Marketing Vehicle The HNE Wellness Van Hits The Road

MaryLynn Ostrowski calls it a “moving billboard.”


That’s how she described Health New England’s new vehicle for promoting both the company and healthy communities.

The HNE Wellness Van, as it’s called, hit the streets earlier this month, and is already addressing its twin goals of providing additional visibility for the Springfield-based company while bringing health programs ranging from blood pressure screenings to body composition analyses to events in area cities and towns.

“The van enables us to go right into the community,” said Ostrowski, HNE’s director of Health Programs and Community Relations, who referenced billboards because that was one of the mediums discussed during conversations in recent months about marketing strategies for the company.

Ultimately, however, decision-makers opted for something mobile — and that could deliver more than an image and a marketing slogan.

The Dodge Sprinter van purchased earlier this summer has been customized inside and out to do just that. The interior was designed to enable HNE to offer various health screenings and also store and distribute information on various health conditions, treatment options, and prevention. Meanwhile, the exterior has been wrapped in bright colors (mostly orange and yellow) and images that convey the company, its new logo, its mission, and some of its programs.

Among those images is the group known as the ‘Whiz Kidz,’ characters in a series of books produced by HNE that address a range of children’s health issues. The latest installment — Danny DICE: Diabetes Insulin Control Expert — was unveiled earlier this month. Other titles include Seymour’s Weight Loss Challenge, which covers the subject of childhood obesity from a child’s perspective, and How ACE Became an Asthma Control Expert.

The HNE Wellness Van made its debut at a fundraising event for Rays of Hope called ‘Women’s Day at the Ranch,’ the golf club in Southwick, said Ostrowski, noting that the company is quickly filling in appearance dates for the months ahead.

The schedule will include both special events and regular appearances at sites such as Big Y stores, where the van will host screenings that will accompany educational programs in how to make healthy decisions when buying and preparing foods.

Drive Time

Ostrowski told The Healthcare News that the van project has been under discussion for more than a year at HNE.

The company continuously reviews its advertising and marketing strategies, she said, with an eye toward maximizing dollars spent in this area while also gaining valuable visibility at a time of heated competition among health plans. At the same time, HNE officials were also discussing ways to bring health programs to more people in the region it serves, the four counties of Western Mass.

“Those two discussions were going on simultaneously,” she explained. “The concept of the van arose because we saw it as a way to meet both of those needs.”

The 19-foot-long, 8-foot high van would provide plenty of visibility when parked at events sponsored or supported by HNE, she explained, but it would also enable the company to offer services at those events, which range from golf tournaments to cancer walks. Such services include health risk assessments, blood pressure screenings, and body composition analyses, which provide individuals with a calculation of their current percentage of body fat.

HNE has provided such services for employer groups at their factories and offices, she said, but the van enables the company to reach more individuals in more communities.

“Building our presence is important, and we need to be more visible in our communities.”

“Not all our members are in an employer group,” she explained. “If you’re the spouse, you may not be working, and if it is at your spouse’s work site and you are working, you can’t attend anyway, so you don’t have access to that screening. With the van, we can bring more programs to more people.”

The van will be spotted regularly at area Big Y parking lots, said Ostrowski, noting that the company has a strong working relationship with the super market chain that the Wellness Van will help take to a higher level.

For several years now, HNE has been conducting so-called ‘grocery store tours,’ at which members gain an education into everything from how to read product labels to how to prepare foods properly. The van will enable HNE to supplement these regularly scheduled events with health screenings, such as the body composition analyses.

There are already 27 events on the schedule at which the van will be providing some type of health screenings, said Ostrowski, noting that there are many other events, such as golf tournaments, for which the vehicle will be providing important visibility.

“Building our presence is important; we’re a small health plan, but we’re the only local one, and we need to be more visible in our communities,” she said, adding that the van will help differentiate HNE from its competition.

“We generally have some type of presence at events, but what isn’t known is our overall level of involvement,” she explained. “And one of the key components in our mission is to be a leading corporate citizen.

“We are very committed to the communities we serve,” she continued. “And we want people to understand that this commitment goes well beyond the programs we offer, and also goes to the agencies and organizations within the community that need our support.”

Thus, over the course of a week, the van might be seen one day at the Martin Luther King Center doing a Seymour’s Weight Loss Challenge program, while appearing at a golf tournament the next day, and then at a company providing health screenings for employees.

From a marketing perspective, Ostrowski said the van is an addition to the company’s broad strategy, but it will be used in place of some other advertising mediums, thus keeping overall spending at the same level as previous years.

And while she wouldn’t reveal just how the company was investing in the van, she projected the overall cost to be roughly what the company would spend on a year’s worth of static billboards.

“This gives us much more flexibility,” she explained. “Now, we can bring health programs to where you live.”

Gearing Up

Ostrowski told The Healthcare News that perhaps the biggest challenge ahead for the company and its van will be meeting the demand for requested appearances.

“That is a concern, but we look upon it as a good problem to have,” she explained. “We want to be visible and we want to bring health programs out into the community, and now we have a very effective way to address those needs.”

And that’s where the rubber meets the road.

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