Arms around the world

Despite the worldwide economic pinch, Bupa International is striving to improve its global reach with a digital marketing push and the creation of health-wise online communities. By Jo Roberts

Bupa International is hoping that a new marketing strategy will help it expand globally. While many consumers are cutting back on spending in tricky economic times, the business believes people around the world will continue to invest in their health.

A recent foray into the Indian market, as Max Bupa, a joint venture with a local firm, has encouraged the company to pursue this path. It claims that 48% of its group revenues already come from outside the UK, a total of £4.25bn.

With so many local healthcare providers in each nation, however, how is Bupa planning to set itself up as the most desirable brand in its sector? Bupa International’s commercial director David Grint says that the “”key”” to the future is digital. Bupa is asking its customers to share their health stories online. It hopes that creating this type of community will attract new customers and make current customers feel more engaged.

The online marketing drive stepped up a gear at the beginning of this year when Bupa launched free online health assessments on its website. According to the business, one person takes the health check every 30 seconds. It has also been tapping into social networking by launching a Facebook application called QuitClock, which encourages smokers to get their friends and family on board to help them quit.

Bupa may be onto something. People are increasingly using the internet to research and seek reassurance on their health issues. The NHS Direct health service receives more than 3 million visits a month.

Bupa’s online service gets on average 1.2 million hits per month. The most popular sections of the site are the health fact sheets covering subjects from chickenpox to healthy eating. Grint says: “Online communication is key for us as expatriates increasingly rely on the internet for health information.”

Bupa has appointed FBH Incite as its global creative agency to help raise awareness of the brand’s products and services for individuals and businesses (MW.co.uk, February 12). Fiona McAnena, former vice-president of innovation at PepsiCo, has also come on board as group brand director. She is charged with developing the marque across all of the business globally.

Grint and McAnena may see the brand as having global reach but even buoyant businesses are concentrating on core areas until the international economy picks up. Can they really buck the trend? Christine Hare, head of communications for Bupa International claims that the company is taking a “long-term view” which will “see through the near-term volatility”.

There are positive signs in the healthcare sector as a whole in the UK; the majority of the top ten private medical insurance (PMI) providers have boosted their subscription numbers over the past few years, according to the latest Mintel figures. Bupa remains market leader by some way in the UK. It had a 42.4% market share in 2007, up 4% on the previous year. Its total income in 2007 was more than £1.4bn in the UK.

Apart from its Indian operations, Bupa already offers services to expatriates in more than 200 countries including Spain, Hong Kong, India and Australia. Its tailored plans include Global Choice in the US, which gives customers access to healthcare professionals around the world.

While Bupa International aims to provide tailored services depending on the needs of each particular geographical region, Hare asserts that the brand intends to promote one universal marketing message. She claims: “Bupa’s brand has always stood for the same thing: helping people to live healthier, happier and more productive lives and this is what we will continue to do for our customers all over the world.”

Bupa’s four priorities to achieve by 2012 

– Tell one Bupa story around the world, so people know the brand and where it is going.

– Develop and promote health and care; give customers further reassurance about doing business with Bupa.

– Build products and services to provide customers with the best health care and ensure differentiation from competitors.

– Dramatically grow capabilities in key areas so the company’s people and systems are able to deliver customer value and respond to consumer needs in the future.

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