Private medical company PPP healthcare is to prescribe its
customers a course of face-to-face personal care by launching its brand
on the high street with a chain of one-stop health shops.
The initiative is part of a strategy designed to persuade consumers that
there is more to private healthcare than taking out insurance against an
inevitable future illness.
But by taking its brand to the consumer on the street, PPP is also
aiming to shake up the private market, which is suffering all the
symptoms of stagnation. Despite spending around pounds 50m between them
in the past three years on advertising, the two leading lights of
private healthcare, Bupa and PPP, have failed to significantly grow the
The proportion of those opting to pay for private medical care has
stayed stubbornly at around 11% while the vast majority of consumers
still rely on the National Health Service.
According to research consultant Datamonitor, the health insurance
market is worth about pounds 1.7bn but is unlikely to grow by more than
2% over the next five years. Datamonitor also found the number of
overall subscribers has fallen from 3.2 million to 3.1 million since
Faced with these figures, PPP has opted to shed the cold and distant
image of an insurance company and approach the market differently.
Focus on services
Under its previous name, Private Pensions Plan, PPP had focused on
selling long-term healthcare insurance, but since it was relaunched in
1995, it has shifted its business focus toward a wide range of separate
services marketed along FMCG lines.
As well as medical insurance, PPP now offers regular health checks, eye
and dental care and a service for women covering pregnancy, infertility
and hormonal treatment, plus a 24-hour advice line.
But to market these products successfully and expand the market, the
company now recognises it can no longer keep the PPP brand at arm’s
length from its consumers.
Head of brand marketing at PPP, Chris Webster, says the company aims to
make taking up private healthcare a more personal process. ’A couple of
years ago we found ourselves in the position where people had allowed
the healthcare category to become a commodity that was insurance,’ he
says. ’We took the position that we should become a service company and
ask what consumers want from healthcare.
’The point is, the marketplace is not as it has traditionally been
We did not spend pounds 30m building the brand just to sell more
It is a commercial market from which we expect to get some return. We
are trying to make people understand what you get from private
healthcare is different and that what you are paying for is to be in
control of the process.’
PPP is unlikely to be alone in its high-street initiative. Its main
rival, Bupa, has also been considering such a move for some time but has
yet to take the plunge.
At the Marketing Forum last month, Bruce Trantor, marketing and new
product director at Bupa, hinted his firm may look to achieve its
long-term goal of establishing private healthcare as the natural
alternative to the NHS by marketing the brand on a community level.
’Changing employment structures are forcing the need for one-stop
shopping,’ said Trantor. ’That one-stop shopping concept is an
opportunity which many organisations are trying to grab, whether they
are financial services organisations, communications or retail. In most
of the development plans there is the concept of a relationship, and
that relationship is based on providing quite a broad product
But if Bupa and PPP are to retain a lead in the market they may need to
establish their brands on the high street sooner rather then later.
There are signs supermarkets want to make sure customers are healthy
enough to maintain an appetite. Both Tesco and Sainsbury’s are dabbling
in healthcare, with Tesco launching in-store pharmacies and making space
available in stores for GP surgeries.
One City observer says the move may prove crucial. ’Healthcare is a
different world from selling motor and car insurance; you can do that
over the phone.
But when you are talking about complicated systems of healthcare, you
need to have a face-to-face with the customer. There is no better way
than being there on the high street,’ he says.