Conversation Marketing: The Conversation is the Thing

Christine Fife

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Deciding What to Say

Up until recently it was standard practice for a company to develop their messaging–and all their different types of collateral–based mainly on what their product/service is or does and some basic audience demographic info. Today, consumers and business buyers are too smart for that. Studies now show that people don’t really believe what a company says about their own products/services. People are reaching out more and more to friends and family, and even strangers online who choose to write reviews for purchase advice and recommendations. So what can a company do to ensure their consumers’ friends, family and even strangers will help pass on accurate information about their products/services?

First off, listen. Companies will always need to develop messages about what their products/services are or do and their benefits, but if companies spent more time listening to the market conversation and how their audience talks about what they want and need, they would be able to develop messaging that’s inline with the way their audience is hoping to hear about ways to fulfill their wants and needs. This requires that companies think beyond just what their offerings actually do. It requires a much deeper understanding of what people care about and what is important to them.

Most companies broadcast their messages without listening. They don’t listen to the market conversation beforehand and they aren’t listening after their messages are put out to figure out if it’s resonating with their audience. Online technologies have made Listening to the market conversation so easy, it seems ridiculous that companies don’t do it.

So what am I really talking about? You want an example? Ok, how about health insurance. Today I the pleasure of speaking with the VP of Product at Castlight Health, developers of a hosted software tool for businesses to provide employees with personalized views of their medical benefits and the costs associated with medical procedures so they can make informed health care shopping decisions. The ever rising cost of health care is a big topic. As someone who purchases my own health insurance rather than getting it through a full-time employer, I know well how expensive insurance is and the cost of medical services doctors recommend aren’t challenged because consumers of medical services don’t understand that they can shop around.

Castlight Health’s search engine offering allows consumers to search for nearby doctors and, based on their insurance coverage, compare the prices of certain procedures. This means doctors, hospitals and labs will need to revamp their messaging to compete in comparison-shopping wars. Doctors, hospitals and labs won’t be able to rely on consumers coming to them because they were referred by a doctor or the hospital/office is closest to the consumer. They’ll need to offer competitive pricing and develop messaging that illustrates how they’re worth their pricing.

Now to get back to a real example of deciding what to say for a health insurance company. At random, I’ve done a Google Search for Health Insurance. Blue Shield of California was lucky enough to show up at the top of the AdWords, so I’ll pick on them. I clicked through the AdWords ad which said, “Find Affordable CA Health Plans. Free Quote. Easy Online Application.” Nothing wrong with the AdWords ad, really. They realize consumers need to be cost conscious and that they don’t want a complicated application process. You can only do so much with an AdWords ad, right?

After clicking through I am taken the page here. The messaging here is all about what them. It focuses only on their specific plans with no regard for what people need or want. Do I care what plans other people get? Insurance isn’t “affordable” at all, it’s a necessary evil because if you didn’t have it and were sick or injured, you’d probably never be able to cover the expenses. I’d love for my plan to have all the benefits, but “rich benefits” just tells me it’s the most expensive and if I’m not rich, I can’t have those benefits. My favorite bit–I’m being sarcastic–is “Choose Blue Shield. Providing Californians with access to affordable, high-quality health coverage since 1939.” 100% self-serving and self-proclaimed messaging.

So now I’ve opened  new browser tab and gone to Google Realtime Search and put in doctor +test, and a second search on (a forum search engine). Doctors are always recommending tests, right? Sure the office visit is usually covered on all health insurance plans, minus a co-pay fee, perhaps, but tests always fall on the consumer to pay. Most people have a deductible they will need to meet for the year and unless you’re really sick, you’ll end up having to cover the costs of lab work and other tests because you won’t need enough of them to reach your deductible before the year runs out.

Through my search results on Google Realtime and, I’ve quickly learned a lot about what people care about and need when it comes to medical tests. Things people care seem to include understanding test results, interested in having a medical test for something but their doctor won’t give them a referral and whether they should have tests a doctor recommended done. People also seem to question if test results are accurate. Interesting. So can Blue Shield do anything on this landing page for health insurance coverage that speaks more to these people’s wants and needs? Here’s one sample:

Instead of “Choose Blue Shield. Providing Californians with access to affordable, high-quality health coverage since 1939.” How about: “Blue Shield cares about your health. Working to give Californians the health coverage they need with the help to understand their health care options they want, since 1939.”*

*Note: I have no knowledge of Blue Shield’s plans so it’s possible this message wouldn’t work for them–if they don’t actually do anything to help people understand their health care options than they’re clearly not listening to what people need and want.

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As I drove off to college I never would have guessed I would end up here! But it’s been a fantastic journey. My career has been richly diverse giving me an advantage over marketers who are siloed into niche positions. I strive to be a true Renaissance person—I love to learn about everything and trying new things comes naturally. My career has been no different; I’ve successfully launched enterprise software and medical device development startups, improved communications processes for the regulatory department of a major financial exchange, increased client business and product development for several international exchange program companies and founded an international educational non-profit organization. My master’s degree in Integrated Marketing from Golden Gate University gave me a broad understanding of traditional marketing best-practices, but my BA in theater gave me the skills to understand how people communicate with one another and the importance of promoting a brand in a voice that is right for the audience.