internet, more and more are using this channel to research treatment options, review physicians, and make important healthcare decisions.

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling will only sharpen this trend, as will some insurers’, such as UnitedHealth, decision to retain aspects of the Affordable Care Act that are popular with the public. So, instead of being physician-centric, as it is now, healthcare marketing will become more consumer-centric and come to occupy greater digital acreage.

Cigna’s $25 million “Go You” campaign, which launched last fall, is an early indicator of this shift. It shines the spotlight squarely on the individual through a multichannel strategy that includes a site overhaul, TV and video spots, as well as print ads.

2. The Power of the Testimonial

How many times have you stated your opinion on Facebook or Twitter about, well, anything? Offering a new and formidable kind of word-of-mouth marketing, social media swings the balance of power to the consumer, who has the opportunity to wrestle brand messages away from advertisers and companies through online conversations.

That possibility causes distinct unease among insurers, who are acutely sensitive to the legal headaches that social media threatens. Industries such as life insurance, however, have long been driven by referrals from friends and relatives happy with their policies, so there’s a lot of incentive for insurers to become comfortable with the new word-of-mouth marketing.

3. Not Your Daddy’s Insurer (Except When It Is) or Generational Marketing Grows Up

The pool of potential policyholders is large and deep, and it contains more than one kind of fish. There are approximately 79 million baby boomers at or nearing retirement age and many of them are considering retirement insurance. (Coincidentally, the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported last year that social network usage among those aged 50-64 rose an impressive 60 percent).

Then there are the Millenials, who are just beginning to explore their coverage needs, and Generation X caught somewhere in the middle. Marketers need to be mindful of the differences between each group, be that the product line a group most requires or the medium that offers the best chance of connection with that demographic.  

4. Haters Galore

Let’s face it. Insurance is one of the most reviled industries in the country. It does not enjoy good press.

From bid-rigging accusations in 2004 to AIG’s 2008 collapse and, more recently, the take-it-to-streets protests against prices hikes from Blue Cross Blue Shield, the industry suffers a serious PR problem—and that’s not even including its association with endless bureaucracy and denied claims.

Some companies get that and are trying to rebrand themselves as caring, community-driven organizations. Perhaps the most successful is Liberty Mutual, praised by Ahmed Yearwood, owner and founder of Y Interact, at a Meetup presentation to content strategists in New York City last week.

The company’s Responsibility Project, an online initiative, uses custom content to engage the public in a conversation about what it means to do the right thing without directly tying the dialogue to Liberty Mutual’s products. According to Yearwood:

If it becomes too much of a sell, if every article ends up having a marketing message embedded at the bottom of it, then it becomes, ‘Oh, this is trying to sell me something.’ It turns people off.

5. 24/7 for 365 Days

The EmblemHealth and Allstate campaigns aim to humanize an industry more often thought of as faceless and cold, but they address workday hours and the atypical (Thanksgiving weekend).

The digital world exists all hours, all days. Insurers who can market round-the-clock access to knowledgeable representatives via chat or customized portal may more accurately capture the experience of customers surfing the web after the kids have been put to bed or a night class has ended.

It’s those companies who can leap ahead of the competition that may push the insurance business back in our good books.