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Consumer communication: outputs or outcomes?

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If a tree falls in the woods and there is nobody there to hear it, did it really make a sound? If you expend your best efforts creating customer communications, but nobody “gets” them, has any message been conveyed?

The second question feels easier to answer, but harder to think about for marketing, communications and product executives in the insurance industry. It’s even hard to think about for compliance and IT people. After all, this is their livelihood.

Think about that. What are all these people paid to do? How is success measured? How is it rewarded? The emphasis is all on output, not outcome.

Ouch. This hurts me too. I’ve spent many years on the marketing side of insurance, probably also guilty of the wrong paradigm.

Think about what’s driving communications today and where it needs to go in the future. Today, it seems to be all about disclosure, that is, the amount of information we convey, how complete and balanced it is, and also, most importantly, how defensible it is in case there is a dispute. The major motivation is protecting the company. This is understandable. One class action lawsuit will make any large brand a bit gun shy.

From defensible to intentional

However, new consumers aren’t searching for disclosure. They are searching for relevance. How useful is this information to them? Does it help them make better decisions? Does it make them smarter?

What does that mean to the future of communication?

Authenticity is like porn

Yes. It’s hard to define, but you just know it when you see it. It’s beyond easy to understand words and sentences. It’s beyond length or format. It’s about being real. Talking real. Keepin’ it real. Today’s consumer craves authenticity.

What is “real?”

Imagine that you are having a conversation with a friend. How would you describe the same product or service about which you are trying to communicate? You would probably sound different in the setting with a friend than in a brochure. Why aren’t they the same?

Do we communicate our full intentions, or are we communicating defensively? Imagine if your communications fully conveyed your intention. Would that not automatically be, de facto, defensible? Behold a tale of two explanations

Which statement below do you think sounds more authentic? Which one do you think conveys the intention best? Which one do you think is less risky?

(1) In deciding an appeal of any adverse benefit determination that is based in whole or in part on a medical judgment, we shall consult with a health care professional with appropriate training and experience. You have the right to request copies of all documents, records and other information we used in evaluating your claim at no cost to you. If an internal rule, guideline or other similar criterion was relied upon in making the adverse benefit determination, upon request we will provide you with a copy free of charge.

If the adverse benefit determination was made based on a lack of necessity or other similar exclusion or limit, upon request we will provide an explanation of the scientific or clinical judgment for the adverse benefit determination free of charge.

(2) We will have an unbiased, yet qualified person re-review your situation. If you want, we will provide you with everything that he/or she reviewed. That includes all the proof you would need to be confident that you would have made the same decision if you were in our shoes. None of this will cost you anything.

The first is a real statement from a large insurance company’s Explanation of Benefits statement. The second is crafted to convey the same message. Which one do you think might have a better shot at closing the gap between consumer perception and industry’s true intention? For someone, this could be an innovation opportunity.