Independence Blue Cross is Philadelphia region’s largest health insurers with more than 2.6 million members locally, and 3.4 million overall. They are also the sponsors of the Philadelphia Broad Street Run, according to their site the largest 10-miler in the United States.
This was the largest in five years, as long as I've run it. Before the start it was announced that 26,900 people had signed up for the 30th anniversary. All people who endured the rain, at times heavy, to participate in the event. It's become a tradition for me, until this year I thought I would run it every year. I'll need to think about it hard next year. Here's why.
For a company that wants to be the leader in health care, it certainly does not seem to think about the environment as part of the health ecosystem. Like many organizations, the company has a Web site and it dedicates a portion of it to the run. From the site: We are pleased to provide our members with convenient online resources and a full range of innovative programs and services to keep you healthy.
Why then in 2009, there still wasn't an option to download or order by mail the bib for the run? Why did Blue Cross require every single one of those runners to drive all the way to the Lincoln Financial Field to pick up their bib? Isn't that akin to putting an extra let's say 20,000 cars on the street for at least 10 miles over two days before the race, then again a large number on race day?
Four hours on the road is not my idea of living well. That's as long as it took me to get there and back for the three minutes I used to pick up my bib. Four hours I will not get back. Four hours to endure interruption marketing in the form of stands on the path to the bib, and then again on the path to the commemorative t-shirt, which each visitor could pick up at the opposite end of the expo.
The little I could see while I was making my way through the crowd resembled more a mass of harried and tired people than a community. I suggest there is a better way to begin - or continue - a dialogue with customers, one that puts them in change - and doesn't cost the business a dime more. However, it requires that it challenges its own traditional marketing model a little.
Give customers a choice
And you give them a voice. Allow those who want to do that to order the bib online when they sign up for the race. Cost plus mailing fees, and a few people breathe better and get to spend time with their families or in their own pursuits and projects. We all have so little spare time.
What do you think, can companies learn to trade marketing volume for quality of conversation?
A few ideas off the top of my head to make the race win/win:
- Be easy - allow people who self select to order the bib online. If you're worried that the vendors would not agree to sponsor with (potentially) less foot volume at the expo, give them a virtual stand with the ability to extend offers to runners. Online convenience could also be a less expensive way for vendors to run promotions for an extended period of time.
- Be social - social takes care of sustainability. The Broad Street Run is just a campaign. Opening a dialogue with customers and prospects who are passionate about running and fitness has the potential to build a meaningful and yearlong conversation. You'll need to know what to do with the community, but it sure beats having to interrupt every time you market at them.
- Be open - the new generation coming of age to buy your products is used to interacting online. That means that many businesses are learning to be present 24/7 not just to monitor their brand reputation, but to be available to the personal and organic opportunities that present themselves along the way.
I can think of many more possibilities to transform a business thinking and doing by giving customers more choices. Today at Fast Company expert blog we talk about how customer conversation can be the true keystone of your marketing. After all, living well and affordably has all the makings of a good and attractive cause.