Sponsorship is playing an increasingly important role in bringing Humana Inc.’s brand to life.

The health insurance company is placing more focus on the marketing medium as a platform to support its “well-being” brand positioning and encourage consumers to lead active, healthy lives.

Demonstrating its health focus, Humana leveraged the Jan. 14-20 Humana Challenge PGA Tour stop by distributing 12,000 pedometers to spectators and other event participants. It also offered body mass screenings and other health education activities through an on-site interactive experience.  

Those efforts build on CEO Mike McCallister’s effort to personalize the Humana brand and connect with consumers on a one-to-one level.

Looking to take those efforts up a notch, Humana in July 2010 hired former Anheuser-Busch marketer Ed Farley as director of brand advertising and sponsorship, a new position. His charge: To build brand loyalty and enhance Humana’s value proposition using tactics and strategies from the CPG industry.

IEG SR spoke with Farley about the company’s approach to sponsorship, its evolving marketing strategy, the Humana Challenge and other topics. Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.

IEG SR: Humana sponsors a number of properties ranging from the PGA Tour to the Taste of Chicago. What kind of role does sponsorship play for the company?

Farley: We use sponsorship as an advertising platform to build our core message, which is all about encouraging healthy behavior and life-long well-being.

Sponsorship gives us the opportunity to connect with our audience and bring our brand to life. It lets people know that healthy things can be fun, and fun things can be healthy.

IEG SR: You joined Humana in 2010 after serving in a number of marketing positions at Anheuser-Busch. What is your charge at Humana?

Farley: Raja Rajamannar, Humana’s senior vice president and chief innovation and marketing officer, and Phyllis Anderson, vice president of marketing, brought me on to lead brand marketing, advertising and sponsorship.

Humana has a charge to grow the brand into a more participatory, engaging value proposition, and my CPG background can help.

There’s a ton of potential in the health care space as we move into an environment where consumers have more choice. A company’s brand has become more important in identifying what makes it unique.

We have a unique and special value proposition, which is all about relationships and personal attention. The brand becomes a place where you want to spend time and create an emotional connection with consumers.

IEG SR: Golf plays a major role in Humana’s sponsorship portfolio. What is attractive about the sport?  

Farley: One thing about golf is that everyone moves, including players, caddies and spectators. That was a key insight into the Humana Challenge. The surgeon general recommends that people take 10,000 steps a day. That’s about the same number of steps it takes to walk an 18-hole golf course.

We engage spectators by distributing pedometers they can use to measure their progress. The event becomes more about well-being than just the sport of golf.  It’s an innovative way to use sports marketing to encourage our vision and mission of life-long well-being. That’s the inspiration for the Humana Challenge.

IEG SR: Do you also use golf to reach business audiences?

Farley: We try to make golf a B2B and B2B play. Personal well-being is a vein that runs through all of our sponsorships, and we use sponsorship to bring it to life.

When we do a B2B program, we try to encourage brokers, agents and other business partners to walk the course and familiarize themselves with our core brand strategies. We want them to understand our mission and what makes us different from our competitors.

IEG SR: Humana sponsors Dollywood, Silver Dollar City and other Herschend Family Entertainment properties. Tell me about those.

Farley: We use the partnerships to promote our Medicare and Humana Medicare Advantage products to seniors. They provide an opportunity to build awareness and talk about plans and packages to a captive, concentrated audience.

IEG SR: Humana sponsors a number of other regional properties, including the Taste of Chicago. Tell me about those partnerships.

Farley: The Taste of Chicago is a great example of what we hope to accomplish from a sponsorship. We sponsor the healthy eating pavilion at the event, and we ask participating restaurants to submit their healthiest recipes. We have a panel of dieticians rate the dishes for a green apple seal of approval.

We’ve done that for four years, and it’s been hugely popular. That’s a great example of what we try to do on both a national and regional basis.