Tuesday, August 20, 2013 | Edited by Daniel Moores
||Get Ready for Enrollment in Health Exchanges
Sign-Up Starts Oct. 1, but Consumers Should Start Evaluating Their Needs Now
In about six weeks, Americans will have a new kind of open enrollment to consider.
Starting Oct. 1, people without health insurance can sign up for standardized coverage through new health-insurance marketplaces run either by their state, the federal government or a combination of the two -- the centerpiece of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The coverage will take effect Jan. 1. And people with incomes between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level—about $23,500 to $94,000 for a family of four -- can receive financial help on a sliding scale to offset the costs.
These marketplaces, also known as exchanges, will make shopping for health insurance easier than it is today, says Sarah Dash, a research fellow at Georgetown University who has studied the new marketplaces. "Consumers are going to get a much more transparent, apples-to-apples shopping experience."
If you have affordable insurance through an employer, or if you have coverage through a government program such as Medicare or Medicaid, you won't be affected by the exchanges.
Exchange shoppers will fill out a single insurance application, which will be used to "find out if they can get a tax credit on their premium, help with cost-sharing or if they're eligible for Medicaid in their state," Ms. Dash says.
You can calculate your potential premium assistance with an online tool from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which conducts health-care research.
This first open-enrollment period will last six months, from Oct. 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014. It generally takes two weeks for a policy to go into effect after enrolling, so you'll need to sign up by Dec. 15 to get coverage starting Jan. 1.
You can sign up by using the Internet, phone, mail or in person at a designated center. The centers will have people trained to help with the enrollment process, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Insurance agents and brokers may be there as well. In many states, people who enroll online can tap into a live chat window for customer-service troubleshooting.
Many state call centers already are running. Visit Healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 for more information.
The law states that people looking for insurance can't be denied coverage or charged higher premiums because of pre-existing health conditions. However, premiums can vary based on four characteristics: age, tobacco use, geographic area and family size -- though there are limits. Older people may be charged up to three times as much as younger people and smokers may be charged up to 50% more than nonsmokers.
The law also requires that health-insurance plans cover a set of 10 essential benefits such as hospitalization, doctors' visits, prescription drugs, maternity care, pediatric care, and substance-abuse and mental-health care.
Before diving into the enrollment process, be sure to have the Social Security numbers of the people you're looking to insure; employment and income information, such as pay stubs, tax return or W-2 form; and policy numbers if you currently have any health insurance. Eligibility for tax credits and subsidies is based on modified adjusted gross income.
Five different plan levels will be available on the new marketplaces. Four of the levels have metal names: bronze, silver, gold and platinum.
The bronze plan generally offers the lowest premium in exchange for the highest out-of-pocket costs. The silver level is the level you must choose if you want to get financial help with out-of-pocket costs such as copayments and deductibles. "I call the silver level a mid-range plan," says Sarah Lueck, senior policy analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a public-policy research organization in Washington. Under the gold and platinum levels, premiums will be higher, but your share of costs when you get health care will be lower.
The fifth level, a catastrophic plan, is available for people younger than 30 and those suffering financial hardship.
Think about how much coverage you can afford and how much care you anticipate needing, says Carter Price, a mathematician with Rand, a nonprofit research group in Arlington, Va. "People will need to decide what level of coverage they want to take, whether it's very bare-bones or very generous."
(Source: The Wall Street Journal, 08/19/13)
||Fast-Food Restaurants Eyeing Fast-Casual Market
Call it the Chipotle effect.
With fast-casual restaurants such as Chipotle and Panera Bread growing at a sprint while fast-food counterparts expand at more of a slow jog, the latter group is entering the race and trying to shift upscale. At stake is a booming restaurant segment.
Fast-casual restaurant sales rose 13 percent last year, while fast-food sales increased 4.7 percent, according to data from market research firm Technomic. The company expects the former to grow an average of 10 percent through 2017, compared with a rise of 3.5 percent for fast food.
Despite the rush, experts say there's definitely room for fresh ideas.
"Right now, our country is pretty saturated with fast food -- you could evolve that entire segment into fast-casual," said Sam Oches, editor at QSR magazine, which covers the quick-service restaurant industry.
"There's no ceiling on this," he added. "This is just going to be explosive growth for possibly decades."
Fast-food restaurants are taking one of two routes into the fast-casual space.
Many have chosen to test completely new concepts. That includes Yum Brand's KFC unit, which prompted fan outcry when it launched KFC Eleven, which doesn't feature Colonel Sanders or the company's red-and-white color scheme. KFC spokesperson Rick Maynard described it as an "innovation" restaurant that was "developed with a focus on relevance for today's consumers.
"This innovation lab offers a great way to test new elements -- products, services and design -- that may end up in other KFC restaurants across the country," he added.
From pretzels to artisanal pizza
A mainstay of U.S. malls, Sbarro is also going higher end with its Pizza Cucinova concept, which will feature made-to-order pizza as well as alcohol. It is set to open this fall.
The co-founder of Wetzel's Pretzels entered the competitive artisanal pizza market last year with Blaze, which uses an assembly-line format similar to Chipotle and has drawn a handful of well-known investors, including former California First Lady Maria Shriver, movie producer John Davis and Boston Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner.
From the beginning, Rick Wetzel, co-founder of both companies, said he viewed fast-casual as the best way to position Blaze.
"If you look at the top five QSR categories -- burgers, Mexican, Chinese, sandwiches and pizza -- all have been developed into the fast-casual space, except pizza," he said. "This one looks like a natural whose time has come."
That's not to say things aren't busy with fancy burgers. Lexington, Ky.-based A&W Restaurants is tossing its hat into the fast-casual and better burger segment later this year.
"We've seen a lot of success within the burger portion of fast-casual with Five Guys just exploding and Smashburger," Liz Bazner, A&W's social and digital communications strategist, told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "This is our way of saying these are options."
The second path is to incorporate more premium selections into the existing lineup, such as the decision by Wendy's to launch flatbread items or McDonald's attempt to sell angus beef burgers (which fizzled). Among other possible advantages, that approach lets companies capitalize on their brand reputation.
Leaving a mark
"I think the ones that are choosing to adapt some of these fast-casual (ideas) instead of launching a whole new concept, they still want to maintain their image and still want people to see them as what they set out to be," said Lauren Hallow, an assistant editor at Technomic.
Although fast-casual has taken off within the past 10 to 15 years, it is only in the last four years or so that established companies have started to eye the segment, partly because it weathered the recession better, QSR's Oches said.
In time, the whole industry will move to a more premium experience as the recent explosion of fast-casual restaurants leaves a lasting mark, he predicted.
"The lines are not very firm, and you're seeing a lot more blending of the two," Oches said.
(Source: CNBC, 08/10/13)
||Fantasy Football Players Are Dream Demographic -- If You Can Get Their Attention
In the early '90s, fantasy football was the equivalent of Dungeons & Dragons -- an addictive but not-so-cool hobby you didn't discuss in public, enjoyed mostly by those with a passion for sports and keeping track of statistics using paper, pencil and calculator.
Two decades later, high-speed Internet and easy-to-use apps have made it an extremely popular blood sport with bragging rights. This year, 25.8 million people will play, according to market research firm Ipsos, and generate $1.1 billion in revenue.
So it's no surprise that marketers and media outlets continue to invest in it. Volkswagen and Snickers now commit as much as $3 million in fantasy football sponsorships with ESPN, CBS, the NFL or Yahoo, which together comprise 76% of the fantasy market, according to Ipsos.
"Our dream user that we talk about is, we get an 18-year-old kid going into college, get nine of his friends to play fantasy football, and we have them for the next 30 years," said John Diver, ESPN's senior director of product development. And, of course, they spend a lot of time reading and watching sports news to get the latest updates on players.
The typical fantasy player is in a demographic that makes marketers salivate: a college-educated professional, often a male, in his 30s or 40s with an average household income over $90,000, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. He also has disposable income; of the 49% of fantasy users who pay to play, most spend an average of $468 on league fees, subscription advice sites and analytics apps.
"Part of it is the excellent mousetrap for the game," said Tom Brady, VP of content for the NFL Media Group, whose 2013 fantasy sponsors include Verizon, Snickers and Dodge.
"People want to come," Mr. Brady added. "They're making adds, drops, trades or any sort of transaction with the game. Sponsors and advertisers and marketers, they realize that. They've seen the voracious appetite that fans have for any and all things fantasy. That means they're spending that much time with the NFL, and if a sponsor can be tied to that, all the better."
Marketers do their homework before linking their brand to a fantasy enterprise. CBS's platform theoretically attracts a more invested fan, the company said, because its leagues cost $180 to join. The NFL offers both free and pay-to-play versions and is the sole provider of video, delivering a more satisfied fan to sponsors, Mr. Brady said. ESPN hangs its hat on unrivaled analysis and advice.
But sponsors say fantasy can be a double-edged sword: Fans are engaged in the game, not the ads surrounding it, forcing marketers to speak their language or lose them.
"When you go on a site on a frequent basis and you continue to see the same piece of advertising, especially when you consider over a four-month period of a football season, you can very easily begin to tune these things out," said Jeff Sayen, advertising manager at VW, which signed a three-year fantasy sponsorship with CBS in 2011.
This season, VW will introduce the Coach's Corner: Fantasy users can compete with CBS Sports personalities to see whose team does better, and the CBS personality will then heckle or praise his opponent with a custom video response embedded in a VW banner.
Marketers also want to dig into the mobile side, where 25% of fantasy players access the game. CBS's redesigned fantasy app saw usage increase 133% in July versus a year ago, and ESPN said the rise of the smart phone has refocused the company on building out its apps. Predictive fantasy tools in particular are surging in popularity as the core demographic, people who deal with data every day in their careers, want to dig deeper and do their own analyses, said Diane Bloodworth, CEO of Competitive Sports Analytics, which has a predictive fantasy app in CBS's store.
"Fantasy fans want and are looking for more fantasy information than any other NFL user," said the NFL's Mr. Brady. "Let's give it to them. Let's feed the beast."
(Source: Advertising Age, 08/13/13)
Daily Sales Tip: Be Interested
As a rule, people aren't coming to you for your product or service because they find you interesting. There is nothing wrong with being interesting, or having a wonderful personality or fascinating life experiences. But customers aren't primarily concerned with doing business with interesting people. They want to do business with people who are interested in them. They want someone concerned with their needs, desires, fears and expectations.
If you want to remind yourself and others on your team of this important concept, just remember the lesson of young Johnny. Johnny was 10 years old when he came home from school and shared with his mom that he had a new girlfriend. "Wow, a girlfriend," his mom exclaimed, "What does she like about you?"
"She thinks I'm cute, that I'm funny and I'm a great dancer," Johnny answered.
"And what do you like about her?" mom continued.
Johnny's insightful response was, "That she thinks I'm cute, that I'm funny and that I'm a great dancer."
That's the essence of being interested. We respond positively to people who are interested in us and want to help. They make us feel good, and that's what draws us to them.
Start CARING about customers. Superior service begins with a genuine interest in and commitment to customers. It is about caring about them as individuals, and being obsessively concerned with the experience they have when they do business with you. And if you don't fundamentally care about the people you serve, I assure you that they won't care about doing business with you.
The best product at the best price isn't the best deal if you don't care about customers.
Source: Mark Sanborn, president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc.