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Making Health Contagious: 8 Secrets of Impactful Client Engagement

Omada Health
Feb 25, 2016 · 11 min read

by: Jocelyn Ding, SVP of Operations at Omada Health

Consider the following: Sixty percent of Americans are at risk for cardiovascular disease. A third of Americans are at risk for type 2 diabetes.

150 million Americans go to work everyday.

The workplace presents a phenomenal opportunity to enable people to live free of chronic disease. At Omada, we’ve learned that when it comes to delivering innovative health benefits to employees, client engagement matters — a lot. Without it, even the most innovative health benefit will have negligible impact (or worse, become yet another brochure at the wellness office).

At Omada Health, we’ve partnered with Fortune 1000 companies and leading health plans to enroll tens of thousands of employees and members in our Prevent program. Along the way, we’ve learned a great deal about best practices that have driven broad adoption of our innovative health benefit (and will probably do the same for yours).

8 Secrets of Impactful Client Engagement

Ask any business leader about their people’s health and you’ll hear, “I care about that very much.” And they should. Healthy employees are good for the bottom line. According to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, three studies linking stock performance and corporate wellness found that companies with high-performing health programs for employees out-paced the Standard & Poor’s index by as much as 16% a year.

Why is it then, that health-related messages are almost always delivered softly, tentatively, with no gravitas? Employees often learn about health benefits during open enrollment, with passive materials that describe how to get the benefit instead of why the company is passionate about that particular benefit. Contrast this with business goals that are communicated during live company-wide events that are designed to inspire, repeated at small group meetings to win hearts and minds, and incorporated into individual performance goals to serve as a basis for tangible rewards.

Here are some possible answers:
“Health is such a personal issue; we don’t want to be intrusive.”
“We don’t want to violate any privacy laws.”
“It’s not a socially comfortable topic.”
“Our executives don’t get involved with health-related communications.”
“Our benefits coordinator will talk to people about that.”

Americans spend a lot of time at work — so much more than our counterparts in the industrialized world. Business leaders should take responsibility for making the health of their employees a key priority. At Omada, we insist that leaders play a bold and loud role in inspiring their employees to join the movement toward prevention.

At first, some leaders felt anxious about taking this on. So we’ve made it easy by developing materials that we can adapt to represent the voice of any given company or health plan leader, so it feels authentic and powerful. The result? An immediate and definitive increase in employee response and engagement. Put simply, knowing that leadership truly believes in a health initiative was key.

We’ve met with hundreds of employers who’ve launched thousands of health benefits over the years. Their number one complaint? “It’s hard to get people to sign up.” (Their number two complaint? “The programs don’t particularly work.” But that’s a different story for a different white paper.)

Getting employees to engage in a new healthcare program or benefit is notoriously difficult. But that’s no excuse to give up. What’s our definition of giving up? Taping a black and white photocopy of a program one-pager to a wall in the employee break room. (We’ve seen that.) Sending out a single, text-heavy email. (Not going to work.) Leaving brochures on a table during Open Enrollment. (People barely notice those.)

Great engagement requires the new health benefit to be, well, engaging. And that begins the first moment you share the news with employees. At Omada, our internal design team has deep roots in ad agency creative departments. So they think a little more like Don Draper and a little less like Mr. Burns. Our Creative Director, Jenn Maer, puts the challenge simply: “Talk like a human. Speak to an insight. Inspire them to act.”

During a recent deployment with an innovative aeronautics company, we brainstormed ways to connect with every employee. The challenge? Get a compelling message to a team without company email addresses. The solution? Identify the locations everyone visited each day. That left us two good options: the cafeteria and the bathroom. We chose the former. We co-opted the napkin dispensers for one week to share bold, inspiring messages about the new benefit, all in the voice of the company’s leader (see above!).

People used to go to their work places to gain access to modern technology: computers, email, business software, internet access, and even printers. The internet changed this. In most cases today, people have access to better technology at home than they have at work.

It’s shocking to see how businesses continue to use direct mail to tell their employees about health benefits. Why? Not because they think print is better. It’s almost always because they don’t have electronic contact information.

With 85% of American adults using internet and mobile technologies, capturing employees’ email addresses and mobile numbers is as crucial as capturing their home addresses and landline numbers. Insisting on going digital sets the stage for efficient and engaging communications on a matter that’s deeply personal yet utterly relevant in the business setting.

Most of Omada’s retail industry customers don’t provide their employees with email addresses. But we refuse to throw up our hands and just churn out direct mail pieces that will wind up in the recycle bin. Instead, we run ground campaigns, like the one in the lunchroom, to build awareness. Then we encourage employees to send us a SMS. From there, we invite them to submit their email addresses and we’re good to go. The results have repeatedly exceeded our expectations. During a busy holiday season, we signed up 6x more participants than expected at a national retail chain.

There’s no creative campaign in the world that will replace the enthusiasm and recommendation of someone you trust. Local champions magnify a message by extending the persona and voice of an organization’s leader. They can deliver expert answers to probing questions, and remove barriers that prevent people from taking action. They cheer people on with caring support to help them succeed with what they set out to do. Most important, by sharing poignant success stories, they serve as the catalyst for the movement to enable people everywhere to live life free of chronic disease.

Omada’s Client Services team offers champion training to our customers. And our Support Specialists check in regularly with champions, helping to remove any barriers or provide additional materials if necessary.

Health is a lifelong process, not an event. One-time messages simply won’t do. Organizations must care enough to make important health messages a persistent and recurring theme in their connection with their people. This means creating content that’s worthy of people’s time, and delivering it in a way that doesn’t add to information overload.

At Omada, when we advise our customers to communicate persistently about reducing risk of certain chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, we get one predictable response: “We don’t want to over-communicate on this topic.” It’s exactly this M.O. that has allowed the rate of chronic diseases to grow unchecked. If we continue down this path, the movement to prevent chronic disease will fail, and businesses will have to deal with a consequence that matters a lot: scary high healthcare costs.

Producers of processed food aren’t shy about telling the world to consume more of their unhealthy products. And those messages are everywhere: tv, radio, print ads, the internet, major community events. This “over-communication” serves them well. Information about chronic disease prevention needs to vie for equal time. Once we get business leaders to acknowledge this, we can help them grow comfortable with telling a health story persistently, and ultimately, turn them into passionate evangelists for the chronic disease prevention movement.

One of our best practices at Omada is to send a series of six beautiful email messages over the course of about four weeks. These emails describe elements of Omada’s products, outcomes that one can expect, experiences of delighted participants, and even give recipients that chance to “try out” some interactive features of our program right then and there. The result? Our conversion rate is 3x industry average.

Developing great communication materials is messy. It’s tedious. It’s risky. Drafting the narrative for the message, then wrapping it in a compelling creative package is a complex, time-consuming, artful science. It requires a deep understanding of what needs to be said and how and where to say it. Ultimately, you want to deliver a multi-part story that captivates a person and inspires urgent action.

At Omada, the majority of our customers start out wanting to develop their own communication materials, because they believe they know best how to communicate with their people. We believe that, too. But the practical reality is it’s not that simple. One telling symptom of this: every time we begin work on a communication campaign, the words “priority” and “resources” take over the conversation. Who will design the campaign? Who will write the copy? Who’s responsible for QA? How will the materials be tested? How much time will it take to produce the final materials? These questions invariably transform excitement about launching a terrific health benefit to gripes about how hard it is to get anything done.

Timing can become an issue, too. For instance, we’ve had partners suggest “rolling out during open enrollment in November.” When it’s April. Not good. That wouldn’t be acceptable when the topic is a product launch, profits, or efficiency improvements. Why should we accept that when it comes to health?

Even if a team manages to get the resources and priority questions answered, the communications they develop are often mundane email messages that don’t warrant the recipient’s serious attention. One of our customers went down this path. After seeing very low response to their email (especially when compared to results we’d shown them from other Omada customers), the project leader reached back out to our design team. We were happy to offer a replacement that included a combination of beautiful images and simple copy. The result: they enrolled three times the number of employees in half the time.

Congratulations! You just signed off on a great creative campaign. Now, do you have the robust technology to deploy, track, and optimize it? If not, don’t expect that campaign to land, no matter how creative it is.

Makers of innovative products pour money into technologies, operational processes, and human resources to execute communication campaigns flawlessly. Their expertise in this realm didn’t happen overnight. They gained it through experience, deep diligence, focus, and instrumentation.

Many customers at Omada start by insisting they execute their own communication campaigns. But we often discover that they haven’t asked themselves some very important questions. Like, does their email system allow them to send out, say, 20,000 emails at once without crashing? Do they have the infrastructure in place to do a/b testing, to detect who opened the emails, who clicked on a link? Will their campaign work on mobile, or older operating systems?

A health plan that recently introduced Omada’s program to their employees quickly discovered just how hard this is. They ran into issues with their email infrastructure, and fixing it wasn’t a priority within the company. We were happy to execute the campaigns through our email system, and share all key metrics and learnings along the way.

Let’s say you’ve carefully planned and flawlessly executed your launch. How will you know if it’s working, or what to do if it isn’t? Before you launch a new benefit for your employees, it’s crucial to name your success indicators, set your metrics, and invest in the instrumentation to view them early and often. From there, you’ll need to be prepared to mobilize any necessary interventions swiftly. These are all reasons to lean on expert talent to execute communication campaigns and provide the analytics you’ll need to know if your campaign is making the right things happen.

At Omada, we monitor communication campaigns closely, with an eye toward rapid improvements when things aren’t working out as planned. We’re committed to being able to respond immediately. And we can, because we access this information in real-time and share it with our clients swiftly. This allows us to celebrate success early (our most common outcome) and drive interventions when we see an opportunity to do better.

We can embrace all 8 secrets of client engagement and do every one of them very well. That’s 100% attainable. 100% worthy of celebration.

Is it 100% enough?

Sixty percent of Americans are at risk for cardiovascular disease. A third of Americans are at risk for type 2 diabetes. These are BIG numbers. As a people, we have a BIG problem. Good news is, there’s a known solution to this problem. By changing people’s behavior toward food and movement, and managing challenging life situations that can lead to unhealthy habits, we can help reduce the risk of these two chronic conditions. And employers are in the perfect position to lead the charge.

So let’s think big for a moment. Beyond making better health attainable for their people, what would it look like if employers integrated employee health into their business strategy? Imagine:

  • 7 strategic business priorities: Market share. Top-line growth. Profitability. Customer Delight. Productivity. Employee satisfaction. Employee health.
  • Earnings calls: Revenue. Gross margin. Net income. Capital investment. Employee health improvement.
  • Performance incentive: Business success. Employee health engagement.

With commitment — from the top down — to engage boldly and persistently in the health conversation, a new organizational culture that takes chronic disease prevention very seriously is an inspiring destination.

Omada Health

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Inspiring and enabling people everywhere to live free of chronic disease. To learn more, visit

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