Alison Massey has built a new expat health insurance brand within a year.

How much expert knowledge do you need as an expat marketer?

Alison Massey has worked for Aetna, Goodhealth, Abbey and other major expat brands. As Marketing and E-commerce Director at Now Health International, she launched a new expat health insurance brand in January 2011.

In an interview with Expat Marketing, Alison explains what it meant to build a team of 50 people within a year – and how NowHealth wants to change the expat insurance market in the future.

Alison – it’s 6pm Friday afternoon in Hong Kong – and we’re looking into another hour of interview. Which personal traits does it take to become a good expat marketer? 

(Laughs) Managing timezones – and a truly global environment – that’s a good start. Our main office is in Hong Kong, but we have also offices in the Middle East and Europe.

But seriously: As an expat marketer, you need to be able to manage an increasingly complex and diverse target group. Today’s expatriates have only one thing in common: they live abroad.

Our target includes young Chinese professionals moving to Europe or people buying property in the Middle East. We have to adapt our proposition for each market, and the marketing mix as well.

How do you deal with these different market conditions?

In congested markets like Hong Kong we don’t do any branding. There’s no way Now Health can beat the established brands. In these markets we mainly do SEM and other performance advertising.

In intermediary markets it’s impossible to assign a cost per response or cost per acquision, so you have to work on the brand. In new markets like China, we can establish a new brand, so we do sponsorships, display, social marketing, networking and other brand activities.

How do you measure if the brand works?

The brand works once you reach a critical mass. You notice the point when people start calling you or come to your site and you don’t even know why. It’s the word-of-mouth, the recommendation within the community.

What have you reached so far?

When I started here in March 2010, we didn’t even have a name. We launched Now Health in January this year, grew the team to 50 people, and managed to get our name out there. We can’t complain, but it’s been a lot of work.

How do you distribute your marketing budget?

We spend about 70 percent of our budget online, which includes search, display and social media. 30 percent go to traditional media. This includes sponsorships, PR and events.

You’re now promoting health care with a ‘five percent discount’ during a limited order time. Does this ‘sell-off’ strategy work for health insurance?

(Laughs) I can answer this question in March 2012. This is the first time I’ve implemented a discount campaign for insurance.  It’s a test to see what it does.

In June 2011 you had already anounced a price cut of 15 percent on two of your major plans. Is the market becoming more price sensitive?

The market for expat insurance has not been very price sensitive so far, but this is changing. We now see the first aggregators appearing, that’s a clear sign.

Which aggregators do you see for expat health insurance?

For expats, sites like Expat Finder are trying to tap into that market, but they’re not really there yet. They just give you providers but don’t let you compare directly.

I would rather like to see more real aggregators like Brokerfish. Unfortunately, none of them deliver much traffic yet.

On the bottom line, the market is missing a real aggregator for comparisons. In other insurance markets, you have comparison sites, classifications and similar. Compared to those, the market for expat insurance is still not very transparent.

What are your plans for the future?

For the time being, we have to keep up the pace in building the Now Health brand. Fortunately, we don’t carry much of the historic problems of some of the established providers. Our investors are firmly committed to building a new expat brands, and we have built the whole business to scale effectively.

Alisson Massey has worked with expat for almost 20 years. Before joining Now Health International  in 2010, she worked for various expat health insurance brands. At Now Health, she created a new expat brand from scratch and pushed in to market in 2011.

Quan says:

Thanks for explaining them in details, the article is really useful.