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Zig When Others Zag


Do you have a favorite airline? We do. Southwest. They've made their mark by shaking up what passengers have come to expect as airline-business-as-usual.

They zig when others zag.

Exactly what do we mean by that? Here's a (probably only partial) list of innovations Southwest has ... well ... innovated:

- No assigned seats
- 2 free checked bags
- Easy refunds and exchanges
- A liberal frequent flier program
- Free drink coupons
- Personable (sometimes downright comedic) gate agents and flight attendants
- "Transfarency"

Basically, they make flying easier and more fun than other airlines. How can you argue with that?

When we're working on a direct marketing campaign, we'll often start by looking at what our client's competition is doing. Then, we'll see if there's any value in going the opposite direction. Does everyone in their space use photography? Maybe illustration will stand out. Are other campaigns too silly? Maybe a straight talking approach will be appreciated. Or, on the flipside, if all the others in the market are using FUD (that's Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt), adding an appropriate sense of humor might do the trick.

A good example is a package we did for a major health insurance company. They were marketing their Medicare product, supplemental insurance for senior citizens. So, we put ourselves in the target audience's shoes and reviewed what other insurance companies were sending them.

Health care is probably the single greatest expense for seniors. And, Medicare doesn't cover everything. So, supplemental insurance is important as people age. Their health needs increase as do the related health care expenses. All of this makes sense, right? But, in terms of compelling marketing, it's a bit too "gloom and doom."

Other insurers were focusing on disease states that were typical for the older audience. Things like arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer's. Important? Yes. But, compelling, persuasive, and attractive? Not so much. In fact, some of the marketing messages were so dire that the audience might feel they were tempting fate by even responding. (One stock photo was of a bored young boy (the grandson presumably) pushing an absolutely ancient old man in a wheelchair. The caption might have been "Give up now, grandpa. Your life is pretty much over.")

Other insurance carriers (wisely) stayed away from all the illnesses of aging, but spent too much time (or campaign real estate) spelling out the specific features of the insurance plan. In their attempt to be neutral and business-like, they made the whole deal sound complicated and confusing. Again, valuable information, but presented in a way that didn't encourage response. A migraine headache, maybe, but not response.

So after assessing these two different ways of zagging, we decided to zig.

We developed a high-impact direct mail package that celebrated active seniors. In essence, we put the health back in health insurance.

The oversized envelope acknowledged that the recipient was probably confused: "Why make choosing a health plan more difficult than it needs to be? After all, you've got better things to do." So, right away, we're positioning our client as the company with the answers — and our audience as people who value their time.

In lieu of a depressing or confusing brochure, we included a newsletter, branded HealthWISE. It talked about maintaining health, not treating disease. There were "features" on nutrition and the benefits of stretching. There was a story about how to establish a good rapport with your primary care physician. Select plan benefits, like health club membership and a customized fitness guide, were highlighted. And, when it came time to talk about the actual insurance plan itself, the content was presented as a user-friendly Q&A.

The package was rounded out with a personalized letter and response slip, and a BRE.

Throughout, we used photos of seniors enjoying life, not managing illness. A couple frolics in the surf on a beach; an older (extremely attractive) woman does yoga. You get the idea. 

Suddenly, the currently insured looked like a group you would want to join, not avoid at all costs. And our client becomes the go-to choice for plain talk and optimism.

The package, as we hoped it would, pulled very healthy results. (And there isn't a single picture of a wheelchair to be found.) We zigged; they zagged. It worked.

Of course, instead of zigging when others are zagging, you could try zagging when others are zagging, just zagging better.

But, that's a blog post for another time.

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