Nothing is more important than your health

An interview with
Bambos Neophytou, Brand Director
of Simplyhealth

If more people had health checks or carried out preventative measures, it could have a massive impact on
the nation’s health.

Key points
  • Simplyhealth provides health products, services and support to 3 million people in the UK but there are still too many of them who put preventative healthcare off.
  • A clear sense of purpose, distinctive values and no shareholders means this 146 year old company continues to improve access to healthcare for the many.
  • Employee engagement is the elixir to delivering the brand values and these include ‘kind’, ‘straightforward’ and ‘generous with time’.
  • Whilst these values may be fixed, how they’re talked about and brought to life changes over time.

“While brand values will be fixed, the strategy of how a company achieves its purpose can change. You might re-express your values or re-package them, re-invent how you talk about them and reflect them through your marketing – you can bring them to life differently.”

Bambos Neophytou is Brand Director at Simplyhealth, provider of health products, services, and support, including Denplan, for some three million people. He believes values tend to be most resolute in organisations which have a real sense of purpose. “Companies with strong cultures tend to preserve their values where those which are less well-defined are more happy to re-assess and re-frame their values, not just their strategies,” he says.

 

Bambos Neophytou,
Brand Director of Simplyhealth

The origins of Simplyhealth go back to 1872, when it provided health insurance schemes for workers before the National Health service (NHS) was even a glimmer. Over the years the group developed a focus on areas such as optical, dental and convalescence, physiotherapy and health checks, where there is still not much state provision.

“So Simplyhealth have always had that clear sense of purpose,” explains Neophytou. “Health relates to everything and is fundamental to achieving happiness. What we do impacts on lives and that influences how we behave and relate to people. Having history gives us a story to tell, and makes it easier to focus and communicate our brand values.”

Formerly head of the marketing strategy team at Virgin Media, Neophytou says that employee engagement is an elixir in delivering brand values. He gives the example of how customer service agents at Simplyehealth will phone a caller back a couple of weeks later to see how they are doing.

The point he’s making is that it reflects the idea of “generosity of time,” one of the “key truths” of the business that came out of a process of trying to re-express the brand values.

The others are about being kind, straightforward, and easy to understand. Achieving such a perception among customers, he says, is “the gold dust that companies strive to find.

He’s interested that some companies have ‘honesty’ among their written values. Neophytou says there’s been some soul-searching over whether such an attribute should really be a given and therefore not necessary to iterate. “I think it’s one of the things that should be assumed, but there have been financial organisations which have had direct confrontations with honesty and have lost credibility with the public as a result,” he points out. “So there is a debate as to whether a company should be explicit about honesty or whether it can still be implicit.”

n the digital age, he wonders if people understand the extent to which they can be manipulated by branding and marketing communication. “You are exposed to so much of it, especially through social media, that you can’t get away from it and cumulatively you can be drawn in by the rhetoric,” says Neophytou, who has been a media commentator on the subject on the BBC.

He worries about children being exposed to brands at an ever-younger age, and would like to see schools provide education to make children aware of the commercial messages and how they are targeted at the youngsters.

Neophytou believes that the corporate structure of Simplyhealth has an important role in underpinning the brand values. Limited by guarantee, the company has no shareholders and at least 10% of the profit goes to charitable programmes. “Our ethos is more long term and sustainable, and our status provides us with a platform to effectively communicate our mission of improving access to healthcare for the many.”

One of the challenges is achieving better awareness and market share when only about 8% of the population in the UK have private healthcare.

“People think it’s black and white: either with the General Practitioner or private medical insurance, says Neophytou. “Not everybody knows that there is a third way - plans that are as affordable as a Netflix subscription. And that’s the challenge because we don’t have the deep pockets that the private medical insurance companies have to get across their particular message.”

Does that mean the Simplyhealth brand has to be more disruptive, to use the marketing argot? Neophytou, who has worked in strategic branding for brands as diverse as the BBC, Unilever, NSPCC, Microsoft, The Fairtrade Foundation and De Beers, feels the description can be kind of inappropriate. “The approach of jolting people to sit up and take notice works best for start-ups or companies entering new sectors, or small organisations wanting to make an impact in their field,” he suggests.

“If you are already a category leader, it’s more important to maintain relevance. That means continuing to innovate, but I think differentiation or being distinctive are safer words than disruptive.”

That can be achieved by getting involved in sector-related campaigns, such as sponsoring mouth cancer awareness month. “This is something which is mostly detected through visits to the dentist so we could do some interesting provocative work to jolt people out of their complacency and inertia and get them to go to the dentist more often,” Neophytou suggests.

“The paradox is that there is nothing more important than health but people put it off or only deal with it when it becomes seen. But there is a balance between creating positive outcomes and scaring people. We don’t want to be perceived as negative.”

“But if more people had health checks or carried out preventative measures, it could have a massive impact on the nation’s health. For example, most people don’t know that the biggest reason why children aged five to nine are admitted to hospital is to have tooth extractions under anaesthetic.”

Neophytou says Simplyhealth need to participate much more actively in conversations like this, through internet forums for example. “We should be really salient as a voice in health rather than being softly spoken, but it needs to be done without scaring people.

“The more we keep our ears to the ground and participate in social media, the more responsive we can be, particularly among the younger cohorts, and the more we can make conversations about health fair and balanced. And that will make a huge difference in helping raise the understanding of the organisation.
It’s about reputation management. People want to interact with a brand that has values that they see as real.”

Which is why consistency of tone of voice across all channels is important, he maintains.

“People need to experience the same ‘voice’ in social media as they would get if they picked up the phone to us,”

he explains.

“We have to have a consistent view of who we are and make sure everyone manages the communication channels in a way that reflects the company and its values.”

Researched and written by Decision Magazine as part of a special report commissioned by Greenfisher, called ‘Business As Unusual - Secure the Future of your Brand’.

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