by Matt Oxley
In our ongoing Opal Foundations Series conversations with exceptional marketers, we bring you a Q&A with super-marketer Joe Curry. Joe is a Director of Digital Content Strategy at UnitedHealthcare, the largest healthcare company in the world (with a 2019 revenue of $242.2 billion).
I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Joe both personally and professionally over the past six years — first as an Opal user at Target in the early days of the Opal platform. Today, Joe is a self-described champion for using marketing technology to improve the way his teams work together to be effective in market.
Read on for insight on how Joe has leveraged technology and the power of collaboration to navigate the challenges of 2020 and his unique marketing journey.
Q: Hi Joe! I’m so excited to catch up with you today. First, can you tell us a little bit about UnitedHealthcare and your role?
A: UnitedHealthcare is the health benefits business of UnitedHealth Group, a diversified health care company dedicated to advancing health care. UnitedHealth Group also includes Optum, a leading information and technology-enabled health services business dedicated to helping make the health system work better for everyone. UHG is based in Minneapolis, Minn. with 325,000 employees worldwide. This includes 122,000 clinical professionals, 39,000 in customer service and 29,000 technologists — all serving 140 million individuals. I work on the UnitedHealthcare brand marketing team and partner closely with our UHC.com digital team and other enterprise teams on content strategy to support business growth and help connect our members to better health.
Q: Who is your audience?
A: In our brand marketing efforts, our audience is people 18 and older to increase awareness, affinity and consideration and improve the UnitedHealthcare brand perception in the insurance category. We’re also a shared resource to help support content and campaigns within our UnitedHealthcare lines of business, for business growth and member engagement.
Q: We’ve had the extreme good fortune of working with you over the past several years, first in your role at Target and now at UHG. Can you tell us about your personal journey as a marketer and how you got here?
A: I’ve always worked in or studied technology, so that’s been a consistent thread throughout my career. After an internship at 3M, I realized that as much as I love technology, I didn’t want to pursue a career in computer programming. I was interested in how great brands produce content in different marketing channels and how it all works together…how do you orchestrate it all? After college, I worked at a Minneapolis PR agency with clients including Rockwell Automation and BASF. I then earned my MBA from the University of Notre Dame and applied to McDonald’s HQ (on a whim!) to work on the global web communications team that oversaw the company intranet and corporate website. In 2008, brands were beginning to use social media, and I raised my hand to test the waters of social media and help support an American Idol-inspired program called “Voice of McDonald’s,” which recognized the most talented singers of restaurant crew worldwide. The top singers competed for public votes in an online music video contest (promoted partly through social media) and 12 semi-finalists competed in live performances in Orlando, Florida during McDonald’s Worldwide Convention. It was my first opportunity to use social media channels like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace (remember that one?) in a business campaign. In 2010, that volunteer assignment led to the first McDonald’s global role dedicated to social media with the launch of several corporate social media channels. I eventually moved back to Minneapolis and worked at Target, first in leading a newly-launched online magazine called A Bullseye View. I loved finding new ways to share behind-the-scenes stories about Target, that the average person might never hear about, like how products are developed, how designer partnerships evolved and stories of team members who support the Target guest experience.
Q: And from there you went head-first into social, right? What was that experience like?
A: Yes, I worked on social media at Target for just over four years. First in launching the @TargetNews Twitter account as part of the public relations team and then moving to a role on the core social media team. Back then, things looked a lot differently in terms of campaign and content planning orchestration (versus how they look today). In order to collaborate on content, we used spreadsheets, documents and email to communicate plans with the internal creative team, internal business partners, and agencies. It was a version control nightmare!
A colleague of mine recommended a solution called Opal that might help us keep track of everything and work in a better way. So, we started using the platform to solve some of our headaches and calm the chaos (we had hundreds of social media posts to coordinate at a time, which is not fun to do in a spreadsheet!). I remember in just the first few hours of our initial training session, a team member was fist-pumping at the capabilities of the platform, and there was a palpable energy and excitement from others in the room. They could see how working in Opal was going to make their work easier and help them better visualize the marketing content and calendar. And these weren’t people who necessarily loved technology (like I do). It would mean a change to their workflow, but they could immediately see the benefits of working in Opal versus spreadsheets, documents, decks and email.
Q: That’s such a fantastic story to hear. I’m so glad we were able to help you and your team at Target “calm the chaos.” How did the onboarding and early days of adoption go at Target? Any tips for teams who are just starting out in the platform?
A: It’s not easy to ask people to change their work routine, but if you can clearly show a before and after on how a solution addresses a specific pain point, that’s a really great place to start. We also showed the team how using Opal doesn’t add more work, but allowed them to do their existing work more effectively and also save time. And, more people can see it and collaborate on it. That’s what really clicked with the Target team.
Q: Such great insight for new teams who are just starting to work in Opal… thank you! So let’s move on in your journey from Target to UnitedHealthcare. What was that move like?
A: I went from being on a team of 20 focused on social media at Target, to what was initially a team of one (meaning me) at UnitedHealthcare as part of the employer and individual business marketing team. While Target was more advanced in its journey using social media to connect with guests, UnitedHealthcare was in earlier stages. So I was on a mission to figure out how I could bring some of the same technology and tools I was used to working with at Target to be more effective in my role. We started with a small team of 25 users in Opal. And after proving the value working in Opal could bring with better collaboration, we soon had other teams join us in the platform.
Q: I’m so glad you were able to bring other teams into Opal to collaborate and move their work forward as well. Are there any other teams at UHG also working in Opal?
A: Yes! Other teams like our government programs team, our communications and careers teams from our parent company, and the Optum business saw the value of working in Opal and joined as users. I think some teams at first may be hesitant because they think they have existing tools that can do what Opal does. Yes, you can do project management in other solutions, but to truly collaborate in a meaningful way across teams, functions and channels and visualize the final planned content and campaigns on a timeline…that’s something where Opal really shines. Now that we have teams across our businesses at UnitedHealth Group working in Opal, more campaigns and content are visible and can be easily shared. Everyone can collaborate and keep work moving forward. I love that teams can easily orchestrate content across a variety of channels and not just social media, where I initially began using Opal.
Q: That sounds like fantastic progress! Any other tips for getting teams to adopt a new platform like Opal? Did you have to go at it alone or did you have help?
A: One thing I’ve learned is that getting people to adopt a platform like Opal depends on finding other champions who can help educate and encourage adoption. I don’t think it would have been as successful if I was the only one touting the value of working in Opal. It’s about listening to understand teams’ workflows and their pain points and then highlighting how Opal can improve upon it with a different, efficient way of working — and it doesn’t necessarily create extra work. If you can show how much extra time teams were already spending, putting work into a format that isn’t easily collaborative or shareable, that really helps people easily visualize and align.
Q: Those are fantastic tips, thank you. Tell me a little bit about how you develop your content and campaigns?
A: At a brand marketing level, we partner closely with our strategic marketing insights team to do qualitative and quantitative research with our target audiences, as well as benchmarking competitors and companies in other industries, to develop campaigns that support brand awareness, affinity and consideration. As campaign assets are finalized, we’re able to use Opal to visualize how they appear across channels for the duration of a campaign. On a specific channel level, our flagship website UHC.com is a gateway that serves 24 different audiences. The team is constantly improving the content and working to simplify the experience and support visitors “top jobs” to be done. We review business goals, website feedback surveys, SEO and site search analysis, A/B testing, and web analytics. This informs any content gaps or different testing or customization opportunities to help improve the site experience. The site supports business growth as well as the member journey from open enrollment to onboarding and engagement, and connecting members to their specific benefits on the member portal.
Q: What are some ways you ensure consistency of messaging?
A: UnitedHealthcare has made a focused effort to align teams on our purpose — to connect the world to better health, one person at a time. From a brand marketing perspective, UnitedHealthcare has recently refreshed the brand, creative standards and voice and tone to bring greater consistency to our audiences and experiences. A specific campaign example that comes to mind is a cross-business effort to get ahead of flu season. We outlined a messaging matrix to help align teams on the core messages to share with our members on the importance of getting a flu shot this year (and every year), benefits coverage and where to find flu shots and also answer FAQs. We created an enterprise flu page that provides a flu overview, connects members to their online portal for health plan benefit info, and also offers FAQs and videos from our Chief Medical Officer.
Q: Yeah, it’s so important that brands are consistent, for sure. You seem really passionate about this theme. What else do you love about your job?
A: Most of my career experiences have had a combination of marketing, communications and technology. In most every job I’ve had, there’s been some element of identifying technology solutions (like Opal) and then educating and encouraging others on ways we could work better together. I’m a curious person by nature, and I’m always excited to learn new things about any topic. In my current role at UnitedHealthcare, I love the variety of work I’m fortunate to do, and I enjoy finding ways to creatively address business challenges through content and campaigns. And it’s meaningful and challenging work to be part of a company that’s committed to improving the lives and health of others.
Q: What a journey you’ve had! What do you think some of the biggest challenges marketing pros are facing right now?
A: Deciding where to prioritize your time (and measure impact) is more important today than ever. Another challenge is to remember your audience. As marketers, we can get immersed in whatever the news, product or message is that we’re promoting, but you have to remember that your audience or public might not be as familiar. So while it’s nothing new, remember to think as your consumer would first. It’s fundamental to your success, and something that I’ve always tried to keep top-of-mind as I’m developing content.
Joe, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and insight with us and our community of Opal users. We can’t wait to see how you and your teams at UnitedHealthcare will bring content and campaigns to life across channels in the new year.