“Come in” he says, before walking over and shaking my hand. “Where do you want me?”

The man behind the nib success story

My ex-boss has an easy way about him. At 57 years old, he has an energy and a spark that leaves no-one wondering who is really in control. CEO of one of Australia’s largest private health insurers, nib, he has overseen the share price rise from less than $1 in 2007 to $5.35 today.

I’m keen to help young people who take a punt and go out on their own

A photographer snaps a few shots while we talk. “A selfie?” I suggest as I get my phone out. We are seated in his executive style lounge room. I explain I have started Long & Co, a new marketing company. That I’d like his input and feedback on how companies succeed. I’m not hiding the fact that airtime with Mark will likely help build the Long & Co brand. He smiles. “I’m keen to help young people who take a punt and go out on their own”.

'Selfie' with Mark Fitzgibbon. Photography by Alberto Gobbato.

‘Selfie’ with Mark Fitzgibbon. Photography by Alberto Gobbato.

Strategy for launch

I start explaining how Long & Co is using a similar strategy to what I think nib use when it comes to cutting through in the market. That is, pick a point of view and evangelise it like crazy. I can sense I’m spending too much time talking as I’m explaining how Long & Co is launching a new category to the market.

“It’s not an agency and not a traditional consultancy” I explain. “I’m launching what we are calling ‘your marketing partner’”. He listens patiently. “I think there is a gap in the market for people who want more efficiency than agencies provide, but more accountability than consultants give. That’s where Long & Co comes in. We are like a solicitor or accountant, just more fun. We are a trusted marketing partner”.

“Sure” he says. “The most important thing, when you want to communicate your point of view is that you’ve got to know what you’re talking about”. He continues “You have got to know the facts, otherwise you’re just not credible”.

“Secondly” he continues. “You’ve got to know what problem you are solving for people”. I jump in, vaguely reflecting that cutting off the interviewee is poor practice. “I know!” I enthuse. I go on to explain something I read recently about once people see a problem, they cannot un-see it.

“I think there is a gap in the market, where people don’t want to pay for the overheads of an agency, or pick up the pieces from a fly-in-fly-out consultant. They want to partner with the right people to grow”.

“Finally, you have to segment your market”. He explains. “I noticed you talked about SMEs. That is a large homogenous group of people. You have got to be targeted to accelerate your growth. That’s what nib did when we went after young people. We couldn’t go after the masses like Medibank did, we had to pick a segment and pitch our story towards them. It worked”.

Long & Co’s perfect customer

SMEs are any company with an annual revenue of $2m up to $200m, and that is a vast majority of Australian businesses. I do need clarity of who I’m targeting.

I use a marketing framework called ‘persona development’. This is where you describe your ideal client; who they are, what they’re into and what they don’t like. What I discover surprises me.

I thought Long & Co was targeting new businesses. What I found is my ideal client is an established business ready to take things to a new level. They’ve learnt who they are but may need some help with their brand story. They’ve got their website, but might be missing a clear call-to-action, a compelling look or a marketing strategy.

Cathrine Long, Director of Long & Co with business associate

Long & Co’s ideal client is an established business ready to take things to a new level. 

I’ve uncovered 3 personas for Long & Co and I think about them everyday (hello ‘Jessica’ the owner of a financial services organisation who loves that Long & Co has a tried and tested strategy framework, wink-wink to ‘Paul’ the construction manager who values getting the job done to detailed specifications, ciao ‘Ben’ the savvy high-value commodity retailer who is ready to take things to a new level).

Getting to know your customer clarifies your message and unlocks growth for your business. You may be surprised at what you find if you go through the exercise!

When at first you don’t succeed

It’s almost comforting to know that a big company like nib has had challenges in launching new businesses. An example is nib’s Whitecoat platform. It allows consumers to review their patient experience. This helps other customers make decisions about which provider to choose. Often explained as the TripAdvisor of the healthcare sector, the platform has had almost 350,000 patient reviews.

Mark Fitzgibbon talks with Long & Co

Mark Fitzgibbon talks failure with Long & Co

“No one wanted to have anything to do with Whitecoat initially”, Mark explains. I can personally attest to this. When I worked at nib, resources begrudgingly worked on the ‘project’ if they were assigned it. Mark explains how nib went about securing Whitecoats success.

“We had to spin the ‘project’ out as a separate business entity, we had to place it in an innovation incubator” he explains. I’m reminded of my talk with Chairman of NRMA, Kyle Loades, describing how they launched ‘Camplify’.

No one wanted to have anything to do with Whitecoat initially

nib gave away half the business to their point man Matt Donnellan, to ensure there was skin in the game and that Whitecoat was treated as a true start-up. “Then we had to persuade the medical establishment to get on-board. Not only that, but we went to our competitors and explained that this was industry infrastructure. They all laughed at us to start with. Now we have over 250,000 clinical providers registered and have just on-boarded BUPA and HBF”.

Robots and Pokémon

The CEO is not afraid of technological advancements. He mentions robotics and we start discussing the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI). I enquire how this will impact health in the future.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the future

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the way of the future

“You won’t see a surgeon cut open a patient in 10 years’ time. No way” The CEO explains. “Robots will be performing the surgery and even make the diagnosis. They can perfect a procedure by practicing on Pokémon’s millions of times. Humans can’t compete with that”.

Wondering if the CEO has an optimistic view of the future of humanity he counters: “No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should! Surgeons will still be relevant. In conducting research, creating the algorithm for the robots and verifying the results. Its evolution. It’s just how it is”.

Be happy

There are certainly similarities between the Chairman of the NRMA and the CEO of nib. Both very future oriented, firmly focusing on what brings the customer value and unafraid of change. “What’s next?” I enquire. The CEO shrugs. “I don’t know” he says. 15 years in the job means change will come. It’s just how it is. “For now, I’m content with what I am doing for nib”.

Content is not to be confused with complacent. On the contrary. “I’m still energised, I still have lots of ideas” Fitzgibbon says. Asking what advice he has for Long & Co, the CEO says matter-of-factly: “Do what makes you happy”.

Somehow the answer is not what I expected. My mind was preparing for ‘work hard, put in place people and processes, set goals’. He reminds me of the Stockdale paradoxwhere a Vietnam prisoner of war was asked why he survived when his fellow prisoners had perished. He pointed towards being a realist rather than an optimist.

The CEO elaborates: “Have a goal but don’t place artificial deadlines or put too much pressure on yourself. If it is right and you believe in it, enough perseverance will have its way”.

I shake my ex-bosses’ hand. He is so self-assured but in a friendly way. I feel grateful. People are amazingly supportive if you are willing to stick your neck out. Fitzgibbon starts walking away. “Here is my card” I remember I have my own business now. “In case you think of me”.  Mark smiles, and places the card carefully in his shirt pocket.

About the photographer:

Alberto Gobbato is Italian based in Newcastle, Australia. He is a passionate photographer of people and places. For more information visit www.albertogobbato.com.

About Long & Co

Long & Co is a small brand and digital alternative to a big agency. We offer everything an agency does, without the overhead. We have a network of talent across Sydney, Newcastle and Byron Bay. We think and we do.

Looking to get your brand, strategy or new website right? Get In Touch With Long & Co

Cathrine Long, Director of Long & Co

Cathrine Long, Director of Long & Co