I brainstormed this while pushing my son to day care: he gets a stroller ride and I get a workout. Then I talked through it with my mom on speakerphone while driving to work. You've heard it before, but it's true: working moms are master multitaskers.
My husband and I regularly compete while watching commercial-free TV shows that we download or stream from iTunes, Netflix, or Hulu: when we recognize an actor, we call out where we last saw them, and when our answers don't match, one of us inevitably challenges: "Googulate!" So I pull out my smart phone, ask Dr. Google, and it's rare that my answer isn't on the first page of results. I am an expert Googulator.
More importantly, this is how my online experiences begin: with a search. My husband may have high cholesterol, but you're not going to distract me with ads for cholesterol treatments while I'm proving that Jared Leto was indeed Jordan Catalano in "My So-Called Life" AND Angel Face in "Fight Club." You want to catch me when I'm searching for statistics (a/k/a scare tactics) that persuade my husband to eat less red meat and more oatmeal.
From Mindshare to Market Share
As technology enables us to define who sees an ad and where, the winners will be those who put products in front of the people who actually buy them. Health care is a perfect example of where the online ad market is going. Precise targeting is critical, because the market is fragmented into thousands of micro-markets with disparate needs. Health care consumers almost always bring information -- right and wrong -- from family, friends, care providers, and media, both online and off. They're motivated to buy because they are resolving issues that directly impact their quality of life. Name recognition is good, but only buy-decisions really matter.
When and Where to Reach Me
I believe that patients' online behavior breaks into two distinct phases. Initial Diagnosis is research-intensive -- researching symptoms to see if there is a problem, identifying doctors who treat it best, and vetting the treatment -- and produces a trusted network of online resources that a patient returns to throughout an illness. Ongoing Treatment is mostly vetting progress against projections and others' experience, frequently on sites devoted to the community characterized by the symptoms. These forums enable patients and their families to build relationships that frequently outlast the symptoms, and survivors often stay engaged to support new patients.
Case Studies: My Pregnancy, My Husband's Car Obsession
When I found out I was pregnant (initial diagnosis), I spent the weekend online because I didn't know what I didn't know. I spent the most time on a few sites that offered two things: 1) relevant, accurate information, and 2) a community with people like me. During my pregnancy (ongoing treatment) I often returned to those sites to research new questions because I trusted their content. I subscribed to an e-newsletter I still receive as my son turns two, and I buy gifts for friends' babies from ads or testimony on that site. More importantly, I send all my mom-to-be friends there.
And this model transcends markets. In my husband's obsession with cars, initial diagnosis would be the process of shopping for a new project (in our case, a vintage BMW). As he rebuilds it (ongoing treatment), he shops online, and starts at www.BMW2002FAQ.com. He found this site while shopping, and bought a car through a link to a partner site. Most products that significantly impact a consumer's budget or quality of life follow the same online pattern of identifying resources and revisiting them over time.
Content Remains King, but Context is Crucial
Mindshare and market share require different online strategies. Banner ads on lifestyle sites are the Goodyear Blimps of online ads: instantly recognized, but rarely affect actual tire-buying decisions. Building visibility has become more a function of budget vs. creative problem solving. Using the web to grow market share is trickier. Buying search words can reach a consumer who wants your product, but has limited retention. This is the online equivalent of putting cough drops next to the cash register. Targeted campaigns and creative ad products in credible online communities can capture customers for life. This is the online equivalent of the nurse-neighbor recommending a cold medicine when she sees your mom bring you chicken soup. And she'll likely point you to a website with good information and people like you. I'm hoping she'll tell me how to cure my husband's car obsession next, but it's a long shot.